SAN DIEGO -- As I began to ponder the broad vistas and deeper meanings of this Super Bowl and the season that was its unsteady prelude, I happened to be dining with a young blond woman who was dressed as a giant lobster. It seemed that she was promoting a seafood restaurant but the facts remain a bit hazy. Facts are supposed to remain hazy during Super Bowl week.
History will record that I have entertained roller skaters, strolling flower peddlers and assorted other celebrants during roman numeral weeks. But the lobster lady seemed particularly apropos this time around. She was a bit apprehensive about her image, because some observers had guessed that her garb represented a sunburned cockroach or an Ecuadorean red fire ant. I reassured her that she looked every bit as crustacean as the next girl. And she proved a morale builder, because in viewing a strange season, the next best thing to rose-colored glasses is a flaming red shell.
"I love my job," explained Chris Shedarowich, 24, from beneath her dangling antennae. "With the possible exception of my low impact aerobics classes, there's no better way to meet nice people than lobstering." This remark qualified her for the NFL mainstream. The sport that has made verbs out of words like "audible" and worse yet, "audibilize," surely can find a place in its lexicon for lobstering.
It certainly beats picketing or scabbing or union busting, the catch terms of the early season. It is pleasant to think that the annual haze and hustle of this occasion will virtually erase those ugly memories. The pain won't fade for the people who lost paychecks and made new friends with loan officers. But the after effects would be worse if a scab-aided team like Houston or San Diego were here. But despite the strike, worthy teams have qualified. Now at the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, I venture that most folks who tune in today will recall the strike as yesterday's catch of the sea.
Today's fresher fare is a bouillabaisse of recollections. First there was the meeting of Dexter Manley and Letitia Baldridge on the eve of his memorable interview with ESPN. "I don't bite a guy's head off and rip the snot out of his nose," Dexter said demurely. And then he got much more graphic.
Another etiquette citation goes to Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan. Angry at Dallas after the strike, Ryan was way ahead on the final play of the game when he instructed Randall Cunningham to kneel down as if running out the clock -- and get up and throw the ball into the end zone. The trick won no friends in Texas. But it did show the long-docile Eagles that they, too, could act like bullies on the block. They kept getting better after that.
Then there was the moment that wasn't quite fleeting enough for Cincinnati. The Bengals needed to kill six seconds to win over San Francisco. They cleverly tried a sweep that used only four seconds. Then they outdid themselves by covering Jerry Rice with only one man on the final desparate 49ers pass. If Ryan's gambit made the Eagles tough, Coach Sam Wyche's blunder that day made the Bengals pussycats for the rest of the season.
I happened to win that game on sheer luck. I won 60 percent of my regular season games. But I didn't gloat, because I knew in my heart that the Goddess of Wagering had not only smiled on me but brought along her cousin Pomona, Goddess of Abundance. In other words, I had used up all my luck. I could only retreat meekly when the two goddesses enlisted Darrin Nelson and Earnest Byner to slap me around during the playoffs.
But I refused to lament at this point. I know I enjoyed a better year than Wyche, Gary Hart or Jessica Hahn and while I'm dropping names, here is one more public service: a garnish of names and footnotes to sprinkle over your Super Bowl brunch game of Trivial Pursuit. Stagger Lee. The ill-fated Houston play that launched the Broncos toward a playoff rout. The great thing about the fumbled lateral was not that Houston was so dumb but that Denver was so devious. It turned out that the Pittsburgh Steelers, craving revenge against Houston's brawlers, had tipped off the Denver coaches to the play. It is always exhilarating when the twisting corridors of the NFL begin to resemble big business, politics or other aspects of real life. Robin Sendlein. A few years ago Miami traded the rights to Anthony Carter for this man. He has not been heard from since. Don Shula makes few mistakes. Treasure the ones you can find. Rusty Hilger. Al Davis knows quarterbacks. He developed Ken Stabler, recycled an aging Jim Plunkett -- and won Super Bowls with both. So when he told friends this year that he believed in Hilger, we listened. The silence remains deafening.
Of course there are a few people out here for whom silence is golden. Among them: Any Redskin not cited in Christine Brennan's piece in The Washington Post Magazine last week. Then there's Denver cornerback Mark Haynes, who this week had the pleasure of refusing to speak to more than 2,300 of the reporters he disdains.
Does this all mean that the Super Bowl by the sea will someday be recalled for its peace and tranquility? Dumb question. That's why they invited Dexter.