Now that the New England Patriots have indeed Squished the Fish, the only question left to be answered is: Will they Berry the Bears?
I think not.
I don't want to cause no trouble. I just think the Bears will do the Super Bowl Shuffle.
I base this opinion on the total number of points the Bears have allowed lately. Which is none. Nada. Zip. El Goose-O. The Bears have pitched two straight shutouts in the playoffs. Who do they think they are, Bret Saberhagen? Let's put aside for the moment the fact that of 28 NFL teams only San Diego outscored the Bears this season. Let's say the Bears don't score much against the Patriots. How much would they need if they don't give up any? For my money the only moment of truth in this Super Bowl will come when The Clash's favorite quarterback -- passer, punkster and palooka, Jim McMahon -- removes his helmet and reveals his headband. What's Mr. Ray-Ban going to have stenciled in this time, Hi Mom?
You don't care what I think? Fine. You want a more informed opinion. Fine. Would Don Shula's qualify? Hey, we aim to please. For Don Shula's comments we take you to the Dolphins' training camp on Monday, the morning after the Patriots had run through Miami like yuppies through Conran's. Heeeere's Donny:
"I feel that in order for New England to be in the game against Chicago they'll have to continue to do the things they've done successfully the last three weeks: take the ball away from their opponents; don't give it up; establish ball control. It's a formula that's worked for them." Shula tilted back in his seat and flashed that alligator grin. "Of course it's pretty hard to visualize that formula working for them against the Bears, with that great defense." Shaking his head appreciatively, Shula said, "I've compared that defense to the Steelers' defense on their Super Bowl teams, and that's the best defense I've ever seen in the NFL."
Shula favors the Bears. "A lot depends on the kind of day McMahon has. But he's a gifted, competitive athlete, and in Walter Payton they've got a running back who doesn't put the ball on the ground," Shula said pointedly, adding in a disgusted tone, "like we did." Summing up: "The Bears have done the best job in football this year. By far. You have to favor them."
In the interests of fairness we now present the case for the Patriots, which starts with their remarkable takeaway-giveaway playoff ratio. After recording a commendable plus-five over the course of 16 regular season games, the Patriots are plus-12 in just three playoff games. Does the term "search and destroy" mean anything to you? The Patriots have forced 13 fumbles in three games against the best the AFC had to offer: the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins. On turnovers alone the Patriots have scored 47 more points than their playoff opponents.
The Patriots have done it with balance between running and passing, and they have done it on the road; winning three straight playoff road games was unprecedented. For years New England was trashed for being a group of country-clubbers, the most underachieving team in the NFL. Now, suddenly, they inherit the earth. "This is a different team from the past," Brian Holloway announced. "We are a tough, tough team, and we have some magic."
In Craig James, Tony Collins, Mosi Tatupu and Robert Weathers the Patriots have a seamless, if not spectacular package of running backs. In Tony Eason they have a demonstrably improving quarterback. Most critical for the Chicago match-up, the Patriots have a huge, persuasive offensive line, one that can, perhaps, neutralize the Bears' ferocious horde. "Whoever wins that contest, the one up front, will win the game," Glenn Blackwood, the Miami safety, said Sunday before making his getaway in a decaying '75 Mustang.
New England, a faceless team until recent weeks, is the sentimental favorite, but Chicago is the realistic choice. This season from Day One the Bears have been the dominating presence in the NFL. Only one team, Miami, beat the Bears all season. New England, you'll note, did not, losing by 20-7. For all the talk of how well the Patriots run, they got 27 yards on the ground against the Bears. The Bears can stuff a one-back offense, as they did against Washington, Atlanta and the Rams, and they can stuff a two-back offense, as they did against the Giants and the 49ers. How many running backs can the Patriots put out there at once?
The way to beat the Bears, as the Dolphins showed, is by passing quickly to quick receivers. Eason is not Marino, and, even more notably now that Irving Fryar is lost -- seemingly in more ways than one -- the Patriots receivers are not Duper and Clayton.
In the next 12 days you will read all manner of stories suggesting that the Bears are self-satisfied and can be beaten by the Patriots. You can, if you wish, clutch to that. But looking at what the Bears have done so far in the playoffs, why would you?