If their season-long tidal wave crashes to shore Sunday with one final, definitive blow, the Chicago Bears will win Super Bowl XX and then perhaps start work on a Pro Bowl Shuffle.
The Bears are 17-1 and have become the first team in NFL history to forge consecutive postseason shutouts. When they play the New England Patriots at 5 p.m. EST (WRC-TV-4) in the Superdome, their linebacker, Otis Wilson, says you'll see "The Big Goose Egg" for the Patriots' offense, a first-ever Super Bowl shutout.
"Oh, I don't think Otis is predicting," said Chicago Coach Mike Ditka. "He's just talking."
But the New England Patriots (14-5) have seen and heard this all before. They are the first wild-card team to reach the Super Bowl by winning three road games. Their offense spent just 19 seconds in Bears territory during a 20-7 loss on Sept. 15, but this team doesn't seem to notice the detour signs on the road, no matter how large.
Now the Patriots are 10 1/2-point underdogs who know that the New York Jets were 18-point underdogs against Baltimore and that the Kansas City Chiefs were 13-point underdogs against Minnesota and still won Super Bowls III and IV, respectively.
"I have never seen this team go in the tank and die in adverse situations. I'm referring to guys just quitting," said Dante Scarnecchia, coach of the Patriots' special teams. "They have just never done it. Yeah, being a 10-point underdog could be considered adverse. I really think we'll play our best game on Sunday."
Chicago's Jim McMahon and New England's Tony Eason have been affected by ailments this week, but are expected to start at quarterback.
If the Bears win, it might do wonders for the acupuncture business. McMahon has been receiving needles in his left buttock from a Japanese acupuncturist to reduce pain from a deep bruise he suffered in the conference title game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Eason suffered a mild viral infection and didn't practice Friday. He did attend today's final light workout, but did not practice and Coach Raymond Berry said there was still "a question whether Tony will start." Eason said there was no doubt he would be ready.
If Eason can't finish the game, backup Steve Grogan, the 11-year veteran, might get to live his mid-week dream in which he comes off the bench to generate a victory.
Super Bowl XX features two players who have been among the most dominant at their position for more than a decade -- Patriots guard John Hannah and Bears running back Walter Payton. When these teams played in September, Hannah didn't play because of an injury, and Payton, who has rushed for a total of just 151 yards in three career games against the Patriots, nursed an injury to his ribs and got 39 yards.
"If we don't turn over the football," McMahon said, "I don't see them beating us."
For sure, that has been the Patriots' victory formula during the postseason: the defense and special teams force the turnovers (16 in three games, leading to 61 points) and the offense cranks out an average of 42 runs per game, most of them by running back Craig James.
Eason has thrown an average of just 14 passes in playoff victories over the Jets, Raiders and Dolphins. The preeminent question is: what will happen if he must pass Sunday?
The Bears have held 13 of 18 opponents to 10 points or fewer this season, remarkably posting 44 shutout quarters. In the playoffs, they limited the Giants' Joe Morris to 32 yards rushing, the Rams' Eric Dickerson to 36 yards and they made Rams quarterback Dieter Brock seem two feet tall, restricting him to 66 yards passing. This defense held the Giants and Rams without a first down in 17 of 29 possessions.
Some Patriots believe that, when safety Gary Fencik cheats several steps forward in some alignments, they can beat the Bears with the deep strike, Eason to Stanley Morgan or Irving Fryar or Stephen Starring, maybe. Now, if only Eason can get the pass off before he gets crunched by Mike Singletary or Richard Dent or Dan Hampton or William Perry. This Bears brigade sacked Eason six times on Sept. 15.
"We feel confident we can contain their pass rush," said Patriots guard Ron Wooten, "as long as we don't get behind."
It's possible, of course, that the Patriots will try more rollouts and sprintouts with Eason, perhaps aided by a floating pocket of blockers. That is the tactic Miami used and it produced the Bears' only loss of this season, 38-24, in week 13.
"But Tony Eason is not Dan Marino. The Patriots use him to complement their offense, not to be it," Fencik said.
Prior to this season, Berry said he traveled with two of his offensive coaches to meet with Illinois Coach Mike White, to discuss and review some of the things Eason did three years ago when he was known as "Champaign Tony."
"I saw Tony rolling out left and right," Berry recalled. "I realized more than ever that the boy had the capability of throwing every pass."
But will he throw every type of pass Sunday? The Patriots rushed for 27 yards on 16 carries against the Bears earlier this season, James getting just seven on five carries.
"Some people tried to make a big deal about how eight (1,000-yard) running backs hadn't done anything against the Raiders," said James. He rushed for 104 two weeks ago to become the first to reach the 100-yard mark this year against the Raiders.
"So it doesn't discourage me now when people say the same thing about the Bears' defense," James added. "I've carried an average of about 20 times each week recently. I don't see us getting away from it -- unless it's a total stuff job and we have to go to the passing game."
Some folks don't seem to realize that there are two defenses playing in this game. All this Patriots defense has done in the playoffs is limit the Jets and the Raiders to fewer than 290 total yards each and knock Miami's Marino off his magic carpet, allowing him to complete just 20 of 48 passes.
Still, if McMahon is healthy, his mobility might wreck the sack-minded pursuit of all-pro linebacker Tippett and the strategies of Patriots defensive coordinator Rod Rust.
Payton said that if the Bears lose Super Bowl XX, the rest of their season will mean little.
Even though Ditka said: "I don't agree with Walter," Payton's point carries some validity. After all, few people seem to remember that the Redskins went 14-2 in 1983, before losing, 38-9, to the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII.
There is a growing belief that maybe the Bears have grown too sure of themselves, a bunch as cocky as any. When someone asked Ditka if he had told his players about what Broadway Joe Namath did to those heavily favored Baltimore Colts 17 Super Bowls ago, Ditka said: "We don't even care about the Baltimore Colts. They are not even in the league anymore."
"I don't even like the Super Bowl Shuffle," said Steve McMichael, Bears defensive tackle.
Is it because that rap video reflects a team overconfidence? "No," said McMichael, "if they had done it to a country-western tune, I would have liked it."