There I was in the tub, the bubble bath just starting to kick in.

And then a rock smashed my window into 4,000 little pieces. A note.
“Predict or Die. (Signed) The Boys Downtown.”

I should have known this would happen. Ever since the World Series. You get lucky once and they’re all over you. “Kansas City in seven,” I had said. Who knew it would be so . . . correct?

Now the footballs are flying. The linemen are grunting. Placekickers are studying the English language. “I very happy . . . to burp in . . . Sooooper Bowl . . . ” Yes, sure as dirt, it’s NFL playoff time. And the boys downtown are getting hungry.

So OK. A prediction they want. A prediction they get. All the way from wild-card to Super Sunday. I blow the bubbles from the tub, gaze into the murky waters, and what do I see? Hmmm. This is what I see. . . .

WILD-CARD ROUND: Now I know what you’re saying. You’re saying, “One wild-card game is already over. And now he’s gonna predict it? Rip-off. What gives?” Well. It may be over by the time you read this. But not by the time I write it. So my prediction for the Jets-Patriots game? Pats win, 26-14.

Just a hunch.

Meanwhile, today in New Jersey, the Giants play last year’s Super Bowl champion 49ers. “We’re different than the team that lost to them 21-10 last year,” says Giants coach Bill Parcells. And he is right. This time they lose, 24-17.

The networks pull out all the stops in their playoff ratings war. Following the lead of Ahmad Rashad, NBC’s Pete Axthelm asks Brooke Shields to marry him over the air. Brooke says she’ll ask her Mom.

SECOND ROUND, NFC: The Dallas Cowboys travel to LA to play the Rams. Tom Landry flips a coin to see which of his teams will show up today, the good one or the terrible one. It lands on its side. The Rams win by default.

Meanwhile, Chicago hosts San Francisco in a rematch of last year’s NFC championship. Temperature at game time is minus 8 degrees. The score is tied at the end of regulation. Tied after the first overtime. Tied after the second overtime. Chicago finally wins when 49ers coach Bill Walsh solidifies into a block of ice on the sidelines. Says Joe Montana: “He’s always been a cold man.” The Bears celebrate by releasing another record, “That’s What Fridges Are For.” It climbs the charts.

SECOND ROUND, AFC: The Raiders, capitalizing on their bad-guy image, come to the game in new uniforms — solid black. No numbers. This confuses the Patriots, who go to tackle Marcus Allen, only to discover it is Al Davis. The Raiders win big.

Down in Miami, the Cleveland Browns are stunned when Bernie Kosar visits his old university and decides it’s more fun to be a college student after all. He re-enrolls as a Swedish Literature major. Without their quarterback, the Browns collapse, 87-3.

Meanwhile, the ratings war increases. Brent Musburger asks Cybil Shepherd to marry him over the air. She accepts, then asks: “Who’s Brent Mussbereger?”

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP: In Chicago, the same number of fans show up as the week before. In fact, it’s the same fans, frozen in place. The Rams get off the plane at O’Hare airport and immediately ask to renegotiate their contracts. The game is a laugher. The Bears win, 31-6. Bears coach Mike Ditka dedicates the game to George (Papa Bear) Halas. People begin to notice that Ditka is dressing like Halas, and his voice is changing. Strange. Meanwhile, the Bears release an album, “We Are The World — No, We’re Bigger.” Quincy Jones produces.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: The Dolphins come to LA. Coach Don Shula counters the Raiders’ all-black uniforms with an all-white version. This works for most of the game, and the Dolphins lead, 21-17, with two minutes left. Then Dan Marino, confusing Mark Duper for a small pillowcase, throws an interception that gives the Raiders the win. Jim Plunkett buys Marino a Coke after the game.

The ratings war goes on. So do the marriage proposals. John Madden asks Bea Arthur. Jimmy the Greek asks Carly Simon. Bob Costas asks Olive Oyl. All are politely turned down.

SUPER BOWL: What fanfare! What glitz! New Orleans welcomes the Super Bowl gladiators with open bars. Jim McMahon has a drink named after him. Something with coconut flakes. And Refrigerator Perry joins the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as a tuba. Ditka, swept up in the Halas spirit, begins to wear wing- tip shoes. “Call me George,” he tells his wife, who previously could only call him “Sir.”

Meanwhile, the Raiders, eschewing the Super Bowl hype, work out in the Louisiana bayou, wrestling alligators. Several Raiders become engaged.

The game is a knock-down, slam-bang affair that sets a record for injured players. With McMahon and Steve Fuller out, the Bears must use Walter Payton as quarterback. He goes 9-for-11, 156 yards, and wins the game for Chicago. Afterward, he receives the MVP trophy from NBC’s Merlin Olsen, along with a bouquet of flowers and a marriage proposal. Payton accepts the trophy and the flowers. Ditka is proud. “We couldn’t have done it without Gale,” he says.
“What a runner.”

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