Don Shula and Bill Walsh can't be as smart as they seemed today.

Dan Marino and Joe Montana can't be that dull.

There must be times, when Shula has his stocking feet up watching reruns of the "Rockford Files" and wants another beer, that he says something dumb and drab. Walsh must have days when he can't find the proper word to give life to his thoughts.

Must be. Otherwise Shula and Walsh would be huddled with Chuck Schultz and Andy Gromyko, not Bob Brudzinski and Bubba Paris.

And, in the fourth quarter, down by a few points, when you absolutely must drive the length of the field and score, Montana probably sounds profound and Marino must be brilliant. No doubt their eyes flash and teammates say, "Sure glad this guy's running our show."

Gotta be.

But that's sure not how it seems.

Shula and Walsh, Marino and Montana, hold center stage this week as Super Bowl XIX approaches. What a contrast.

The spark of question and answer suits the coaches perfectly. Their thoughts seem well considered and well expressed. Ask Marino and Montana to join in the mental sparing and you might as well have invited two Martians to play Trivial Pursuit.

Ask Shula and Walsh a simple question -- like "Lotta little tiny wide receivers runnin' around out there these days, don'tcha think, coach?" and you get a dissertation on the evolution of the theory of offensive football.

With the barest hint of prompting, Shula expounded on how he'd seen the light of insight and stopped telling his scouts "don't bring any of those little guys around." Now, he rather prefers such itsy-bitsy lads as Mark Clayton and Mark Duper to catch his forward passes.

"With the new rules, you need the quickness and explosiveness of the small receivers who can get away from the jam at the line of scrimmage . . . The long-striders are having trouble," said Shula. "You look for a great vertical jump in a small receiver because that's how you become a big receiver in the air. Clayton has a 38-inch vertical leap and Duper 37 inches."

"The receivers on this Dolphin team wouldn't have gotten off the line of scrimmage against the old Dolphin teams," said Walsh. "Those Dolphin and (Pittsburgh) Steeler teams of the '70s were brutal for receivers to deal with, because they hit you all over the field. They had the offenses so stymied and so neutered that the game turned into three yards and a cloud of dust.

"When the rules were changed (to let receivers run free after they got five yards from the line) it changed the dynamics of the game . . . That's when the small receivers became a big force."

"Neutered" and "dynamics of the game"? These aren't baseball managers talking at the World Series, that's for certain.

If Shula and Walsh have one thing in common, it's that they seem like men who might have been suited to some dramatically more influential calling than deciding whether to run left or right.

Shula, asked about his "genius" as a coach, said, "The word genius should be used for people who work in areas that are much more important than coaching football. Areas that are life and death, that are very important.

"I enjoy what I do. But I think the term 'genius' should be reserved for . . . Well, I sat next to Whizzer White at a banquet in Washington the other night and to me, that was a thrill. Use genius about a guy like that, who's a Supreme Court justice."

Walsh showed similar crispness in his thinking when he said wryly, "We're not a team that thinks we must establish the run before the game can continue."

When Walsh talked about how his mentor Paul Brown brought serious schoolroom study into pro football for the first time, Walsh let his mind run off to other rooms full of battle plans and strategy boards and said, "Maybe that was the World War II influence."

In other words, the roots of modern football might be found in '40s warfare. Not a bad off-the-cuff idea before your second cup of coffee.

Marino and Montana, although they obviously have to be smart to recall plays quickly and make fast mental choices in a game, don't come across as more than normal next-door Joes.

Perhaps it is more interesting to think that a great quarterback has nonverbal and nonintellectual qualities that set him apart, especially in a crisis. That seems the case with Marino and Montana.

For 45 minutes today, Marino gave the-lights-are-on-but-nobody-is-home answers such as, "We lost those two games this season because they just scored more points than us."

However, when the word "pressure" was mentioned, he had a notion so novel that it made you blink. "That's what we're here for. That's why we play the game," he said with real animation. "Everybody wants to have this kind of pressure."

Of course, almost nobody wants this kind of pressure. A hundred million people waiting to judge you? Your team and your city holding its breath to see if you'll carry them through? Every third guy on the street saying, "Marino can't keep up this pace. He hasn't had a bad game all year. Wouldn't it be ironic if that bad game came in the Super . . ."

Maybe it's better not to have a well-developed sense of irony and not to have a sense of how historically ridiculous it is to throw 55 touchdown passes in one year. Maybe, if what you're doing is not only unprecedented, but believed to be impossible, it's better not to know it.

Maybe, if you have to drive a team 70 yards in 70 seconds, an ounce of ego is worth a pound of brains.

"The mental part's what's tough for me," said Montana who, after six years in San Francisco still gets befuddled by Walsh's complex system. "The coach will put in 50 plays the first day of practice and I'll think, 'Aw, no. How many are we going to end up with.'

"I'm glad we do 'script' the first 25 plays of the game (beforehand) and that I don't have to call the plays," said Montana. "I have a hard enough time thinking on the field without thinking about all those plays." That's when Montana, without knowing, said something which almost perfectly mirrored Marino. Asked about the mounting pressure of Super Bowl week, Montana said, "You reach a peak and then you just go higher every day. You think you can't be any more excited, but then you are . . .

"Oh, no, you can't get too high or peak too soon. A game this big will bring out the best in anyone."


Come again, Joe? Which human race are we talking about here?

Enormous pressure, enormous expectation, the potential for enormous glory or enormous failure "will bring out the best in anyone."

Fortunately for the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers, it brings out the best in Dan Marino and Joe Montana. And it's everybody's good luck that they don't know any better.