Anger Bowl

In the meantime, he added, he will feel quite comfortable answering the barrage of questions he's sure to face in Miami concerning the reignited Reeves-Shanahan feud.

For their part, the Falcons (and their head coach) seem delighted with their underdog role--a part the Broncos played last year before facing the defending champion Green Bay Packers. One typical Atlanta press release chronicles the 16-2 exploits of "The Guys That Nobody Wanted"--running back Jamal Anderson, transformed from the 201st player picked in the 1994 draft into the NFC rushing leader; quarterback Chris Chandler, a two-time pro-bowl pick who was released by five other teams; wide receiver Terance Mathis, who started only one game in four years for the New York Jets but who now has 44 touchdown catches for the Falcons; cornerbacks Randy Fuller and Ronnie Bradford, both cut by the--ahem--Broncos.

The Falcons also crow about Reeves--fired by Denver and the New York Giants but now headed to his fourth Super Bowl.

Can this sort of poor-mouthing, woe-is-us act lull a champion to sleep? Not if the champion is Broncos running back and league MVP Terrell Davis. "We're playing a team, if you ask me, that's a pretty even matchup," Davis said warily. "They have similar numbers and skills with a similar style of play. They are the team we were last year, and their winning in Minnesota speaks volumes to me. I'm sincere about that. No kind of comment is going to lull us to sleep."

And the war between the coaches? Is the relationship between Reeves and Shanahan irrevocably broken? Shanahan paused, then answered: "I would say...yes." And was Reeves's attack a calculation to get under his old antagonist's skin? "I don't know," the Broncos coach answered, "and I'm not trying to figure it out...But I can say this: This game is much bigger than Mike Shanahan and Dan Reeves, and hopefully, we can leave it at that."

The smoke was still pouring from his ears. You even got the feeling that, come Sunday night, good ol' Dan might be wishing he'd passed on that heart thing and gotten a vocal cord bypass instead.

If Gary Barnett's such a miracle worker, how come his 3-9 Northwestern Wildcats failed, in eight tries, to beat a Big Ten opponent last season?

That's one of the questions skeptics are asking in the wake of Barnett's hiring last week as the University of Colorado's 22nd head football coach. There are others, of course:

Why couldn't Barnett come to terms with CU when first approached by athletic director Dick Tharp? Why didn't he acknowledge any blame for the football gambling scandal that rocked Northwestern last year? Why did Barnett apparently spend so much time job-shopping after declaring his deathless loyalty to the Wildcats? At one time or another, his name was linked with openings at UCLA, Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Washington and with the Detroit Lions.

Is a guy who went 8-16 (3-13 in the Big Ten) in his last two seasons in Evanston really the right man for the job here?

On the bright side, Barnett did momentarily resurrect long-downtrodden Northwestern in 1995, winning the Big Ten championship with a 10-2 mark and catapulting the 'Cats to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1949. He did go 9-3 in 1996 and played Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl.

And in the end, he did take the CU job after Purdue's Joe Tiller, Texas Christian's Dennis Franchione, Air Force's Fisher DeBerry, Oklahoma State's Bob Simmons, the Denver Broncos' Gary Kubiak and, for all we know, Springfield's Homer Simpson all said no to an ever more desperate CU search committee.

Barnett, who served as a CU assistant for eight seasons under Bill MCartney, is, for better or worse, in the fold. Presumably, he has unpacked his suitcases. Presumably, he won't be taking calls from the Nebraska Cornhuskers or the Cleveland Browns. Presumably, he'll prove his worth in Boulder.

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