"Words don't win football games; people do." For emphasis, Hank Stram said it a couple of times and he backed it up with a story.
"After the very first Super Bowl game," said the former coach and now analyst for CBS Radio, "they came up and asked me what the difference was between us [Kansas City Chiefs] and the [victorious Green Bay] Packers. " 'Players like Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson shooting his mouth off,' I said."
Three years later, the Chiefs and Stram were back at the big dance and this time they were a winner, clubbing Minnesota, 23-7.
"They wanted to know what we learned from the first one that we applied to Super Bowl IV. The answer was we knew we needed help, particularly on defense, so we went out and got it [seven new players on defense alone]," recalled Stram. Very simple.
And it is just such simplicity that Stram directs at Supe XXVII, pitting Dallas and Buffalo. "I like the Cowboys," he said, contrasting with long time play-by-play partner Jack Buck. "I'd rather have talent than experience, something the Bills have. And, besides, the Cowboys have been the most consistent team in the NFL all year, both offensively and defensively."
This will be the 13th Super Bowl on the wireless for the Buck-Stram duo and, despite both having experience doing the game on the television side, they wouldn't trade their present task for neither love nor money.
"With this game, NBC [the TV carrier] will probably have 200 people involved," said Buck. "There's so much communicating going on, and so much more involved, your worries begin to mount. With CBS Radio, there's four of us, me and Hank, a producer and an engineer. We just walk in and start talking."
Again, simplicity is the theme and nobody makes it work better than these guys, who made their mark years ago as a pleasant alternative to the strident tones of one Howard Cosell on ABC's "Monday Night Football."
The key to the Buck-Stram success, no doubt one of the reasons why an estimated 50 million people will be enjoying their word pictures of the game Sunday, is spontaneity. You could say it isn't really planned, but that wouldn't be completely truthful.
"We don't hang around together talking about the game and what we're going to say," said Buck. "That would make it sound rehearsed. Hank knows I'm doing the usual preparation for doing a game and I know he's doing his. That's what makes it fun: we don't know from one play to the next what's going to be said."
And often the badinage is at least as interesting as it is informative since broadcasters traditionally mine a wealth of information they rarely get around to using.
"I usually prepare about 10 pages of notes for a game and more often than not end up using about half a page," said Buck. "But you have to be prepared for anything."
"Thing about Jack is he maintains a good pace," continued Stram. "That's important because we can get comfortable in our timing when we begin tossing things back and forth."
On the one hand, Stram is a virtual well-spring of information once something in a game triggers his vast knowledge of the game. For instance, he was asked what immediately popped into his mind when he heard the name Cowboys and he was off at full speed instantly:
"Team speed. . . great quickness . . . talent. They're got receivers going 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4 and they'll be going against defensive backs from Buffalo going 5-10, 5-11. That could make a big difference."
Listening and after picking the Bills to win, Buck retreated slightly. "One of the reasons I'm picking the Bills is from what I've heard and read, everyone is impressed with the relaxed approach the team and coach Marv Levy have taken," he said.
"Jack, remember the game we did in Buffalo at the beginning of the season?" said Stram. "Before the game, one of the assistants, I won't name him, told me, 'We're very loose. We're relaxed and ready to play.' And they got blown out. You never really know what's going to happen."
Still, Buck stuck to his guns, predicting defensive end Bruce Smith and linebacker Cornelius Bennett would have a big day rushing Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman and tossing a monkey wrench into the Cowboys' attack.
"But only if the Cowboys let them do what they want," said Stram. "They want to rush the passer; everybody knows that. So what Dallas has to do is run at them, make them make tackles and play straight-up football."
The play-by-play man was wavering. He now hedged: "Buffalo had better hope Dallas is not as good as Washington was last year [when the Bills were beaten] or the Giants were the year before [ditto]. If Dallas has gone to the top of the NFC, then the Bills certainly will have their hands full."
It was easy for listeners to discern that this discussion was indeed spontaneous, the veteran tandem leaving rehearsed responses to the television types.
"This job is so much fun, so easy and enjoyable," said Buck. "There's no end in sight for either of us. Hank's a little older than me, so I'm going to wait until he quits."
"Won't happen," said Stram. "I'm for doing this as long as we can."
"Best part about it is they don't tell us what to talk about," concluded Buck.