This Super Bowl has the potential to be different.
Maybe that's why the matchup between Cincinnati and San Francisco Sunday has produced an atmosphere of anticipation that has been missing from many of these recent NFL championship games.
These are teams with relatively little national exposure before the last month, with put-it-up offenses, inspired quarterbacks, gambling defenses and seemingly little tightness despite a week of hype.
These are teams that could produce a high-scoring, exciting, unpredictable game.
Oddsmakers rate the 49ers a one-point favorite.
"I don't see this becoming a defensive struggle," said San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh, who has played a major role in the development of both of the game's starting quarterbacks, veteran Ken Anderson and youthful Joe Montana.
"In many Super Bowls, one team was just superior to another and the game became a mismatch. That isn't the case here. These are evenly matched teams and they should produce a good game."
If nothing else, the estimated 100 million television viewers and 80,831 fans in the Silverdome expected to watch this 4:15 p.m. EST game (WDVM-TV-9) should get a sense of freshness.
This is the first Super Bowl for either team. It is the first Super Bowl matchup of teams that are products of league rule changes and growing equality within the NFL. This is the era of offense, and both qualify as front-line members of the movement away from grind-it-out football.
Expect the winner to score at least 28 points. Both coaches do. If the psychological edge is a factor, then Cincinnati should have it, since the Bengals were routed, 21-3, by San Francisco six weeks ago, even though the 49ers played without injured receiver Freddie Solomon. Solomon also sprained his left knee here, but is supposed to start.
"We owe them one," said linebacker Reggie Williams. "We have to prove we are better than we showed in that game."
Cincinnati had Anderson for only a half in that loss before he injured a toe and went to the sidelines with the 49ers ahead, 14-3. He passed for just 97 yards and was intercepted twice. Montana threw for 187 yards, two touchdowns and had one pass intercepted.
The key to the San Francisco win was turnovers. The Bengals, who had only 24 for the season, lost the ball six times in that game and were penalized a season-high 70 yards. The mistakes were forced by an aggressive San Francisco defense, which takes its cue from hard-hitting cornerback Ronnie Lott. The Cincinnati errors stopped drives at the 49er 12, 28 and 1.
"We were flat for the game," said Coach Forrest Gregg. "We won't be flat this time."
Cincinnati, which likes to blitz, didn't try that tactic very often in the first game. A change in strategy is expected, although Montana is one of the league's best at avoiding pressure and still being able to, as Walsh puts it, "fulfill his goal of finding the primary target. Many scramblers just throw to anyone available."
Quarterbacks always play major roles in Super Bowls, but Montana's is even more special this time.
Anderson, who is at the height of his career, has an edge in experience and in talent at wide receiver. He takes particular advantage of opponents' mistakes and usually does not make any himself (The Bengals have only one turnover in two playoff games this year).
Montana, in his first year of starting, cannot afford the kind of inconsistent performance that he gave against Dallas in the NFC title game, even though he did throw the winning touchdown pass.
There should be fine matchups: Bengal receivers Cris Collinsworth and Isaac Curtis against that young 49er secondary; inside linebacker Jack Reynolds against Bengal fullback Pete Johnson; defensive end Fred Dean against Cincinnati tackle Anthony Munoz; Walsh's innovative offensive mind against Hank Bullough, the Bengals' clever defensive coordinator. Cincinnati has an edge in size, experience and depth of talent. This is a powerful team that lacks only a true outside running threat to be an offensive machine. The Bengals are a product of careful drafting and Gregg's tough approach. But San Francisco, a conglomeration of young talent, select veterans and patchwork free agents, is more a product of Walsh's intelligence. The 49ers are quick and consistent, a combination that has compensated all season for ability deficiencies.
And Walsh would like nothing better than to win this Super Bowl by beating Cincinnati, where he was an assistant coach for eight years before being passed up for the head coaching job. He even has another ex-Bengal assistant, Chuck Studley, directing his defense.
The game should be interesting for another reason. Although both teams have efficient offenses, their approach to scoring differs. Cincinnati will throw more long passes. San Francisco uses the pass for ball control, mixing short passes (instead of runs) and occasional long passes to put together time-consuming drives.
There is no question these teams deserve to be here. They had their conferences' best records and were the league's most consistent teams all season.
"This whole week has been a ball," said Dwight Clark, the 49ers' excellent receiver. "Nothing like we had thought. But it's to the point where we all want to get the game going. I think the fans are going to love what happens out there."