The New Jersey Generals and Baltimore Stars would seem to already have played out much of the drama of Monday night's U.S. Football League playoff game.
There has been more than the usual amount of discussion between these two teams in the week preceding their first-round game at the Meadowlands (9 p.m., ESPN). Much of it has concerned Generals quarterback Doug Flutie and the growing rivalry between the teams.
Generals Coach Walt Michaels finally ruled out the Heisman Trophy winner as his starting quarterback at Saturday's practice, apparently convinced that backup Ron Reeves, who has played the last three games, is better prepared for the playoffs. But to hear the Stars tell it, it doesn't much matter anyway.
"He's a good quarterback. He can run the ball well, but I don't think he can throw as well as people say," Kelvin Bryant said of Flutie.
Stars safety Mike Lush told the New York Daily News that if his team could score 17 points, it would win. That item has been pasted on the Generals' locker room wall.
Although Michaels says Flutie won't start, he is still the subject of some mystery. He could dress for the game and step in if Reeves gets in trouble. But the Generals aren't expected to announce until an hour before game time whether Flutie will dress.
Flutie said he understood the decision not to start him but obviously was disappointed. He had said earlier in the week he felt he was ready to play. "I get so nervous on the sideline," he said. "I hate not being in control of the game."
Both coaches, meanwhile, have been doing their best to avoid answering any questions at all, for fear of revealing some vital piece of information that could affect the outcome.
The Generals' Michaels: "We're going to do the expedient thing." The Stars' Jim Mora: "We won't do anything different."
Despite the smokescreen, the two teams would seem to be just about evenly matched. They are two of the most well-rounded franchises in the USFL, each having been to the playoffs before, the Stars winning the championship last year. Both are primarily running teams, and Bryant and the Generals' Herschel Walker are the USFL's two premier backs.
And whenever the the teams meet they are good for at least one shoving match. This is their eighth meeting since the league started, with the Stars leading, 4-3. The Stars won both regular-season games over New Jersey in 1983, the Generals won both in 1984, but then the Stars won in the playoffs on their way to the title.
They have split their two regular-season games this year. Baltimore won the first, 29-9, at College Park and New Jersey the second at the Meadowlands, 10-3.
If any slight edge can be given, it would probably go to the Stars (10-7-1). They finished with a flourish, winning five of their last six. The Generals (11-7) lost their last two with Reeves at quarterback.
The Stars' defense, which has kept them in contention all season, has given up an average of just 11 points in the last five games. The Generals have allowed about 20 per game over the same stretch.
Baltimore's offense, which had struggled all year, finally seemed to find itself in the last two games, beating Orlando, 31-0, and Tampa Bay, 38-10.
"Winning five of the last six makes things a lot better," Mora said. "When you win, things just seem to go good. We've just gotten better as the year goes on."