Bills claim, Raiders deny weather edge AFC championship

January 20, 1991|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

Orchard Park, N.Y. Picture Dorothy, clapping the heels of her galoshes together and chanting, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

Early forecasts for today's American Football Conference championship game between the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Raiders at Rich Stadium call for snowy, blustery conditions with temperatures in the mid-20s.

"Yeah, Bills weather," said linebacker Darryl Talley. "We're used to playing in it all the time."

Despite the predictions, the Raiders say the Bills have no advantage, even though the temperature will be about 50 degrees colder than the Raiders are accustomed to at home.

"I think way too much is being made about the weather," said Los Angeles Raiders guard Max Montoya. "I played in a lot of bad-weather games in Cincinnati. It doesn't affect you if your mind is right. It's going to be cold for everybody. You've just got to get your mind set and make sure you have good footing."

Maybe that explains why the Bills beat Miami, 44-34, last week on the frozen field. Buffalo had a better mind set. Well, at least Jim Kelly did. After missing a month because of an ankle injury, Kelly completed 19 of 29 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns.

Kelly seemed to be having a lot of fun out there. He also rushed -- yes, rushed -- five times for 37 yards.

L Kelly said the snowy conditions give the Bills an edge, too.

"I felt two years ago we let the Super Bowl slide through when we didn't get the home-field advantage," Kelly said of the 1989 loss at Cincinnati in the game for the AFC crown. "It's here now, so let's see what we do with it."

The Raiders say they are the Bills gone west.

Quarterback Jay Schroeder played in Washington, receiver Willie Gault was on the 1986 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, and the other wide-out, Mervyn Fernandez, played for five years in Canada. Offensive linemen Steve Wisniewski (Penn State), Rory Graves (Ohio State) and Steve Wright (Northern Iowa) attended northern colleges.

On the defensive line, Bob Golic played in Cleveland, Scott Davis is from Chicago, Howie Long from Massachusetts and Bill Pickel from New York.

"You have to be concerned when a team puts that many points on the board, as bad as the weather was," said Los Angeles coach Art Shell. "A lot of the advantage goes to the offense in those conditions.

"Whatever plays you design, you design them to take advantage of bad weather. The receivers have an advantage -- they know where they're running their routes. My first statement this week was: 'It's going to be cold. We know it's going to be cold. Let's get that out of the way now.' The biggest thing is you have no control over the weather."

Shell has had other things to be concerned about, such as the status of running back Bo Jackson. At a news conference yesterday, Shell was asked to describe Jackson's hip injury. He couldn't be specific because, he said, the trainers use words that most people don't understand.

"He has swelling in the joint," Shell said. "All I know is he's hurt and he won't play tomorrow."

Greg Bell, inactive since the first month of the season when he was placed on injured reserve, will be activated.

"We played against them when they didn't have Bo," the Bills' Bruce Smith, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, said of Buffalo's 38-24 victory in October, "and they pretty much whipped our butts until we made some big plays in the fourth quarter."

The Raiders will have to try again to shut down the Bills' big-play performers -- quarterback Kelly, wide receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton and halfback Thurman Thomas. Thomas had 1,829 total yards this season, including 1,297 rushing. He is considered one of the best pass-receiving threats out of the backfield in the conference.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles will have to get a big day from halfback Marcus Allen, who has split time with Jackson. Jackson's absence also will put more pressure on Schroeder, who performs well in spurts.

The Raiders have two deep threats in Fernandez (team-high 52 receptions, 16.1-yard average, five touchdowns) and Gault (50, 19.7, three).

Los Angeles hasn't been this far since winning the 1984 Super Bowl, its third NFL championship. The Bills, winner of three straight division crowns, last were in the conference title game in "The first year [1988], we surprised people," Bills linebacker Shane Conlan said. "The second year, we thought we were better than we were. This year, we've put it together, and we're mature enough to handle things."

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