MINNEAPOLIS -- Everything is different this year, and it's got nothing to do with the weather.
The difference is the sound you don't hear.
The sound you don't hear is of bombs dropping, as once seen on your very own TV screen to dramatic commentary from Peter Arnett or Arthur "The Hunk" Kent. Where are they now?
There's no war this time around. Last year, until the moment the game began, there might as well have not been a Super Bowl.
Yes, it was only a year ago, the war that many people apparently already have forgotten. It was only a year ago that the Super Bowl leadup was a week highlighted by metal detectors, CNN, flag-waving, jet flyovers and Desert Storm T-shirts. It was the only Super Bowl before which a quarterback, in this case Jim Kelly, made a plea for world peace. It was the only time that no one used war metaphors to describe a football game.
It was all different. So tight was the security in Tampa that, for the first time, reporters were required to wear ID pictures to enter the press room. An actor/possible terrorist dressed up in a Mickey Mouse costume was among those turned away. Was he supposed to have had a Mickey Mouse picture on his ID?
"How do you spell that name, sir?"
"M-I-C, see you real soon, K-E-Y . . ."
It was strange and weird and so long ago.
But not everyone has forgotten. The Buffalo Bills players, who were there then as well as here now, remember too well.
"The war was in the forefront of everyone's mind, including the players,' " says James Lofton. "You couldn't escape it. It was on the front page and on TV. Everyone was watching CNN instead of ESPN. People were worried about terrorist attacks during the game. There were even people who were saying they ought to cancel the game because of the war. The war was everywhere.
"This year, it's not so intense. This year, it's just football, and the normal Super Bowl hype. Last year, it just wasn't the kind of Super Bowl that you spend your whole life dreaming about going to."
It was the kind of Super Bowl where Carlton Bailey's dad was in the Persian Gulf and unable to see his son play.
"You can't put into words how much difference it makes that he's home," Bailey says.
No one talks about it, unless some reporter brings it up. After all, what you have today is life, and football, as usual. This is Super Bowl XXVI, and the first XXIV were pretty much like this one, where, as an example, the only war is among the Bills, who seem to be in the process of imploding. Let me see if I've got this right: Star running back Thurman Thomas is jealous of quarterback Jim Kelly, who thinks Thomas is, well, let's say immature. Then you have star defensive lineman Bruce Smith, who hints that he wants out of Buffalo. And then there's owner Ralph Wilson, who is hinting that he might take the entire team out of Buffalo unless someone coughs up some more money.
It's not exactly one big happy family. You wouldn't think you'd have to say this in Minneapolis, but maybe the best advice you can give to the Bills is to chill. (By the way, the wind-chill here yesterday hit about minus-30. Now, that's something to complain about.)
Of course, this is the way the Bills always are, except that usually no one notices. They plain don't like each other. Will that matter Sunday? My guess is that it will not. It is not the happier team that wins these things, although if it were, the Redskins would be a lock. Let me quote Washington quarterback Mark Rypien to you: "We've all come together as one this year."
But if you talk to the Bills, they don't seem upset. They're used to the squabbling.
"We're definitely more relaxed this year," says Cornelius Bennett. "Last year, everything was so intense. It was boiled down into one week, and all you heard about was the war. Football just was not the main thing."
This was the football game where President Bush spoke to the fans directly from Tampa Stadium's big screen in support of the troops.
It was the football game where you entered the stadium through X-ray machines as a guard against terrorism.
"I went through so many X-rays," says Bills linebacker Darryl Talley, "that I started to glow."
But, in the end, the game was the game. It was a one-point thriller, and that's the memory that people keep. Certainly, the one-point loss and the errant Scott Norwood 47-yard field-goal attempt are the memories that the Bills keep, if not cherish.
"It's a happy occasion this year," says Lofton, "and what we're looking for is a happy ending."