The Bears were doing the Super Bowl Shuffle all over the Patriots, embarrassing them in a 46-10 victory nine years ago.
“At the end of the first quarter, I knew we were cooked, done,” former Pats running back Craig James said. “I’ve never watched the film or reviewed the tape.
“Obviously, it was the longest game of my life. To see it just come down in total humiliation and being outplayed in front of millions, that was the frustrating part.”
But with the Bears up by 20 in the second period and in the process of building a 236 to minus-19 yardage edge at the half, James said coach Raymond Berry tried to rally the Pats.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get back in this game,” James remembered Berry imploring.
James looked across the field at the Bears and one plan crossed his mind - which he didn’t share with Berry. “Maybe get them to leave,” he said. “Get them out of here before we come back.”
The AFC has played and lost - the last 10 Super Bowls, and in most cases played as if the only way it could win was if the NFC left. And when San Francisco and San Diego meet in Super Bowl XXIX Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium (3:17 p.m. PST, ABC), the 49ers will likely go in as the biggest favorites in the history of the game.
“We were part of the original pounding of this run the NFC has had,” James said.
It makes little sense, since they draft from the same pool of players, hire from the same pool of coaches and copy the same trendy secrets.
But when it comes to The Big Show, the AFC has been a No Show for the last 10 years. Eight of the games have been blowouts.
In Super Bowl XXIII, the 49ers needed a Joe Montana miracle drive to beat Cincinnati, 20-16, in the final minute. And in Super Bowl XXV, following the ‘90 season, Buffalo’s Scott Norwood was wide right on a 47-yarder in the final seconds, which preserved the Giants’ 20-19 victory.
Otherwise, it has been blowout city. The Bears set the record for largest margin of victory. That was smashed four years later when the 49ers toyed with the Broncos, 55-10. Three years later, Dallas hammered Buffalo, 52-17.
Phil Simms completed 22 of 25 against Denver, his 88 percent the most accurate in NFL playoff history. Washington’s Tim Smith had his 3 hours of fame when he rushed for a Super Bowl-record 204 yards against Denver in Super Bowl XXII. San Francisco’s Jerry Rice tied the Super Bowl record with 11 catches against the Bengals.
The Raiders’ 38-9 victory over Washington after the 1983 season was the AFC’s last victory. “I’m the defending AFC champion,” said exRaider Matt Millen, who later earned two more rings with the Niners and Redskins.
Millen never imagined the AFC would come up empty ever since. “I thought we were going to win it again the next year,” he said.
This is more than a cycle. A cycle is what happened in the 1970s, when the AFC won five in a row. Ten in a row is not a cycle. It’s reality.
Perhaps when enough of the architects of the NFC Super Bowls make their way to the AFC, the power will shift. After all, Bill Parcells went from the Giants to the Pats. Chargers GM Bobby Beathard came from Washington, where he built Super Bowl teams. Colts VP Bill Tobin helped build the ‘85 Bears. Browns coach Bill Belichick came from the Giants.
Maybe free agency, with players jumping from conference to conference, provides a chance for the AFC to sign NFC stars. But not even the trade for Montana, owner of three Super Bowl MVP trophies, has been enough to get Kansas City into the Super Bowl. Even with a flawed Chiefs team, you would have to give Montana a shot in the big game.
The last 10 Super Bowls have involved just 10 teams. In the NFC, the 49ers won three, the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins two and the Bears one. In the AFC, the Bills lost four, the Broncos three and the Patriots, Bengals and Dolphins one.
Has the NFC been overloading with the blue-chippers in the draft? Not really. In the last 11 drafts, the AFC has had 28 of the top-five picks; the NFC 27. The NFC has had the first pick six times, the AFC five.
Of course, when Dallas had the first pick in 1989, Troy Aikman was sitting there. He won two Super Bowls in his first five seasons.
Overall, the NFC and AFC are even. Take away Dallas and the Niners and the AFC is stronger. Over the last 11 seasons, the NFC has won 51 percent of the regularseason games, and assuming the 49ers beat the Chargers, they will have won all the Super Bowls.
So how can this happen?
Theory No. 1. “Coaches,” Simms said. “Teams that are dominated by their coaches seem to be the trend on how to win in the NFL. Coaches who dominated with their presence.”
The winning NFC coaches are Bill Walsh, Parcells, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Gibbs, Mike Ditka and George Seifert. Dan Reeves falls into that dominant coach category and his presence - along with John Elway - was good enough to get Denver to three Super Bowls, where it lost by a combined 136-40.
“San Francisco had never beaten us during the regular season and they blow us out,” Reeves said. “Washington beat us and we had beaten them in the regular season the year before. The Giants beat us and they had kicked a field goal in the last few seconds at their place earlier in the year to beat us. I don’t have an answer for it.”
Reeves said he actually felt the most confident going into the 49ers game. The Broncos trailed 27-3 at the half and lost by 45. Reeves recalled the halftime show running long and receiving four 2-minute warnings from the league to get ready to go back. “What can you say when you’re down by 35 at the half?” Reeves said.
His confidence was matched by Montana’s. Millen recalled Montana telling him in the days leading up to the game that if Denver’s defense played the Niners the way it played other teams, San Francisco would score 75 points. He was off by 20.
Theory No. 2. “With the top teams, the NFC defenses are just better in all aspects - in size, the dominant player,” Simms said. “The only guy that breaks that mold is Bruce Smith.”
The NFC’s philosophy has always been based on the more physical, smashmouth style and being able to run the ball.
Denver was a classic case of a smaller defense getting worn out as the game progressed. The Broncos had leads in two of their three losses in this streak. In fact, in eight of the 10 losses, the AFC had a lead, including two at halftime and two in the fourth quarter.
The Bills, one day, will be appreciated for making it to four straight Super Bowls. But, for now, they are looked upon as losers Nos. 7-10 for the AFC. “When we played the Giants, I, and everybody else on our team, felt we were the better team. A couple of feet to the left and we were Super Bowl champs,” Bills quarterback Jim Kelly said.
The next year, the Bills ran into the Redskins, who were having a 49ers-type season. Two years ago, they had an early lead on Dallas, but turned the ball over nine times - a Super Bowl record.
“Turnovers were the reason we lost,” Kelly said. “The Dallas Cowboys got a good dose of that in the championship game (Jan. 15). The key to the NFC is the defense. Offense puts people in the stands; the defense wins championships.”
Last year, Buffalo led Dallas 13-6 at the half, but was outscored 24-0 in the second half. Now, it’s up to the Chargers to break the AFC’s streak.
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