Being a coach instead of a showman, Joe Gibbs fretted much of last week about having so little time to prepare for his--and the Redskins'--crowning athletic moment. Fact is, or enormous evidence points that way, the less time these Redskins have to realize what is going on here the better.
The Super Bowl is as much spectacle as sport, a time for heads inclined that way to get turned from the business at hand. With a two-week break, extraneous matters such as whether a brother-in-law has access to an official car becomes as important as the most well-conceived play. Very likely, many of the first 16 Super Bowls were won or lost long before the opening kickoff.
"After we beat the Cowboys (for the National Conference title in 1972)," said Larry Brown, "nobody could have beaten us the next Sunday. The layoff hurt us a lot. We lost some of our intensity and got caught up in the aura of the place."
And were beaten by the Dolphins, 14-7.
"That was the worst Super Bowl in history," said Bobby Mitchell, Redskins assistant general manager. "Miami didn't play any ball and we didn't either. I don't know what happened to Miami; I do know what happened to us."
What happened, many Redskins whisper, is that George Allen all of a sudden began treating the Over The Hill Gang like sixth graders on their first trip away from home: rigid curfews, extra meetings, fewer tickets than anticipated, more inconvenience for families.
Jim Snowden and some others simply jumped that shaky ship at one point, or out a motel window and into the night, to be specific. That created just the enormous internal friction Allen always tried to eliminate. The Redskins may well have lost anyway, for the Dolphins that year were extraordinary; they still moan about beating themselves from Wednesday on.
Ten years later, the Redskins are only a few miles from where they stayed before that debacle; they are worlds apart with their pre-Super Bowl game plan. Instead of stifling his players, Gibbs is letting them behave the way they would before any other game. Bright man.
These Dolphins are just as unfamiliar to this Super Bowl as these Redskins. But Coach Don Shula and much of his staff know all the problems, and most of the solutions. They would have a decided advantage if this weren't a superquick Super Bowl.
Because Allen's approach was so spectacularly sour, Redskins' officials have talked with other teams about how to cope. Who better to call for advice than a Pittsburgh Steeler, and one of the most thoughtful ones at that: Joe Greene. Bobby Mitchell did exactly that.
"He told me that the team with the best organization wins," Mitchell said. "That's the secret to the Super Bowl, as opposed to the regular season. Face it, all the players are great or they wouldn't be there. He said you worry about things you shouldn't, and it drains you. He said: 'All I know is that you can't move.' "
Players who should be thinking about how to block Too Tall Jones too often are thinking about blocks of tickets for friends; or how a daughter denied access to the team's charter will arrive; or how to pacify close friends who cannot get tickets because team officials horde them.
These guys are only larger than you and I, no less human.
This week the Redskins are being pampered as never before. The National Football League suggests that each player be given 15 Super Bowl tickets; Jack Kent Cooke made it 25. To eliminate disruptions, players whose wives will be arriving Friday have been given single rooms.
One of the problems still unsolved is kids. Specifically, how to get entire families of players speeding off to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii here together when the charter, so far, allows only wives.
"When I called some of the other teams (who lost in the Super Bowl)," Mitchell said, "I expected to hear about all-night parties, players getting drunk. There was none of that. All they said was: 'Keep the little problems from getting big.' "
For the most part, the week off before Super Bowl week is designed to make selling the event as easy as possible. Wise coaches know how to deflect attention from the team before the game. That is why Bud Grant one year created such a stir about sparrows in the shower room. But his Vikings still lost.
The first full day of Super Bowl week is a media circus beyond belief. For the Redskins, it was serene compared to 10 years ago. Then security was so lax that thousands of fans allowed near the practice site bolted over barriers and onto the field.
Frightened, the players almost fought their way to shelter. Among the most bizarre sights that afternoon was Billy Kilmer holding a press conference in a men's room. The week went steadily downhill.
Today, Redskins whose opinions rarely have been sought still had microphone after microphone thrust toward their chins. But it was orderly, and the afternoon meeting began on time.
For Mitchell, there were a few moments to think back to his own days as a player, to the late '50s when the Super Bowl was simply the NFL championship game. It was a far different scene.
Nobody arranged a car for Bobby Mitchell before his Cleveland Browns met the New York Giants in the '58 Eastern Conference playoffs; nobody made sure his wife Gwen had enough tickets; nobody scrambled for extra rooms.
"Hard to believe," he said, "but if we wanted our uniforms cleaned that week we had to pay for it."
The players were going to get a princely few hundred extra dollars from the game, and Browns Coach Paul Brown thought nothing ought to be free.
"He told us," Mitchell said, " 'This is your game not mine.' "