This time, Super Bowl buzz is lacking jolt of excitement

PSSST. THERE IS a Super Bowl next Sunday. Honest. It's the New England Patriots against the Carolina Cougars, Panthers or whatever they call themselves.

It's the Bland Bowl, the matchup that nobody wanted. The NFL didn't want this and neither did ticket scalpers. And poor CBS, which has the broadcast rights, has to deal with it. That network as well as ESPN will spend the week talking about two teams with a bunch of no-name players, guys who aren't even household names in their own homes.


Who or what in the world is a Jake Delhomme?

The Patriots and Panthers blew it. If they had lost their respective title games last week, we would have a Super Bowl with many stars and story lines. We would have Tony Dungy, the first black head coach of a Super Bowl team. We would have Marvin Harrison, perhaps the NFL's best receiver, and the great comeback story of Colts running back Edgerrin James, who seemed to return to his old form within the past month.


The Super Bowl could have had the ultimate quarterback matchup of Peyton Manning vs. Donovan McNabb. We could tell stories of how McNabb overcame a poor start, yet rebounded from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh's slap in the face by playing in the championship. We could trace the pedigree of Manning from father Archie to younger brother Eli, and how Manning has to win The Big One to fulfill his legacy as one of the best ever.

But it was a dream.

It's back to reality. We're like a receiver who has a quarterback with no touch. We got hit in the helmet with a clunker. Instead of Bart Starr vs. Len Dawson, or Terry Bradshaw against Roger Staubach, we have Delhomme vs. Tom Brady.

Instead of Chuck Noll against Tom Landry, we're getting Bill Belichick against John Fox, two of the most unexciting, non-personable coaches in the NFL. They only talk with chalk.


It makes me crave for my good old friend Brian Billick. Hated by the national media, the Ravens coach has never seen a reporter's notebook he couldn't fill. He could light up this Super Bowl, especially putting his spin on the recent shootout in Florida involving cornerback Corey Fuller.

This Super Bowl needs some spice. It's in Houston, for Pete's sake. Houston could never earn its way to a Super Bowl on the field, so it had to buy one. Other Super Bowl sites - San Diego, Miami, Tampa Bay - have been sexy and full of sun, sand and sin.

What's in Houston?


Ugly, hot, humid and unpredictable weather for about six months of the year. There are big, gorgeous skyscrapers and malls located next to strip clubs because there are no zoning laws. Houston is a Dallas wannabe without the landscape, a city that brought us carpet sports with the first artificial turf in the Astrodome.

Yes, Houston, you really do have a problem.

But there is good news for Houston fans. No one will laugh at them long because the next two Super Bowls are in Jacksonville, Fla., and Detroit.

CBS has to find a way to promote this game. There is no glitz, no big names, no wide-open offenses. The country's premier sporting event has lost its pizzazz.

People aren't talking about it at the malls. They aren't talking about it at the hair salons or in the bars either. You mention Patriots-Panthers at a card game and people immediately throw in their hand and leave. This Super Bowl needs a pep talk from Howard Dean. Super Bowls have usually been anticlimactic, but the hype machine usually drives you to the tube.

You don't get that impression this time. Maybe it's because the Patriots and the Panthers play football in its simplest form. It's the old blue-collar approach of running the ball and acquiring field position through strong defense and special teams.


That method won't sell tickets, but that's why these two teams are here and Manning and McNabb are at home. The two head coaches are former defensive coordinators who would rather spend more time in preparation for a game than mugging in front of cameras.

It's easy to poke fun at these two teams, but the Patriots, who have won 14 straight games, are appearing in their second Super Bowl in three years. If they win, they could become a dynasty in the era of the salary cap.

The Panthers, meanwhile, have a chance to complete one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports, having won only one game two seasons ago.

The showdown could have a climactic finish in its own way, but don't look for high-tech football and fancy passing games.

Instead, enjoy the moment and the day. This is the Super Bowl. You still get a chance to party, drink, eat and socialize. The game is also the perfect excuse to report late to work the next day.

And if you're really fortunate, you'll remember to turn on the game.