Well, football fans, the NFL playoffs, known to insiders as “games that are actually close,” are now officially over. Which means: Time to duck.

Over the next two weeks, you will be bombarded with Super Bowl Previews, Super Bowl Extras, Super Bowl Insiders, Super Bowl Extravaganzas, Super Bowl Close-Ups, Super Bowl Analysis, and Super Bowl Commercials Featuring Michael Jordan.

After which will come the actual game, a nail-biting 52-10 victory for the NFC team.

Let me save you some trouble. This morning, while the smell of the season’s last real football still wafts in the air, I will warn you about the trend you most want to avoid in the next two weeks.

The Super Bowl Flashback.

Beware. It will come at you from all sides. That’s because, now that Dallas and Pittsburgh have been deemed the combatants for Super Bowl XXX, every media member worth his press pass will be compelled to gaze back longingly on the last time these two teams met, which was in 1979, or, in football terms,
“back when players thought they were rich because they drove Cadillacs, hahahahAHAHAHAHA!”

Stop. Right here. Pay no attention to these comparisons. If you watched the games on Sunday, you know that these are not your old Pittsburgh Steelers
— for one thing, most of these players have teeth — and these Cowboys have as much in common with the Cowboys of 1979 as “NYPD Blue” has with “I Love Lucy.”

Let’s put it this way: Can you imagine Deion Sanders doing his little dance routine in front of his coach, Tom Landry?

Exactly. Cowboys flick on the switch

And as long as we’re there, let’s start with the Cowboys, who proved once again that nobody is more bored with the regular season than they are. From September to December, all they did was give us reasons to pick against them. Barry Switzer made calls that a 4-year-old would avoid. Troy Aikman was supposedly unhappy. Jerry (Where’s the Camera?) Jones pulled one stunt after another, throwing wheelbarrows of money at Sanders, then telling the rest of the owners to kiss his shorts.

They appeared to be a ship on fire. They lost to teams they should have crushed. And then, here comes January, and the Cowboys roll over Philadelphia and squash Green Bay and they’re back in the big dance, just like that.

By the way, did you happen to catch the scene on the podium after the NFC Championship trophy was awarded Sunday? Switzer was dripping from Gatorade, mumbling about “Going to the big one” and Jerry Jones was lifting some woman and carrying her off the stage and Michael Irvin grabbed the microphone and yelled to a national TV audience, “COACH SWITZER HAS TO PUT UP WITH ALL THE BLEEP!”

This after Pittsburgh’s Greg Lloyd earlier in the day told a live TV audience that the Steelers we’re going to win the bleeping Super Bowl. News flash: All NFL games will now come with a parental advisory for explicit lyrics.

Anyhow, give credit to Dallas’ skill players — Aikman, Irvin, Emmitt Smith
— and give credit to their linemen, both offensive and defensive. That was where the game was won.

As for Green Bay’s miracle man Brett Favre, the guy who was supposed to lead his cheeseheads back to the crackers? Well, he began Sunday’s game throwing passes to imaginary basketball players — who else could get that high? — and ended it by throwing a poor-judgment interception, which was supposed to be the characteristic he lost this year, wasn’t it?

All in all, Favre was so scrambled by the Cowboys defense, he is now spelling his name F-a-r-v-e, which, come to think of it, should have happened a long time ago.

Did someone say Pittsburgh? Steelers a no-name bunch

Yes, the Steelers have returned to the Super Bowl, but there is no Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth or Rocky Bleier — although I promise you, every one of them will be resurrected in the next few weeks. Their old quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, is still around, trying to fit into the purple suspenders that all Fox broadcasters must wear.

But these 1996 Steelers are a less famous bunch than their predecessors. Quick. Name their running back. Quick, name their quarterback. Quick, name their coach. If you said Chuck Noll, it is time to take a shower.

No, these Steelers are coached by a dedicated man named Bill Cowher, who, with the recent retirement of Don Shula, takes over the coveted role as Biggest Jaw in Football.

His quarterback is Neil O’Donnell, who looks a little like a bearded Dennis Miller. His running backs are Erric Pegram and Bam Morris. His best receiver is named Thigpen. Don’t ask.

Just know this. During the next two weeks, every sports outlet will remind you that the Steelers have never lost to the Cowboys in a Super Bowl, and that the last time they played, 1979, was the famous game in which Jackie Smith dropped the pass, and referee Fred Swearingen threw the interference flag that changed everything. You will hear from Roger Staubach, Jack Lambert, Tony Dorsett, Ed (Too Tall) Jones.

And it won’t mean a thing.

Dallas 52, Pittsburgh 10.

After all, why break with tradition?

Mitch Albom’s new radio show “Albom In the Afternoon” airs 2-4 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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