Superstars versus the `zero-personality' team

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The Independent Online
The American media have again surpassed themselves. A deluge of information has accompanied the contest that obsesses the nation, no sound-bite is left unexplored, no development, however trivial, is not marked by a discussion between three expert s and an anchor man. What a shame for the NFL that Super Bowl week should coincide with the opening of the O J Simpson trial, writes Matt Tench.

To be fair, the interest shown in the unfolding drama of a Los Angeles courtroom would swamp any sports event, though to an outsider this seems just the point. In nearly every aspect the coverage has resembled a sports event, from the instant assessment of the performance of the protagonists, to the sobering presence of a national sporting hero in the spotlight. Even ESPN, America's sports TV channel, has edited highlights shown between the basketball and ice hockey.

Even if tomorrow's Super Bowl was expected to be one of the great confrontations in American football, it would struggle to make an impact against what is reported here, factually, to be The Trial of the Century. Unfortunately, the game is not expected to be one of the great confrontations of American football. The San Diego Chargers are widely seen as having fluked their way into the game's showpiece, and they are given virtually no chance of upsetting the San Francisco 49ers, who remain huge favourites.

Writing in the Sun-Sentinel, Charles Bricker set the tone early in the week. "This is a dead game between one team with a line-up of superstars and another team with zero personality," he wrote. Sometimes when one side start so heavily favoured there is a movement against them during the week, but not this year. A 17-point spread has been extended by some bookmakers to 23, reflecting a public perception that these Chargers are incapable of limiting the damage to a minor thrashing.

Desperate to find something newsworthy, the most diverting tale this week has concerned the casino cruise featuring 200 naked showgirls, nude limbo dancing and a swimming pool full of jello. With tickets up to $1,000 (£640) apiece, punters were also promised the company of a number of American footballers, but the NFL has taken a dim view, threatening life bans for any players caught in the act.

The stark reality for the Chargers is that they appear to be going the same way as the previous 10 AFC representatives in the Super Bowl. When the two sides met in San Diego six weeks ago, the 49ers jumped to a 21-0 lead early on, and cruised to a 38-15 victory. If anything, the 49ers have improved since then.

The few that favour the Chargers suggest they might just have the intimidating defense to disrupt a brilliant 49ers offense, while in Natrone Means they boast a running back capable of playing possession football and keeping the 49ers off the field.

From this perspective, though, San Francisco appear to have simply too many playmakers to be denied. They have scored 35 points or more in 11 of their 18 matches this season, and in the last two months have taken their game to a new level. They may not beat the points spread but they will certainly beat the Chargers.

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