Saturday is the strangest day of Super Bowl week. It's the day when nothing happens, when both teams disappear from sight. Where do they go? What do they do? And why do they pull up stakes at the 11th hour and go into hiding?
The answer is simple. The NFL used to need to hype the game all the way to kick-off. In fact, when the Green Bay Packers trained 75 miles north of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara for Super Bowl I, Pete Rozelle, the league's commissioner at the time, ordered the Pack to LA. three days before the game—to help build the gate.
Now the teams need to escape the hype, so the Saturday before the game the Buffalo Bills moved to an unannounced location—the Pasadena Hilton—and the Dallas Cowboys slipped away to a quiet place in North Hollywood, the Beverly Garland Hotel.
Late last Saturday night the scene at the Los Angeles Hyatt Regency, the hotel where the Bills had stayed during the week, made it all too obvious why they needed to change locations. It was 10:55 p.m., and the small lobby was bursting with Buffalo fans. They were having a shouting contest. The fans in the lobby bar would holler, "Let's go, BUFF-a-lo!" and those in the lobby would scream back, "Let's go, BUFF-a-lo!" Back and forth, back and forth. It was raucous.
By last Thursday the Cowboys knew that they too would have to move out of their hotel, the Loews Santa Monica, on the beach. They were being besieged in the lobby at all hours of the day and were having to use the hotel's back stairwells to get around. "We need the isolation," said Dallas guard Nate Newton after the move to the Beverly Garland.
Newton? Isolation? Was this the same Newton who had reveled in the week's media sessions the way no one had since the Cowboys' Hollywood Henderson in 1979 or the Los Angeles Raiders' Lester Hayes in '84? "I was ready to get away, even if these rooms were right out of a Motel 6," Newton said. "We don't need to talk. We're focused on the game. We don't want any more of the hoopla."
Teams have been stealing off like this since Super Bowl XXI, between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos, in 1987. That game was in L.A. too. Giant coach Bill Parcells knew his team would be hounded by its nutty fans, so after Friday practice he moved the players from their Orange County hotel to the Beverly Garland. And nobody found them.
"I was never so bored in my life," says Giant quarterback Phil Simms. "I thought it'd be great—kind of romantic and fun, something out of a spy novel. But the only fun I had was on Friday night when I went to dinner with Billy Crystal. We spent all day Saturday just killing time."
The Cowboys' stay at the Beverly Garland was just as sedate. There were the customary position meetings and a quick speech by Jimmy Johnson. Then it was leisure time: dominoes in Emmitt Smith's room with three other players, Sega Genesis John Madden Football in rookie Jimmy Smith's room, lights out early in tackle Erik Williams's room and the Cal-Washington State basketball game in the room shared by Newton and Tony Tolbert. "We wanted to see that kid Kidd," said Newton, referring to Cal's Jason Kidd.
Just before bed check Newton turned pensive. "What I'm thinking about is this," he said. "I know they'll try to rattle us early by doing some kind of stuff we don't expect. But we feel real confident we'll get up on them. Will they collapse? Or will they come back against adversity? I'm pretty confident, because we've got so many young guys who don't care how big this game is, man. All they want to do is go out and hit somebody."
Tolbert looked over at Newton and said, "Pardner, the time to get it on is close. Let's get ready to rumble."
Tolbert knew the night would end as it usually does on the eve of a game. "Nate will leave the TV on, and the lights on, and he'll fall asleep with a book in his face," Tolbert said. "Then I'll have to get up and turn everything off and take the book out of his face."
A half hour east in Pasadena, Darryl Talley, the most controversial player of the week, passed the time by doing the same things he normally docs the night before games. Ironing his suit. Reading the newspapers. Watching TV—a basketball game, a movie—with roommate Bruce Smith. "It's like being a caged rat," said Talley on Saturday night. "You can only sit around and read the paper so many times, and you can only watch those movies on Spectra Vision so many times."
Much of Talley's day, and week, was spent defending himself against good-natured barbs from his teammates about the slap/beating/roughing-up he allegedly got from Magic Johnson's bodyguard five days before the game in a Los Angeles nightclub. "Today in the paper I see they're putting me up there in Super Bowl history with Jim McMahon mooning the helicopter and Max McGee staying out all night every night before the first Super Bowl," said Talley. "Hey, as far as preparing for the game, it didn't hurt me at all. I guess I'm going to go down in history for this. Pretty ridiculous, if you ask me. But so be it. I'll just have to live with it."
Talley sounded undaunted by the prospect of playing in his third straight Super Bowl. So did the rest of the Bills for the most part. "The thing I'm really worried about," Talley said, "is the traffic in the morning. The traffic here's ridiculous."
Still, the game was never far from the minds of the players, in North Hollywood and in Pasadena. That's what happens when you're hours from the biggest game of the season. Down the hall from Talley, the Bills' director of media relations, Scott Berchtold, was getting into an elevator with quarterback Jim Kelly.
"I have a good feeling about this game," Berchtold said to Kelly.
"So do I," Kelly replied.
"I really think we're going to win," Berchtold said.
Kelly didn't say anything. He just looked at the ceiling of the elevator and made the sign of the cross.