Losing is an art not lost by the Bills, others

January 28, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Staff Writer

If you think about it, whatever horrible curse has befallen actress Susan Lucci now seems to have enshrouded the Super Bowl-bound Buffalo Bills.

Fourteen times, Susan Lucci has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy for her work on the popular soap "All My Children."

And 14 times, the poor woman has watched as some other actress yelps with joy, rushes to the podium and cradles a gleaming gold trophy while dabbing her eyes with a Kleenex.

Could you blame Ms. Lucci if she came home every day and threw a shoe at the dog?

No, you could not. And yet she gamely carries on ("I never do feel like a loser") and flashes that dazzling Close-Up smile whenever the subject of her incredibly bad luck is raised.

No, this perennial runner-up business is no fun, which the Bills know all too well.

If, God forbid, they lose to the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday in Atlanta, they'll join the sad-sack Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos as four-time Super Bowl losers, although only the Bills (snicker, snicker) will have screwed up at The Big Dance four years in a row.

Yet this is how it goes for some individuals, who enjoy enormous success but always seem to fall a bit short of their goal.

Which begets the question: How did Wile E. Coyote do it for so long?

All those years of chasing that pain-in-the-neck Road Runner across the mesas and never capturing him . . . that has to do something to you.

Even when he broke out the Acme rocket sled, the Acme aerial bomb or the Acme spring-powered shoes, his prey remained just out of reach, while the coyote himself went smashing into a boulder or sailing off a cliff, frantically pedaling and clawing at the air to return.

Yes, he ended up bitter, disillusioned.

But there was no quit in him, that's for sure.

The same can be said for perennial candidate Ross Z. Pierpont. The retired North Baltimore surgeon has run for office -- governor, U.S. senator, mayor, you name it -- a dozen times since 1966 and lost every single time.

So what does he do upon turning 76 years of age?

Does he put on his snazzy Orioles T-shirt, Bermuda shorts and knee-high black socks and slink off to St. Petersburg to play shuffleboard and take in the Early Bird dinner specials with the rest of the geezers?

No, he stands up at a fund-raiser this winter at the Hyatt Regency, where people are eating shrimp as big as your fists, and announces he's running for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic senator Paul S. Sarbanes.

"I'll go toe-to-toe with Sarbanes and the rest of 'em," Dr. Pierpont says, and you wonder what that sound is in the background, the faint strains of the theme from "Rocky" or the soft giggling of several hundred people, their lips smeared with cocktail sauce.

And what about the legendary George P. Mahoney? (You young people are thinking: George P. Ma- who-ey?)

George P. Mahoney, the wealthy Baltimore County businessman, lost 10 straight bids for public office as a Democrat.

These included a memorable 1966 run for governor, during which his campaign slogan -- "Your home is your castle, protect it!" -- drove thousands of alarmed, race-conscious Democrats to vote for Republican Spiro T. Agnew, the eventual winner.

(As a career move, this slogan was seen as somewhat akin to the Coca-Cola Co.'s decision in 1985 to market a sweeter "New Coke."

(Lord, you would have thought they were mixing in Drano. The public reacted with such outrage that the company was forced to bring back the old Coke formula and call it "Coke Classic.")

What happens to perennial runners-up is that they develop the same image as, say, Hydrox cookies.

Sure, it's a nice cookie, Hydrox. But it's not an Oreo.

Which is sort of what people are saying about the Bills. Nice football team. But they're not, well, the Cowboys.

Then again, the Bills have plenty of company, past and present, as they proudly shoot their fists into the air season after season and chant: "We're No. 2!"

At the risk of re-plunging the reader into a massive depression, think back to the dark year of 1969 and what happened to this city's sports teams.

The Colts lost the Super Bowl to swaggering Joe Namath and the Jets. The Bullets lost to the Knicks in the NBA playoffs. The mighty Orioles lost to the Miracle Mets in the World Series.

Record in head-to-head competition, Baltimore vs. New York: 0-3. Thank you for coming, and please drive home safely. You don't think that stung?

For a similar horror story, fast-forward to 1978, when Alydar finished second to Affirmed in all three Triple Crown races.

It's hard to know what a horse is thinking. But back then, it's a good bet Alydar would look at his nemesis and think: Will someone please whack him on the knee with a tire iron?"

Maybe Alydar had the last laugh, in a manner of speaking. Standing at stud, he turned into the equine version of Warren Beatty, siring an impressive number of champions.

By comparison, Affirmed turned out a succession of plow horses and vegetable-cart pullers.

In any event, as another Super Bowl rolls around, many citizens of Buffalo are arriving at this chilling conclusion: Maybe it's the Bills' destiny to always have their reach exceed their grasp.

Maybe they'll always be good, but not quite good enough.

Life is like that sometimes. They build the Chrysler Building, a towering monument of gleaming steel and glass rising up to the sky, and people say: "Well, it's no Empire State Building."

Robert Reed turns in a tour-de-force performance as a dorky dad, Florence Henderson exudes Wessonality on "The Brady Bunch," and viewers sniff: "Well, it's no 'Partridge Family.' "

Then there's Jay Leno -- nice guy, hard worker, snappy dresser. And what has it gotten him? No. 2 in the late-night talk show ratings, No. 2 in your hearts, thanks to the wondrous David Letterman.

Yeah, life is like that sometimes.

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