California was drenched today. Floods destroyed Greta Garbo's old house in Malibu. The Pacific Coast Highway looked like the Grand Canal. It was great weather for surfers and ducks.
And a 100-yard stretch of greenery in Passadena is the source of great attention and concern. Like hundreds of bored geezers crowded onto an endless park bench, everybody is talking about the weather -- specifically, the forecast for Super Bowl XVII to be played in the Rose Bowl.
The National Weather Service is making a tentative prediction that the weather will begin to clear in time for the 6 p.m. EST game Sunday. If the field is soggy, though, both the Redskins and the Dolphins, who play ball-control offenses, will be prepared.
Rain or shine, each team will depend heavily on the power running of its fullback -- Washington's John Riggins and Miami's Andra Franklin, the NFL's third-leading rusher. Riggins has always attracted attention, but unassuming Franklin, who gained 701 yards for seven touchdowns and a 4.0 average in this nine-game regular season, is a worthy rival.
"It could turn out to be a fullback's day," said Franklin. "I kind of like that."
The second-year runner showed his power on an extraordinary run in Miami's second game against the Jets. "It was a 25-yard touchdown run," said Franklin. "It was a basic play starting up the middle and I just went on through."
What Franklin failed to mention is that he was interrupted on his way to the goal line.
"I remember that run," said center Mark Dennard. "First a linebacker hit him and he just dragged him along. Then two defensive backs hit him and Andra took them along, too. He's just got a low center of gravity."
Franklin -- usually a modest, terse man -- smiled as he remembered the run and the way he thrust his fist into the air afterward. In a league that features 57 varieties of touchdown celebrations, Franklin is a reluctant spiker.
"I'm not really emotional myself.But I got a little emotional there," he said. "After the game my wife was surprised. She said, 'Hey, you got a little excited there.'"
In 1973 and 1974, Don Shula coached a ball-control team, efficient enough to rival Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, to victories in Super Bowls VII (Washington) and VIII (Minnesota). Larry Csonka, the Dolphins' bruising fullback, gained 112 against the Redskins and 145 yards against the Vikings for a Super Bowl record and the MVP award.
Since then, offenses have featured more and more passing, both short and deep. Franklin and the Dolphins -- as well as Riggins and the Redskins -- are almost anachronistic in their dependence on the sort of straightforward running that practically defies the defense to halt it.
Early this season, when Miami was winning almost solely on defense and the immense strength of Franklin's legs, Shula took to comparing his fullback to Csonka. At Nebraska, the 5-foot-10, 225-pound runner was primarily a blocker, for I. M. Hipp, Jarvis Redwine and Rick Berns.
Although Shula originally planned to use him as a blocking back, Franklin gained more yards as a rookie -- 711 for eight touchdowns -- than either Csonka or Jim Kiick in their first years.
"I was just 12 or 13 but I member Bob Griese passing to Paul Warfield and Csonka and Kiick and (Mercury) Morris running," said Franklin. "Coach Shula's got me in that mold, but I don't like to compare myself too much to Csonka. But there is a similarity. Power is my best asset."
Franklin's picture still hangs in the Nebraska weight room commemorating his best lift on the hip sled -- 950 pounds.
Running from the same backfield is Tony Nathan, a third-year veteran from Alabama. Last season was Nathan's best. He rushed 147 times for 782 yards, a 5.3 average, and had five touchdowns; as a receiver he had 50 catches for 452 yards and three touchdowns. But early this season Nathan had difficulty overcoming a number of minor injuries and struggled. He finished the regular season with 233 yards -- only 26 more than quarterback David Woodley.
In Miami's 34-13 victory over the San Diego Chargers two weeks ago, Nathan proved he had overcome his difficulties, gaining 83 yards on 19 carries and 55 yards on eight pass receptions.
Nathan, for his part, remembers little of the old Dolphins team: "That was 1972, man. I was in high school. Football wasn't my thing. Besketball was. And when I wasn't thinking about sports, I was out hitting the streets."
Bob Kuechenberg was blocking for Kiick and Csonka when Nathan was still in high school in Birmingham. His memory of his old teammates is keen and fond, but he puts Nathan and Franklin in the same league:
"Kiick and Tony both are good receivers out of the backfield, though Tony is a breakaway runner and Jim never was. Zonk was a dominating force and so is Andra... Andra is a blood and guts type player. As they say, you want him in your foxhole. I might hold my defensive man to a standoff but Andra will hit the line and, wooosh, he gets three or four more yards. Zonk was the same way."
"Ball control is Shula's system," said former Dolphins quarterback Grises. "Don's got the runners again."