The glamor of the Dallas Cowboys and the San Diego Chargers will be missing from Super Bowl XVI. "America's Team" will spend Sunday in Texas, working on its alibis, while Dan Fouts dreams of playing on a squad that has a defense. Instead, the nation's football fans are stuck with the two best teams to perform in the NFL this season. San Francisco is favored by one point over Cincinnati.
More than $1 billion will be wagered on the game, according to the most educated estimates. Whatever the total, most bookmakers agree, the Super Bowl is the biggest betting attraction in the nation.
The 49ers and the Bengals gained conference championships by combining solid defenses with offensive philosophies beautifully attuned to the pass-oriented rules changes of recent years. Ken Anderson and Joe Montana know how to attack, unrelentingly, and they do not become conservative in "protecting" a three-point or seven-point lead.
On Dec. 3 in Cincinnati the Bengals were favored by 6 1/2 points over San Francisco but lost, 21-3. The final score was misleading. Cincinnati moved the ball well, only to turn it over on fumbles and interceptions at critical times. It was 14-3 in the third quarter when Anderson injured a toe a play or two after Cris Collinsworth had dropped a touchdown pass. With Anderson gone, Cincinnati was finished.
Two key players missed that contest, Cincinnati defensive end Eddie Edwards and San Francisco wide receiver Freddie Solomon. Edwards is important to the Bengals' pass rush. Solomon is the 49ers' most dangerous deep threat.
I picked Cincinnati, giving the points, on Dec. 3. Remembered is how the 49ers had an edge in the line play that day, both ways. This was surprising. My selection had been based primarily on the belief that the Bengals were slightly superior up front.
Certainly the Bengals rely more on raw power than do the 49ers. They come right at you, daring opponents to stand up to the crunch. Few rivals have.
San Francisco features more finesse, and while Anderson may be the better scrambler, Montana appears to be even more resourceful. If the 49ers hold up as well on the line of scrimmage in Pontiac as they did in Cincinnati they will win this Super Bowl. I think they will, but it is going to be close, very close, with Ray Wersching quite possibly providing the difference by a field goal over Jim Breech.
The single most important consideration, however, is a man who won't even be on the playing field, not within the sidelines, at least. That distinction goes to Bill Walsh, San Francisco's coach. Forrest Gregg and his staff have done an excellent job with Cincinnati but Walsh was in a class by himself this season. He is innovative, daring, devilishly deceptive, a coach for the '80s.
I'll string along with Walsh for an imaginary $100.
That's right, a measly $100. Having struggled from $4,375 down, I'm not about to risk the bragging rights to an eighth straight winning season of covering the spread by going for what, at best, is a $500 selection.
I'll be content to add either $250 or $40 to the cumulative total of nearly $30,000 over the eight-year history of this column. And, if you want to know how tough it is to win regularly, make note of one final figure: $1,575. That's the imaginary vigorish paid out this year in risking $11 to win $10 on 39 losing picks. Forty-two won. Had it been man-to-man action, that $1,575 would be added to the current $150 profit margin.
Jan. 10: Season Totals +$1,000
Season Totals: $150
Jan. 10 results: Cincinnati, giving 4 1/2, defeated San Diego, 27-7, plus $500; San Francisco, getting three, defeated Dallas, 28-27, plus $500.
Won-lost record: 42-39.