Dolphins come roaring into title game Big talk heats up rivalry with Bills

January 17, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

MIAMI -- One more time, with feeling.

When the Miami Dolphins (12-5) and Buffalo Bills (13-5) renew hostilities in today's AFC championship game, they'll make another cryptic journal entry to a rivalry as bitter as it is old.

It's a rivalry that started long before Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox suggested this week that the Bills had overstayed their welcome at the top of the AFC.

It's a rivalry that turned sour long before Dolphins safety Louis Oliver sent T-shirts to Houston on the last week of the regular season, urging the Oilers to beat Buffalo and give the AFC East Division title to Miami.

It's a rivalry that inspired bad blood way before Oliver intercepted three passes against Jim Kelly -- returning one for a 103-yard touchdown -- in a Dolphins rout last October, and then woofed about it later.

This is a rivalry with roots that reach back 20 years, to a time when Miami beat Buffalo a record 20 straight times. The Bills were 0-for-the-1970s against Don Shula's juggernaut.

Shula still coaches the Dolphins, but times have changed. The Bills are on a nifty run of their own against the Dolphins, having won five of the past six meetings and 11 of the past 13. What's more, Buffalo has won five of six games at Joe Robbie Stadium since it opened in 1987.

With a sellout crowd of 73,000 on hand at Joe Robbie Stadium today, the AFC championship serves as the rubber match in a best-of-three series this season. The winner gets a reservation in Pasadena, Calif., for Super Bowl XXVII. The loser gets ready for free agency and the draft.

"It seems like it's a grudge match," said Dolphins All-Pro left tackle Richmond Webb. "I don't know how it got started -- it was a long time before I got here -- but these two teams don't like each other."

That was equally apparent from what Cox, the Dolphins' emotional defensive leader, had to say about the Bills.

"These guys are on a pedestal," Cox said, "and it's time for them to be knocked off the perch."

Cox also said he was surprised the Bills were bringing Kelly back from a knee injury to start the game ahead of Frank Reich, who hadstarted at quarterback in both Buffalo playoff wins this month.

Asked for a comparison between Kelly and Reich, Cox made this observation: "He [Kelly] has a bigger ego. He likes to think he can throw the ball into double coverage. Reich is more patient."

And if that wasn't enough to incite the Bills, Cox took a shot at their star running back, Thurman Thomas, as well.

"I think Ken Davis is probably a better runner," Cox said. "What sets Thomas apart is his ability to come out of the backfield and catch the ball."

Thomas has led the NFL in scrimmage yards for a record four consecutive seasons.

Oliver, perhaps the most flamboyant of the new breed of Dolphins, also has been brash when assessing the Bills.

In response to a question about the Bills' quarterback situation, Oliver said, "It doesn't matter whoever's going to throw me the football."

The Bills haven't forgotten the T-shirts that Oliver mailed to Houston last month, either. The shirts read, "A Dolphins Favorite Christmas Carol? Deck the Bills, we'll all be jolly."

Houston's 27-3 victory sentenced the Bills to a wild-card fate in the playoffs, setting up today's date in mild Miami rather than frigid Buffalo. With matching 11-5 records, Miami won the division based on a better conference record, 9-2 to 7-5.

Unlike the Dolphins, the Bills have been walking softly through this psychological mine field, though.

When Buffalo linebacker Darryl Talley was asked about the additions of tight end Keith Jackson and running back Bobby Humphrey to the Dolphins this year, he fairly gushed.

"If you look at that offense, they have seven All-Pros there," Talley said. "They can send that team as the AFC's Pro Bowl team."

Said Bills center Kent Hull, "I don't think I dislike anybody. I just want to win. . . . I'm not trying to maim anybody."

The Bills, who have lost the past two Super Bowls, are trying to become the second team in history to appear in three straight Super Bowls. The Dolphins of 1971 through 1973 are the only team to achieve that feat.

Shula brings a 5-1 record into his seventh AFC championship game. The one loss was his most recent one, against the New England Patriots in 1985.

"The important thing, and I'm sure Buffalo feels the same way as us, is we're in the game understanding the other team has earned the right to be there," Shula said.

"That it's Buffalo is almost fitting. They were the AFC representative the past two years. If you picked a team to beat to get into the Super Bowl, it would be Buffalo."

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