If Bills are costly, try a Super Saver

JOHN EISENBERG

February 03, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

The cruelest moment of Super Sunday occurred not when the Cowboys began piling up points in a blooper-reel fourth quarter, but later, when the Bills' Frank Reich suggested to interviewers that his club had the wherewithal to make it back to a fourth straight Super Bowl.

Reich is an ex-Terp and by all accounts a decent fellow, but this was an act of unqualified sadism. The innocent sporting public was still choking on the latest indigestible Super nugget featuring the Bills as the sour guacamole, and he was already talking about feeding us more?

Please.

Perhaps there was nobility in the Bills clinging to such a determined notion after their spectacular collapse, but offering the idea to the rest of us was downright indecent.

The Bills have lost the last three Supes by one, 13 and 35 points, an ascending scale that, according to my calculations, means they would lose next year by approximately 80, the exact figure depending on how many fumbles were returned for touchdowns.

The only satisfied customers would be the grid ghouls for whom the Bills have remade the Super Bowl into a car race, watched only for the inevitable gore.

But there's a big problem. As obviously incapable as the Bills are of matching whatever the NFC offers, they're the studs of the junior varsity. The rest of the AFC still looks a long way up to them. Reich's jut-jawed prediction could easily come true: Bills, again.

There oughta be a law.

How about it?

After nine straight NFC wins by an average score of 39-16, isn't it time for a new format for the Super Bowl tournament? Our stomachs need the break.

Divining the reasons for the NFC's superiority is strictly a guessing game, but this much is certain: It's not just some random spin of the NFL cycles, as many in the league contend.

The AFC's ball is palpably inferior, and there's no change in sight. The Steelers and Chargers are the rising AFC teams, the only ones (with the Oilers) who could unseat the Bills, and they're pulp next to the Cowboys, 49ers, Saints and even the crazy Eagles.

The law of averages and vagaries of football always will account for an occasionally close Super Bowl under the current format, and maybe even a fluke AFC win one of these years, but at age 27 the game has basically become an institutionalized blowout.

The NFL can shrug if it chooses, of course. The Super Bowl has become such a popular spectacle that the league will pocket its millions even if the Seahawks play Slippery Rock. But interest will begin to dwindle if the game doesn't begin delivering more regularly. And it won't.

What to do? There are several possibilities.

The best would be to do away with the conferences altogether. Keep the divisions aligned as is, so the best rivalries remain intact. But at the end of the season, just collect the teams with the 12 best records, seed them accordingly and let them play. The list of tiebreaker possibilities would run the length of "Moby Dick," but let's not quibble.

Would anyone shed a tear at the demise of the conference championships? They're barely two decades old, so it's not like you're tearing down some century-old tradition, as the baseball owners are threatening with their wild-card talk. As is, winning a conference title isn't worth a nickel. Just ask the Bills if those three straight AFC titles are any solace. (They can inspire themselves next year with the mantra, "Four On The Floor.")

Another solution would be to keep the current playoff format intact except for flip-flopping the four teams left at the end. In other words, the top NFC team would play the second-best from the AFC, and vice versa. At the very least, that would have led to a Cowboys-49ers Super Bowl, a matchup of the two best teams. Isn't that what the championship game is supposed to be?

A more radical idea would be to realign the league entirely, shaking up the divisions and spreading the power around. But the other ideas are better. This one would disrupt too many long-standing rivalries.

In any case, the league needs to recognize that it has a problem, and do something. The current format is just silly. The Dolphins played in the AFC title game this year, and they wouldn't even have qualified for the playoffs in the NFC. The Bills would have been knocked out long before the Supe. They wouldn't have been around to play the sour guacamole on Super Sunday. And they certainly wouldn't be talking about a fourth helping.

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