Bills losing patience after almost four seasons of waiting

January 28, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- Time and tempers are running short for the Buffalo Bills.

In two days, the Bills stare across the line of scrimmage at the Dallas Cowboys and Super Bowl infamy.

If they blink, they join the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos as four-time Super Bowl losers.

If they get blown out again, they become the NFL's laughingstock.

Even now, after three straight Super Bowl losses, their critics want to brand the Bills as the derelicts of defeat.

No wonder, then, that through three days of media inquisition, the Bills have been given to testiness.

"If you lost three Super Bowls, you'd be angry, too," wide receiver Andre Reed said yesterday. "Especially the way we lost two of them.

"But the anger comes more from disappointment in ourselves. We're just an angry team, just frustrated. We want to get the monkey off our backs. We have the opportunity to do that."

Dealing with defeat hasn't been easy. Linebacker Cornelius Bennett shouted down a reporter on the first day of interviews when asked if he thought the Bills would win.

And petulant running back Thurman Thomas continued his running battle with the media. Asked what he thought the reaction might be if the Bills upset the Cowboys, Thomas said, "It'd probably be split, 50-50. A lot of people would say, 'Well, you got yourself one. But you lost three. Get out of there.' "

The Bills aren't quite ready to go, though. Not all of them have been as abrupt as Bennett and Thomas.

Mark Pike, a special teams player and eight-year veteran, sees this as more than a Super Bowl saga.

"It's terrible that people think we're losers," Pike said. "Each year we play the toughest schedule, we play in the American Bowl, we go to training camp early. People don't realize that, and I think they are missing out on a great sports story.

"What we've displayed over the past three years is what sports is all about -- getting knocked down and getting back up. I've sensed in the past week that there's starting to be a soft spot in people's hearts for us. If I were a parent, I would want to teach my kids about the principle and character in sports. I hope people have noticed what we've accomplished."

Bills coach Marv Levy says he understands that the football populace wants to see a new face in the Super Bowl. But he, too, thinks that audience is missing the point.

"I do think there's possibly some lack of recognition of a much deeper story, of almost the American ethic," Levy said. "What it takes to come back, to persevere and to push on and to fight the tide.

"It was my sincere belief when I talked to our team and knew what they were made of, I said, 'You are the most resilient, tough-minded bunch of individuals that I've ever been associated with in athletics, or any other endeavor for that matter.' "

The accomplishment of winning an unprecedented four AFC championships in a row has been circumvented by the humiliation of losing to the Cowboys by 35 points in Super Bowl XXVII. Before that, the Bills lost by 13 to the Washington Redskins and by one to the New York Giants.

Only against the Giants were the Bills favored.

The three losses affected the Bills in almost nightmarish ways. Defensive end Bruce Smith said he's still disturbed by the defeats.

"I haven't been having nightmares or anything like that," Smith said, "but I've had dreams about losing the Super Bowl. I wouldn't wake up in a cold sweat or anything. It's just that the last few times we've been to the final game, it's been disastrous."

No one has paid a higher price for Buffalo's Super Bowl misfortunes than former place-kicker Scott Norwood. His missed 47-yard field-goal attempt -- wide right -- allowed the Giants to escape Tampa, Fla., with a 20-19 victory in 1991. Unfair as it is, there still are those who lay blame at Norwood's doorstep.

None of those people are Bills, however.

"I never once thought of that kick as the factor that caused us to lose the game," said safety Mark Kelso. "That was one play. There were other plays that weren't made. I never focused on that play as the reason we didn't win the Super Bowl, and it certainly did not carry over to the other two."

Norwood endured another season

with the Bills, then was released following the 1992 Super Bowl loss to the Redskins. He no longer grants interviews, and now sells real estate in Northern Virginia.

"People don't realize that was a 47-yarder, not a gimme for anyone," said Steve Christie, Norwood's replacement.

This season, from the first day of training camp, the Bills have had that ominous Super Bowl cloud hanging overhead.

"Marv warned us about it in mini-camp," said center Kent Hull. "He said we'd be hearing a lot of negative things. He said to let it roll off our shoulders and if nothing else, make jokes about it.

"I think that's pretty much what we've done the whole year. If you start worrying about it, it'll just eat at you."

Only in a rare moment do the Bills contemplate the feeling of winning one of these.

"You know, I don't even know [what it'd be like]," Reed said. "It will just be a big relief. Probably the biggest relief I've ever experienced."

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