With appetizers gone,it's time for Super Cowboys, Bills are main dish

January 31, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

PASADENA, Calif. -- Bruce Smith sounds like a carnival barker.

"It's the game of the world. It's the Super Bowl, the granddaddy of all games," Smith said.

Step right up. In the Big Tent. It's Super Bowl XXVII. The Dallas Cowboys vs. the Buffalo Bills. In the Rose Bowl. It's Youth vs. Experience.

That's the way people talk about the Super Bowl. Forget that there have been only 26 of them. Forget that NFC teams have won eight straight. Forget that the Buffalo Bills have lost the past two.

The Super Bowl has become such an extravaganza that to suggest it's not what it's hyped to be is like suggesting the emperor isn't wearing clothes.

After all, of the 48 highest-rated television shows, 18 have been Super Bowls. The only other sporting event to crack the top 50 was the 1981 NFC title game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cowboys.

The Super Bowl has become such an American institution that it doesn't matter what the matchup is. It's party time.

On paper, there's even a case to be made that today's Super Bowl could be a good matchup. The only problem is that they're rarely as good on the field as they are on paper.

There are two intriguing matchups. There's Dallas running back Emmitt Smith going against the Buffalo defense that was tied for second against the run, and there's Jim Kelly's no-huddle

offense challenging a Cowboys defense that ranked No. 1 overall.

Then there's the every-other-year theory. In 1989, in Super Bowl XXIII, Joe Montana put on a memorable late drive to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16. In 1991, Scott Norwood was wide right on a 47-yard field-goal try as the New York Giants hung on to beat the Bills, 20-19.

Now, it's two years later. Maybe, it's time for another good game.

The Bills, once known as the Bickering Bills, have done a good job of regrouping after their embarrassing 37-24 loss to the Washington Redskins in last year's Super Bowl.

Instead of dwelling on their failures, the Bills say they've learned from them. They don't seem worried that they could become the first team to lose three straight Super Bowls.

"I think the first year after we won the [AFC] championship game, 51-3, we were so hyped up that we thought we were going to just show up and win," wide receiver Andre Reed said. "It doesn't happen like that.

"Last year, there were so many distractions that it seemed like what could go wrong, did go wrong. Between what happened in the media . . . and the helmet business, and guys coming out in public and talking about racism and all that stuff. It had a lot to do with that [loss]."

Last year, Thurman Thomas skipped a media session because he was annoyed that former assistant coach Ted Marchibroda called Jim Kelly the Michael Jordan of the Bills. Thomas then missed the first two plays of the game because he lost his helmet.

Smith stirred up a controversy by saying the Buffalo fans were racist because some sent him disparaging letters.

This year, it's all changed. These are the new mature Bills. Thomas not only showed up for every media session, but by Thursday he was handing out little plastic Bills helmets to the reporters to make fun of his gaffe.

Reed summed up the Bills' new attitude by saying, "Chill out, man, play the game and then you can talk all the smack you want."

Smith, who two years ago proclaimed himself the best defensive player, said, "I'm not going to boast and brag about what I'm able to do."

He also has decided the racial situation in Buffalo is getting better.

"I think we should have racial harmony, and I think I should express what I think every time I see racial injustice. Things have improved in the last year in Buffalo," he said.

The only problem the Bills had all week was dealing with a report of an altercation between Darryl Talley and Magic Johnson's body guard in a nightspot. It's unclear what, if anything, happened, but the report didn't surface until three days afterward, and the Bills seemed to shrug it off.

Whether this new attitude will make any difference is difficult to tell. The key question is whether Buffalo can stop Smith. He's the master of the cutback run and difficult to bring down with one tackler.

The Bills also think the wave of emotion they've been riding since their incredible 32-point, second-half comeback against the Houston Oilers will continue.

Reed said the Bills were in a "zone" in that second half. "They talk about Michael Jordan being in a zone. That was definitely a zone game," Reed said.

The Bills also like to think their experience of being in two Super Bowls, even though they lost them, gives them an edge on the Cowboys, who have only two players (Charles Haley and Ray Horton), who have played in one. The Bills have 37 players who've played in one.

But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says his team's schedule offsets that.

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