With a bit of late thanks to Joe Louis, this columnist is going with the Bills

Bill Tanton

January 28, 1993|By Bill Tanton

A long time ago, when I was a kid sportswriter, I was sent to Chicago to cover a heavyweight championship fight.

In the press hotel, I jumped on an elevator with an old pro writer, Barney Nagler -- and who was on there, all alone, but Joe Louis.

"Joe, Joe," I said eagerly, "who do you like tomorrow night?"

"I like Patterson," said the man who was considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight champion of all time.

Added Louis: "I think the champ's got too much savvy for this guy. The other guy is just a slugger."

Off I rushed to write my scoop, which was headlined: "Patterson Picked Over Liston."

As we all know, Sonny Liston stopped Floyd Patterson in the first round, and Patterson, in shame, exited Comiskey Park that night in disguise so no one would recognize him.

It occurred to me that old pro Nagler had not touched the Louis scoop.

"Joe's never been right in his life," Barney said. "He doesn't keep up with the game.

"Promoters bring Joe to these fights as window dressing. He's a helluva nice guy and he can use the money they pay him and he gets a little extra space for the fight from young kids like you."

Lesson learned.

I've tried to approach Sunday's Super Bowl in that light. Some of the greatest football players ever, ex-Colts all, are still living in our town. Not all of them are worth asking for an insider's look.

Mike Curtis, for example, was an All-Pro and one of the most ferocious linebackers ever. This year Curtis said on a talk show that Seattle would not go anywhere with Dave Krieg at quarterback.

Not only is Krieg gone from Seattle; he's on his way out the door at his current stop, Kansas City.

"Among the ex-Colts," I asked Ernie Accorsi, who has spent 25 years in the NFL, "who's good at handicapping games?"

"John's good," he said.

Those two words -- John's good -- reminded me of the old days. No one had to say what John's last name was. There was only one John, just as, in another sport, there is only one Michael today.

Of course, John Unitas would be good. He didn't become possibly the greatest quarterback ever because God make him bigger, stronger or faster than the others. He did it with his head and his heart. Let's see how much heart Johnny U. has for handicapping Super Bowl XXVII.

"If I were a betting man," says Unitas, "I'd probably pick Dallas. They made a lot of third-down conversions when they beat San Francisco. If they do that Sunday, they've got a good chance to beat Buffalo.

"I like Dallas' quarterback, Troy Aikman. I liked him when he was at UCLA -- a big, strong boy with a great arm. Jim Kelly is more of a dart thrower. He throws more possession-type stuff."

Unitas admitted he has not had time to study these teams as he once might have. In recent weeks he has been busy visiting colleges with his son, Joey, a senior football player at St. Paul's School.

They've been to John's alma mater, Louisville, and Miami and Michigan State, although it sounds to me as if Joey U. will wind up playing football and lacrosse next year at Ohio Wesleyan.

One brainy ex-Colt (at least he holds a degree from an Ivy League school, Columbia) who does keep up is Marty Domres. Like Unitas, Domres played quarterback, a thinking man's position.

"I like the points," Marty said.

Shhhh! Marty, please.

We're not talking high roller stuff here, Las Vegas and all that. We're not talking Buffalo with the 6 1/2 points.

We're talking an ex-Colt and old friends. Dallas or Buffalo? Which?

"Well," said Domres, who's now a stockbroker at Alex Brown, "even up, I'll still pick Buffalo.

"It's an even kind of game, but I think Dallas might make a few more mistakes than Buffalo because they've never been there ** [to a Super Bowl].

"I can see a deflected pass being intercepted and deciding the game. The bounce of the ball will decide it."

OK, one pick for Dallas, one for Buffalo. The tie-breaking vote will be cast by a sportswriter who has learned a thing or two since allowing Joe Louis to make his predictions.

I think Ted Marchibroda was right at the outset of the playoffs when he said Buffalo was "on a mission."

Marchibroda, once again head coach of the Colts, was Buffalo's offensive coordinator when the Bills lost the last two Super Bowls to the Giants and the Redskins. Ted knows the Bills. He also knows the NFL.

I realize that the American Football Conference, which Buffalo represents, has won only one of the last 11 Super Bowls. But surely the AFC will win one again someday. Why not Sunday?

The Bills have had their worst season in five years. What a Super Bowl team has to be judged on, however, is not how it played in September and October but how it's playing now.

The Bills showed in dismantling Miami, 29-10, in the AFC title game that they are once again a formidable team.

Dallas was even more impressive in the NFC championship in beating the 49ers, 30-20. Going into the playoffs, San Francisco was considered the team to beat. Some joked that Buffalo-Miami was the J.V. game.

Even so, football always has been as much mental as physical, and Buffalo has a psychological advantage.

Dallas appears to be the classic team that is glad just to be in the Super Bowl.

Coach Jimmy Johnson has done a tremendous job building a championship team in a short time. Three years ago the Cowboys were 1-15. No matter what they do Sunday, this has been a great season for them.

For Buffalo, anything less than victory will be a disaster.

The Bills have to win to avoid becoming the first team to lose three straight Super Bowls. Minnesota lost four, but never three in a row.

With another loss this time, the Bills will be forever remembered as losers. Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and coach Marv Levy are too good for that.

I believe their mission will be completed Sunday. Final score: Buffalo 23, Dallas 20.

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