Joe Gibbs and Don Shula found themselves in the uncomfortable positions today of having to defend their teams' right to play in Super Bowl XVII, which critics are calling the Lackluster Bowl.
"No matter what people think, this is a big deal for us," said Gibbs, whose Redskins have an 11-1 record, the NFL's best. "People make judgments, that's their right, but if we are 11-1 and Miami is 10-2, what else do we have to do to get here?
"I believe if we win the Super Bowl, it will be quite an accomplishment. We will have to win seven straight games, including four straight in the playoffs, and wind up with a 12-1 record. That's good by anyone's standards. We would have done everything asked of us. What else can you do?"
Because of the strike-shortened season, Miami's Shula previously had said that an asterisk would have to be placed next to the Super Bowl winner's name. But he said today that asterisk is getting "smaller and smaller." He also wondered why there are predictions of a low-scoring, low-excitement game to be played by two of the league's less-attractive teams.
"I don't know how anyone can say this is going to be a low-scoring, low-excitement Super Bowl," Shula said. "You just never know how a game is going to evolve during the course of a game. And how do you determine excitement?
"I think that we proved that we belonged here, through our accomplishments in the American Football Conference. And I think the Redskins, starting from the middle of last year and all through this year, have proven they are the best team. That's why they are here. Some people might prefer to see other teams here. But we are the teams here, we've earned that right . . .
"The Redskins have the best record in the National Football League, and the team with the best record generally is the team in the Super Bowl, that's what I've always been led to believe. If other teams or their supporters think they are better, they should have won the games necessary to get here."
Shula conceded that part of the criticism surrounding the game stems from the fact that neither team has the image of being a wide-open, high-scoring team along the lines of San Francisco and Cincinnati last year and San Diego and the New York Jets this year.
"But you can't go into the playoffs being one-dimensional," he said. "You better have a balance of special teams, offense and defense. A few weeks ago, everyone was talking about having too much volleyball in the league, that we had to do something about the rules. But what you have here are two teams who stress ball control and defense. Even Don Coryell (San Diego) recognizes the importance of running the ball. Otherwise, he wouldn't have traded for Chuck Muncie."
Gibbs: "I've studied past Super Bowl teams and except for one or two exceptions, they all start with good defense, that's the first criteria. So that doesn't make either of us exceptional. When you lead the league in defense (Miami) or in fewest points allowed (Washington), you are going to win games."
But interest surrounding the game seems to reflect either a continued carryover from the eight-week players' strike or a lack of excitement generated by the participants. Reports from Las Vegas indicate wagering is down from what was expected, and although local ticket brokers still have a market for Super Bowl tickets, they say purchases are going slower than normal.
Joe Bugel, the Redskins offensive line coach, said today that guard Fred Dean probably would start for Mark May Sunday. May had replaced Dean against the Cowboys last week, but the Redskins think Dean plays better against 3-4 defenses like the one the Dolphins use. "It's okay," May said. "We are the only team that substitutes linemen according to the defense, but it's worked, that's the important thing" . . . The only Redskin who may not play Sunday is safety Greg Williams, a special teams star who has a severe hamstring pull.
The Redskins went through their first extended practice for the game today. In a brief workout Tuesday, they were sluggish, but Gibbs said that was expected since it was not a normal work day. Usually, Washington players have Tuesday off . . . There is no Super Bowl party this year, so Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke is throwing a much-smaller version Friday night to celebrate his team's NFC title. About 400 people have been invited, including members of the national media, to the gala, which will be held in the ballroom of the team hotel here.