Minneapolis -- The luck stops here in Super Bowl XXVI.
No more lame-duck Falcons or Lions to feast on. No more backup quarterbacks to trample. No more dumb defensive game plans to trash like the one Atlanta's Jerry Glanville sprung on the Washington Redskins in midseason. No more luck.
Especially no more luck.
The Redskins have had more than their share this season. The road to the Super Bowl never has been easier. All the Redskins had to do to get here was beat Atlanta and Detroit, teams they had whomped by a combined score of 101-17 in the regular season.
You call that playoff-caliber opposition? You call that competition?
Haven't we seen Redskins assistant head coach/defense Richie Petitbon take apart enough run-and-shoot offenses to know he can do it blindfolded by now?
The Buffalo Bills present a different kind of dilemma for Petitbon today. It's an honest-to-goodness offense with a quarterback who likes to go deep and a running back who can't gain enough yards to satisfy his insatiable ego.
The Bills present a dilemma of time and space. The fast tempo of their no-huddle offense doesn't allow for the mass defensive substitutions Petitbon likes to employ. And with the Redskins' defensive backs sucking wind in the toasty Metrodome, quarterback Jim Kelly will be better able to find the weak links in the Washington secondary.
The Redskins romped through a watered-down NFC to get to the Super Bowl. They had some help from fate along the way. How else do you explain the fact they played against eight backup quarterbacks? How else do you account for the fact that, until the sixth week of the season, they faced teams who were without at least one key player?
They did not see the Philadelphia Eagles' Randall Cunningham all season. They didn't see the New York Giants' Phil Simms until the Giants' spirit -- and their defense -- had been crushed. They didn't see NFL rushing champ Emmitt Smith in the second half of a Monday night game in Dallas in which he alone had them on the ropes in the first half.
And while you're at it, don't forget the Houston game. If Houston had a professional place-kicker, the Oilers would have won.
So how good are the Redskins, anyway? We really don't know. Are they as good as the 1983 Redskins team that got buried by the Raiders in the Super Bowl? Probably not. Are they better than the 1987 team that steamrolled the Broncos in that Super Bowl? Probably so.
We do know they have the best coaching staff in football. Who else could take Mark Rypien -- a sixth-round draft pick in 1986 -- and turn him into a Super Bowl quarterback? Who else could start five Plan B players on defense and turn that defense into an unholy terror?
Enough on the Redskins. How 'bout those Bills?
Are they an undisciplined, free-spirited bunch? Certainly. Are they egomaniacs running out of control? Sure looks like it. Are they chronic complainers? No question.
Will any of that matter today?
The Bills have a marvelous collection of big-play talent -- Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton, linebacker Cornelius Bennett and, when he's healthy, defensive end Bruce Smith.
They also have the motivation. They have to atone for last year's Super Bowl loss. They have to find their place in history. They want desperately for it not to be in the same paragraph with the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos, two infamous Super Bowl losers.
Forget all the tantrums and the childish pouting. When the ball is snapped, Thomas has no aversion to taking it from Kelly, and Kelly has no aversion to heaving it to Thomas.
Play-action passes can soften up the Redskins defense. And when it's softened, Kelly will go deep. Often.
One final thought. Kelly comes from western Pennsylvania, a pretty good heritage for a quarterback.