Something exceptional will happen here today in Super Bowl XX. Either the Chicago Bears will establish themselves as one of the mighty teams in National Football League history or the New England Patriots will pull off a memorable upset.
Count on a coronation.
The only way the Patriots can win is with the sort of luck that carried them past the New York Jets, past the Los Angeles Raiders and past the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs.
Yes, they are a smart, tough, gritty and resourceful bunch, almost certainly the best team in a conference superior to the one the Bears bestrode. After all, it was an AFC team (the Dolphins) that dealt the Bears their only setback.
But the lasting impression is this: the Patriots left the field with more points on the scoreboard after each of their three road victories in the playoffs, but the other guys seemed to have lost the game more than New England won it.
Turnovers are vital, but not expected. I do not believe any team honestly counts on the special-teams heroics the Patriots have thrived on of late. Like the three teams that have fallen to the Patriots, the Bears also practice holding onto the ball on kickoff and punt returns. They surely will not give this one away.
Minds a whole lot more sophisticated about football than this one practically hyperventilate over the Bears' defense.
John Madden says it's the best he has ever seen. Dick Vermeil was astonished at Chicago's overkill ratio this season, scoring 2.3 times as many points as it allowed.
If the game isn't pointless, some of the Bears figure the Patriots will be. Chicago is a swaggering team that hardly minds also playing against the record books and some ghosts from its past.
No matter if they pitch their third straight playoff shutout, middle linebacker Mike Singletary and his pals will not even be the stingiest defense in Bears history.
Papa Bear's 1920 team, his first, only allowed two touchdowns -- 14 points in all -- in 13 games. But the offense also got shut out against Akron and Rock Island, and the Bears finished 10-1-2.
If the present coach, Mike Ditka, chooses to preach against overconfidence, he can remind the team about the second playoff ever in the NFL. Naturally, it involved the Bears.
The NFL failed to hold playoffs after its first 12 seasons. In 1934, the Bears faced a test for the NFL title somewhat similar to this one. They had won the Western Division championship, with a 13-0 record, and were facing the 8-5 Giants.
The Giants won, by 17 points.
What Ditka's Bears want is to be mentioned with some of the all-time NFL teams: Vince Lombardi's '62 Packers, Don Shula's 17-0 Dolphins, one or two of Chuck Noll's Steelers teams in the '70s and some assorted Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and, yes, other Monsters of the Midway.
For that to happen, the Bears must win -- and win grandly. As Ditka also may know, the fate of teams with very good records in the ultimate playoff game is very ordinary.
To be exact, it's 8-7.
Fifteen times teams entered whatever pro football chose to call its title game either unbeaten or with just one loss. Only eight times were they victorious.
The 11-0 Bears lost to the Redskins in 1942; the 11-1 Cardinals lost to the Eagles in 1948; the 11-1 Browns lost in 1951 and 1953; 13-1 Oakland lost the first Super Bowl; 13-1 Baltimore lost the third.
So this just might not be an unimpeded trip to the honey jar for the Bears after all. Whatever brilliance the cunning Raymond Berry can concoct will be seen fairly early and quite often.
In truth, the brightest thing Berry might think of is to do very little, to be conservative and hope the Bears also catch fumbleitis.
Rarely, if ever, have coaches in vital NFL games been more outwardly different. Berry is your high school physics teacher; Ditka is the town tough.
Maybe Lombardi and Tom Landry seemed more unalike. But not by much. Still, for all their obvious differences Berry and Ditka are similar in much that only football insiders recognize and appreciate.
Somehow, they teach and motivate. Ditka seems to get it done with Lombardi-like bombast; like Landry, Berry may be more cerebral. All of them almost never make the same mistake twice.
"There's a lot of little boy in all the great coaches," said Jim Finks, the man who built the fine Vikings teams under Bud Grant, who built these Bears and who is beginning to overhaul the Saints. "They're also a little bit selfish at times. They're mostly dealing with players who also have that little boy in 'em, and they've got to get down to that level. Bring out that innocent enthusiasm. Things you and I might think are petty and let slide, the winning coaches don't."
"First thing I ask about a player," Ditka said, "is: 'Can he play?' Then I ask how tall he is and how much he weighs." A special favorite is defensive tackle Steve McMichael "because he's all man. I like that."
Against Tampa Bay his first year, Ditka said: "I played not to lose. We were too tight (and lost in overtime). I vowed never to do it again."
The quiet and practical Berry said the Patriots are businesslike because that suits them best. He adds: "If the game weren't a sellout, you'd see all kinds of things to get people in."
Ditka mentioned that one of the few troublesome areas the entire season has been kickoff coverage. The Bears ranked near the bottom of the entire league.
Even that is not as much of a problem as it might seem, for the Patriots must figure a way to make the Bears kick off more than once. Nobody else in the playoffs has.