MINNEAPOLIS -- First Thurman Thomas lost his helmet, which provided the Buffalo Bills the cue to go out and lose their pride, along with a considerable part of their anatomy, in a Super Bowl pratfall that created enormous professional embarrassment.
So inept were the Bills that it detracted from a Washington Redskins team that was a dominant factor in every aspect and merely toyed with its woeful adversary. Imagine the Bills' best runner, Thomas, "losing" his helmet for the first two plays.
Like soldiers preparing for battle, the helmet is one thing you don't misplace. Will Wolford, the Bills' starting offensive tackle, put it all in perspective when he said, "A helmet is special to a football player. I always keep mine in my hand if I'm not wearing it."
Maybe Thomas read about Bill Hewett, a Hall of Fame end who never wore a helmet. And then there was Andy Farkas, a onetime Washington Redskin, who often played without being encumbered with what the football players refer to as their "hat."
The Bills, for the most part, should have been made to go out and buy tickets, like everyone else in the disillusioned crowd of 63,130 that paid from $150, face value, for a seat, to scalpers' prices that went all the way to $1,400.
For the Redskins, dominant in every phase, it was one of their easiest games of the season when it was supposed to be the toughest. Each player made $36,000 for a winner's share of the Super Bowl, which was comparable to picking up found money.
The Bills resembled a tired herd of sick buffaloes. From the outset, when their best running back wasn't available because of his missing headgear, it might be said the Bills never had their heads together or the offense either.
Thomas had a horrible afternoon, gaining only 13 yards on 10 tries, a dismal showing when measured against what he rolled up in the regular season when he led the American Conference in rushing with 1,407 yards.
It was an occasion when the Bills' two strongest weapons, Thomas on the ground and Jim Kelly in the air, were silenced by the charge of the Redskins, led by Wilber Marshall, who was a one-man demolition team. Marshall had an extraordinary afternoon and evening.
He made eight tackles, including a sack; assisted on three other stops, broke up a pass and forced two fumbles. That, indeed, was a Hall of Fame day.
In talking about the blitzing tactics of his team, Marshall said, "We just kept coming at them. They didn't have enough people to block us. The linebacker shot through the middle and there was nobody there to pick him up because the back was coming out of the backfield."
Another Redskins linebacker, Andre Collins, underlined Marshall's assessment: "A lot of times they were leaving five trying to block six. They were trying to get Thomas out in the flat. We left Thomas uncovered a couple times or covered him with a defensive end and tried to put the heat on Kelly early."
Mark Rypien, the Redskins' quarterback who has a profile that resembles a boxer, was picked as the game's Most Valuable Player, but it was an award that could have gone to almost any Redskin. They were all at their best, contributing to an overall effort that sent the Bills on a path to self-destruction.
Kelly, pressured by the Redskins, gave the flattest performance of his career. He threw often enough, setting a Super Bowl record with 58 passes, but too frequently the spirals were "wild high." In the climate-controlled atmosphere of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, he couldn't blame it on the wind.
The Bills had hoped to get the ball to Thomas, but when they got behind and the margin swelled to 24-0, after only two plays in the third period, they had no alternative except to stay in the air. Kelly was forcing passes and this only further compounded the Bills' problems.
Coach Joe Gibbs is such a conservative man he had intentions of going out last night with his family to celebrate with a "chocolate sundae." He is 3-for-4 in Super Bowls and continues to build a record that is going to support the contention that he's the finest coach the Redskins ever had, going back to when they were known as the Boston Braves in 1932 and including such leaders as Vince Lombardi, Red Flaherty and George Allen.
Washington crushed Buffalo, winning the game with superior line play, offensively and defensively, and even tossing in a bit of no-huddle tactics, which is what the Bills used all the time.
The Redskins were alert and aggressive, asserting themselves with impressive authority and making it stick. That final result, 37-24, is deceptive. The score doesn't reflect the difference between two teams.
Washington was a symphony, Buffalo a self-made disaster.