If justice prevails, so will Buffalo in Super Bowl

John Steadman

January 29, 1993|By John Steadman

LOS ANGELES -- Beating on Buffalo has become one of America's leading pastimes. It shouldn't be that way. Beautiful Buffalo has been turned into a dartboard for scorn and ridicule.

It's an always-available target for cheap shots and tired, worn-out jokes. A huge inferiority complex could develop and that's not fair.

If there's justice in the football world, the Buffalo Bills will prevail over the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl on Sunday. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee.

Take the contest out of the context of a sporting event and try to measure what it means to Buffalo, which has been insulted ad infinitum by a barrage of sick-humor criticism that never wants to let up.

From a purely civic standpoint, Buffalo needs a win far more than Dallas does. It will carry immediate and residual value.

Instead of being on the defensive, warding off the blows of all the Buffalo bashers, the upstate New York community would be able to put all the woe aside and profit from the outcome.

So here's offering the fervent hope Buffalo can prevail against an upper-crust representative of football society -- dazzling Dallas -- that is going to its sixth Super Bowl and doesn't need the psychological lift that would come with a victory.

Dallas qualifies as a so-called prestige address among NFL locales. Sophisticated, socially prominent, affluent and influential. So winning a mere football game, even if it is the Super Bowl, isn't all that important.

Buffalo needs the Super Bowl trophy, if only for enhancing its own image. It would make it feel good about itself. So why not? Yes, a Bills' win would create an aura of Chamber of Commerce wonder for Buffalo.

Despite what you hear, Buffalo is not a frozen wasteland of Western New York. It has, on occasion, been known to snow there (90 inches per winter with temperatures averaging 33 degrees) but the hardy Buffalonian is conditioned to tough it out -- be it inclement weather or cold economics along its waterfront.

Two years ago, at a game with the Phoenix Cardinals, the threat of a small blizzard began. Not one spectator cut for cover. How did fans react? Why, of all things, they cheered.

The flakes resembled a huge white canopy and visibility diminished but the crowd in Rich Stadium united in defying the elements. That's Buffalo.

There's remarkable resilience to the place, representative of strong ethnic beliefs and the kind of work ethic that made America great. Men carried lunch buckets, punched time clocks and put in an honest day's work.

Then they came home, drank their beer, packed on a meal, read the Buffalo Evening News and prepared to go back early the next morning to do it all over again. Hooray for Buffalo.

The Bills have lost the last two Super Bowls but, like the city itself, bounced back. Here they are cast as the underdog in another return engagement, going after a rival of pompous arrogance, one that describes itself as "America's Team."

As for the Bills, they are pleased, simply stated, to be identified as Buffalo's team with no questions asked. They got to the Super Bowl the hard way, only the fourth wild card to proceed this far in 27 years.

They went into the playoffs without their starting quarterback, Jim Kelly, who was ailing. In his stead came Frank Reich, a man who is adept at handling desperate situations.

The Bills, with Reich at the controls, put up a 35-point second half to overcome the Houston Oilers. It was the most stupendous comeback in NFL history. How could it have happened?

When it was over, a man who once worked in Buffalo, cartoonist Mike Ricigliano, whose work now appears in The Evening Sun, exclaimed: "The only way to explain it is to believe, if you want, that God is a Buffalo Bills' fan."

The Super Bowl stakes are higher for the Bills than the Cowboys. Buffalo needs it to salve its provincial pride. A Super Bowl win doesn't constitute a panacea but it would boost Buffalo psychologically, symbolically and administer to lifting its human spirit.

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