ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. ACCORDING to the unwritten rules of cold-weather footballforward passes and offensive flair simply don't mix with ice, snow and the arctic north wind.
Draw plays and an occasional screen pass are OK. But offense on a frozen field is supposed to be Bart Starr following Jerry Kramer off guard, and stuff like that.
Don't, however, try to shove this theory down the throats of the Buffalo Bills.
If anyone knows about playing football on ice, it's the Bills, the unofficial kings of the cold in the NFL. And they insist snow and slush are no reason to bundle up and cloak your offense in conservatism.
To them, frozen football truly is what the game is all about. Roll up those sleeves, get crazy and have some fun.
"This," said outside linebacker Cornelius Bennett, pointing to snowflakes falling from a gray sky over Rich Stadium yesterday, "is ideal football weather."
When the Bills say let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, they mean it. They're not just saying it in an attempt to psych out teams from more tropical climates -- such as the Miami Dolphins.
They really enjoy playing in the stuff.
Take, for instance, the Phoenix game at Rich Stadium in November. The game began in a cold, driving wind, and by halftime a near-blizzard was under way.
While the Cardinals shivered toward self-destruction, the Bills were oblivious to the elements. Jim Kelly was throwing the ball deep, Andre Reed was running an occasional reverse -- and the Bills rolled up a season-high 45 points.
"Everything we ordinarily would run in good weather was working, so we figured why change?" offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda said. "The Cardinals didn't know what they were getting into, but we just went out and ran our regular offense and had a great day."
Marchibroda, whom Baltimore remembers from his Colts days, is in his 29th season of coaching in the NFL and is no stranger to cold-weather football. In his fourth season in Buffalo, he and the Bills would seem a perfect winter match.
"The thing about bad weather is that it's never the same," Marchibroda said. "You have to judge the weather and then decide what you can and can't do in it. Sometimes you have to pull in your horns and play a little conservative. But a lot of times you can stick with your basic offense.
"You're never sure what you're going to be able to do until you get out in the stuff."
The Bills appear to be a team that was built for the cold. They
possess a fast, physical defense; a quarterback (Kelly) with a linebacker's mentality; and a potentially dominant ground game with running back Thurman Thomas and a huge offensive line.
Buffalo is strong enough to hammer away and bold enough to open things up.
But Marchibroda said there is no secret to the Bills' success in the cold.
"When this team was put together, we weren't looking for guys who we thought would be good cold-weather players," he said. "That was never a factor. We were just trying to put together the best 45 players we could.
"We've got good players. And good players are good in any kind of weather. That's why this team is good in the cold."
With that in mind, Marchibroda said Saturday's predicted cold weather should not adversely affect the Dolphins.
"They've got good players and they've played in bad weather before," Marchibroda said. "They'll be ready for whatever kind of weather we have.
"In good weather or bad, you have to play good football, and the Dolphins have proven they can do that."
Marchibroda said no one, however, is entirely immune to the snow and the slush and the wind.
"No matter how many times you've played in those conditions, you worry about the dropped pass that stops a drive or the fumble while trying to handle a wet ball," he said. "A lot of things can happen in bad weather."
More often than not, the Bills find good in the cold.
"It's our kind of weather," said All-Pro defensive end Bruce Smith.