Super Bowl slaughter

It won't be close, and it won't be pretty (unless you enjoyed the invasion of Grenada).

Published January 30, 2002 8:34PM (EST)

In one of the most lopsided games in Super Bowl history, the St. Louis Rams, scoring points the way they vote in Chicago -- "early and often" -- slaughtered the flatfooted New England Patriots, 56-10. No, make that 56-9. The game didn't quite have the men-against-boys feel of the Chicago Bears' 1986 victory over New England, or the San Francisco 49ers' 1990 dismembering of the Denver Broncos, but to fans who enjoy pro football because of its capacity for domination, it was a classic. There was simply no doubt by the end of the game that the Rams were the best team in football. In fact, there was no doubt by the middle of the second quarter.

After a couple of "feeling out" exchanges that lasted midway through the first quarter, Troy Brown took a short pass from quarterback Tom Brady, broke a tackle and went 33 yards to the Rams' 24-yard line. This was the Pats' golden opportunity to make an early statement, but most hope faded when Brady's third-down pass was batted away by the Rams' Grant Wistrom, and New England, after a 12-play, six-minute drive, had to settle for a field goal. The television research folks rang up all kinds of statistics on how the team scoring first in the Super Bowl had almost always gone on to win, but neglected to remind viewers that all those earlier teams that got scored on first weren't the St. Louis Rams.

On the next Ram possession, quarterback Kurt Warner calmly shrugged off a blitz and hit wide-out Isaac Bruce for a 42-yard gain. Four plays later Warner lobbed a four-yard TD pass to tight end Ernie Conwell, who was so alone on the play he later said he felt "insulted." "All day I was wide open," bitched Conwell. "Why? I'm a good receiver. But these guys didn't get close enough to identify me in a police lineup." After the ensuing kickoff the Patriots were able to gain just one yard; they punted. The Rams scored quickly again when Warner hit Conwell for 40 yards. Warner then slipped the ball to the Rams' fullback, whose name no one ever remembers because all he usually does is block for Marshall Faulk, and he walked untouched into the end zone from 30 yards out. Then followed six minutes of graphics proving that every time the Rams' ball carrier went untouched by a tackler, he tended to gain a lot of yardage.

On their first three possessions the Patriots started out in a futile attempt to "control the ball," a misguided philosophy that maintains that the purpose of offense is not to score points but to "keep the ball away" from the other team's biggest threat, in this case Kurt Warner. No one has ever been able to figure out quite how this philosophy gained credence, since no matter how long one team possesses the ball, the other team gets it right back again. For the Patriots' part, ball control did exactly what it was supposed to do: It accumulated rushing yardage and took time off the clock. Unfortunately, this worked against them when, after a nine-play, five-minute drive in the second quarter that produced only a punt, the Rams scored in 4.6 seconds when Warner hit wide receiver Torry Holt for 75 yards. The score had the effect of completely deflating the New England Patriots, as well as the national television ratings, but proved to be a huge boost to the sagging New Orleans economy as it sent thousands of fans out into the French Quarter with an excuse to start the party a little early. Or, as one bedsheet sign from a Rams fan read, "It's First Quarter, Second Quarter, then French Quarter!"

After a halftime show directed by Leni Riefenstahl, the Rams were temporarily hampered by the loss of Kurt Warner, who got stuck in rehearsal for his Disney World commercial. Nonetheless, with Marshall Faulk darting through holes big enough for John Madden to get through, the Rams built up a 28-3 lead by the middle of the third quarter, scored two more touchdowns before the period ended, and then, slowly, began to pull away. In the time-honored tradition of idiotic Super Bowl MVP votes, Faulk, who was minus-13 yards rushing in the first half while the game was in doubt, was given the MVP award for rushing for 167 in the second half when the game was a lock. The TV broadcast was filled with statistical analysis about how teams that get outpassed and outrun tended to get their butts kicked in Super Bowls. However, the lowest-rated Super Bowl in history did manage to set a record for the most blonds doing sideline interviews.

You don't talk to a man like Mo Green like that dept.: Given the economic slump and how desperate Las Vegas is for the $100 million or so that the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson would have brought to the town, I think the Nevada State Boxing Commission showed an amazing fortitude in denying Tyson his license. Even in the scum-ridden world of professional boxing, the word "license" implies some kind of rules and regulations. My only question of any state boxing commission that licenses Tyson to fight would be, "Are there any conditions, any conditions at all, in which you would refuse someone a license to fight?" And if so, hasnt Tyson more than met them?

Down the tubes? NBA Commissioner David Stern earned his salary for the year with the spin he put on the recent TV negotiation deal. After all, the new deal brings in increased revenue to the NBA, but it was the lowest increase of any NBA contract deal since the mid-'80s pro basketball boom. NBC must also be happy because now the network is out of a deal that lost them $100 million a year because of the nearly one-third drop in national ratings over the last four years. Somehow, I think the NBA deal is ominous, and not just for pro basketball but for professional sports and TV in general: An increased reliance on cable TV may work as a bailout for now, but it guarantees steadily declining viewership in the future.

By Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

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