TAMPA,FLA. — TAMPA, Fla. -- "One more river to cross." The phrase is coach Marv Levy's slogan for the Buffalo Bills in their first Super Bowl visit.
Translation: Getting to Super Bowl XXV is not nearly enough. All that counts and will be remembered is winning Super Bowl XXV.
Just as quarterback Jim Kelly is Levy's major reason for being in the Super Bowl, he also is the major spokesman for the "river to cross" theme.
"Everybody's saying, 'We're going to the Super Bowl,' " Kelly said. "But my goal isn't to go to the Super Bowl. My goal is to win it.
"A lot of teams get the chance, but 20 years down the road, I don't want people to say, 'Oh, Buffalo was in it, but . . .
"We have one more river to cross."
Levy demonstrated his attitude Sunday during the locker room celebration after Buffalo's stunning 51-3 victory over the Los Angeles Raiders for the AFC championship. An enterprising soul was handing out Super Bowl caps and T-shirts to players and officials -- but Levy politely declined. "I'll wear them at the appropriate time," he said.
Still, it is easy to understand how a first-time entrant, such as the Bills, can be so focused on reaching the Super Bowl that the club is not prepared to win the game.
Such an attitude can be particularly understandable for the Bills. The organization has been in the AFL/NFL since 1960 but has had little glory for the last 20 years. As recently as 1984 and '85, the Bills were 2-14.
"I heard all the jokes during the losing years," linebacker Darryl Talley said. "Remember this: 'Knock, knock . . . Who's there? . . . Owen . . . Owen who? . . . Owen Ten.' "
Talley said the Bills were not only beating the Raiders but beating the ghosts of past failures by winning the AFC title. Still, does a conference title have any meaning anymore, or is it merely a victory in what actually is the Super Bowl semifinals?
Levy knows. It was on his orders that the Bills found a sign over their locker room door after their blasting of the Raiders. The sign: WE PEAK NEXT WEEK.
But what the Bills accomplished cannot be denied. And the AFC title will have special meaning for at least some of the players.
Defensive end Leon Seals will never forget it. On Saturday, his mother died in Baton Rouge, La., after fighting cancer for a long time. "The last good conversation I had with her was last week before she slipped into a coma," Seals said. "I told her, 'If we get a chance to go to the Super Bowl, you're going to go with me, right?' And she said, 'You know I'll be there.'
"And I think she will be here with me."
Guard John Davis, who played a good game Sunday against the Raiders' Howie Long, said a Super Bowl victory is mandatory to finish a nearly perfect year. For Davis, the season has included earning a starting role and last Tuesday's birth of his first daughter.
"There have been so many great things that have been happening to my family and myself and to the team," Davis said. "It's not just this week, but the whole season."
It's a season that does not end until Sunday in Tampa Stadium against the not-so-neighborly New York Giants, who were last in the Super Bowl after the '86 season. The Giants have some Super Bowl experience in their favor, but the Bills are betting favorites because of the way they have scored 95 points in their two playoff games.
"Awesome," said Giants director of pro personnel Tim Rooney, serving as a scout at the AFC title game. "The Raiders couldn't pass rush, they couldn't blitz, they couldn't stunt, they couldn't do anything."
Long, who had one tackle, one assist and, of course, no sacks, said the Bills' supremacy begins and ends with Kelly. "That guy was unstoppable," Long said. "The way he has been playing the last two weeks is unbelievable. If he plays that way in Tampa, I don't see anybody beating them."