NEW ORLEANS — Send in the clowns. And the dancing bears. Super Bowl XX was a joke, a bad joke if your seat was in New England — because the Patriots were merely the cookies to keep the kids quiet, and the Bears were the show. The whole show.

It was merciful when they brought down the curtain on this, the Super Bowl which may have set new records for false expectations. An even match, some had called it? Even?

Before the first half had unwound, the Patriots running game had been blown to pieces, their starting quarterback, Tony Eason, was merely a scared kid watching his replacement from the sidelines. There were tears forming in the eyes of the bench. And across the field the Bears were laughing. Even?

No. The Pats had 14 yards of offense in the first half. Total. Two complete

passes. Total. The Bears were leading by 20 points, only because they were probably too busy figuring out what movie they would all star in next to score more.

Send in the trapeze artists. Send in the elephants. The men on the unicycles.

The Bears rolled. They rocked. They slapped high fives in between sacking the quarterback and low fives in between across- the-field passes and powerful rushes. They set all sorts of scoring records. The Super Bowl? Hey. It’s just a three-ringed party.

And the circus atmosphere was never more in focus than with the whale-like form of William (The Refrigerator) Perry rolling out to pass — to pass? — in the first quarter, cocking his arm like a fat man’s Johnny Unitas. It was as if some beer-drinking dock worker fell asleep on the couch and woke up in the Super Bowl. The play of his dreams. The Bears didn’t score on Fridge’s rumble. But they had fun. And that about summed up the rest of the contest.

Send in the lion tamer. Shoot the man from the cannon. Where are those dancing hyenas? Everything was artificial Well now. The big question from New England fans this morning will be why? The best answer might be why not?

This indoor Super Bowl featured artificial lighting, artificial turf and ultimately, artificial drama. The Bears were always supposed to win this, and win big. All that blubbering about how the Patriots were “different” this time should have been bottled and sold as a cure for baldness. It had about that much validity.

Read the box score and re-introduce yourself to reality. This was Jim McMahon — sore butt and all — playing field general, whacking out the yardage. As usual. This was the Bears defense clamping the opponents in a hug that a grizzly would envy. As usual. This was the Chicago secondary picking off passes for touchdowns. As usual.

Perry scored. The defense scored. McMahon scored. Everybody scored. Didn’t everybody score?

It almost seems too cruel to call the Patriots losers in this thing. They were more like “featured players” like the hired lackies the Harlem Globetrotters beat up on every week.

The Pats’ defense was a white flag. Their offense was simply a necessary interruption every now and then, like having to visit the bathroom in between pitchers of beer.

The simple truth is this: Four weeks ago, Chicago versus New England would have been considered a mismatch. And for all the smoke that arose since then, not very much much has changed.

The Bears are the best team in football.

Send in the midgets. Send in the clowns Oh sure. Both teams tried to put the past behind them. But the Bears were peeking over their shoulders. And they were smiling.

Why not? Chicago got here by cutting its teeth on the bones of its opponents, while New England did it with butterfingers and grease and a little magic.

Most of the 70,000 inside the Superdome seemed to know that, even if the so-called experts didn’t.

You could tell by halftime, when the first thumping strains of the Bears rock song, “The Super Bowl Shuffle” came pounding out of the loudspeakers and people jumped to their feet and started singing along. This was not a game, it was a coronation. The Bears were already kings. All that remained was the formality of crowning them.

In the end, it was Perry and Richard Dent whooping it up, and McMahon mugging for the cameras, showing off his new headbands.

Dreaming in this crescent city comes with mint juleps and jazz at midnight. Reality comes in more sobering doses, and it’s giving New England a headache this morning. But that’s the way it is.

So pack up the helmets. Bag the extra footballs. And send in the clowns — some fat men, some costumed men, some dancing characters with big mouths and sunglasses.

On second thought, don’t bother. They’re here.

And they just won the Super Bowl.

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