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It's difficult to fill Super bill When best teams meet, fans can expect the worst

MINNEAPOLIS — MINNEAPOLIS -- Step right up. It's the Washington Redskins vs. the Buffalo Bills. In Super Bowl XXVI. The two best teams on a fast track indoors, where Buffalo's no-huddle offense will test Washington's intricate defense.

Sounding like a carnival barker, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs said last week: "I would say both these teams, really, truly, standing here in front of you, this is as evenly a matched matchup [as you can get]."

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Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, trying to draw a few more fans into the television tent, said, "I think the two teams are extremely well-matched."

Fans must be reluctant to enter the tent, though, because they've been fooled too many times in the past.

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With the Super Bowl, you hope for the best and expect the worst.

It's rarely as good on the field as it is in the buildup. These games get so hyped that it's difficult for a good game to live up to the billing. To say nothing of all the not-so-good ones.

Remember 1985?

Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino. The 17-1 San Francisco 49ers vs. the 16-2 Miami Dolphins. You can't get much better than that.

Yet the final score was 49ers, 38-16.

Remember 1984?

The Redskins had beaten the Los Angeles Raiders, 37-35, in a regular-season classic at RFK.

So they get a rematch in the Super Bowl. All of a sudden, there's a blocked punt and Rocket Screen and the Raiders win, 38-9.

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Which brings us to the Redskins-Bills today in the Metrodome.

There seems to be a mini-trend going on. Two of the past three Super Bowls went down to the last drive. Joe Montana won the game for the 49ers against the Bengals with one of his signature drives three years ago. Jim Kelly all but duplicated it last year, only to have Scott Norwood's field-goal try go wide right.

Is it too much to hope that the game will live up to the billing for the third time in four years?

On paper, it's an intriguing matchup -- especially when the Bills offense takes on the Redskins defense.

Even last year, when the Giants had Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks and friends, the Bills had a point-a-minute offense against the Giants. The problem is they had the ball only 19 minutes in a 20-19 loss.

The Giants won by keeping the Bills offense off the field. Washington figures to try that again this year with its one-two punch of Earnest Byner and rookie Ricky Ervins running behind the Hogs.

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When the Bills are on the field, though, they won't face Taylor and Banks. They'll face a Washington defense that wins by guile.

Even Washington quarterback Mark Rypien, who hopes to complement the running game against a Buffalo defense that ranked 27th in yardage allowed, says he wouldn't like to play against all the defenses thrown up by Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Redskins defense.

"It's got to drive a guy batty," Rypien said.

Petitbon said the Redskins defense resembles a pitcher who can't throw the ball 100 mph.

"If he can't [throw it that fast], he'd better have four or five pitches, or he won't be in the league very long. I think we fall into the second category. We can't throw the ball 100 mph, so we have to have different pitches," he said.

One problem is that while they throw all these different pitches, the Redskins like to do a lot of substituting by down and distance. That's difficult against the run-and-shoot.

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The Bills figure the Redskins can't stop their no-huddle offense. They still can't figure out how the Giants did it last year.

As Bills wide receiver Andre Reed said: "They played well enough to win. You've got to give them credit. We didn't play as well as we should have. We felt like we were the better team, but we didn't play like the better team on that given day."

The Bills also get tired of hearing how they're not tough enough to take on the NFC teams, who've won seven straight Super Bowls.

The Bills counter that they're 6-2 against the NFC in regular-season games the past two seasons and the only losses came to the Redskins and Lions in meaningless season finales.

"It seems like a lot of the analysts are geared toward the NFC more," Reed said. "They think the AFC is such a pushover. Hopefully, we can win this game and prove a lot of things."

The Bills have a lot to prove. They want to avoid the Minnesota-Denver stigma of losing back-to-back Super Bowls. Just getting there two straight years should be considered an accomplishment, but the rules of the game are that the losing team is considered a loser.

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Then there's the image of the Bickering Bills that returned this week, when the Bills complained about everything but the color of the towels in their hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, the Redskins have a lot to lose, too, because they're favored and anything less than a Super Bowl victory will mean the season has been a disappointment.

This has been a typical week for the Redskins. They've had little to say. Their focus is on the game.

Gibbs has seemed relaxed, but the Redskins know what he's like as the kickoff nears.

"It's like he's seen a ghost," said safety Danny Copeland.

Just like the Bills, Gibbs knows what it's like to lose one of these games.

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One of them will find out today what it's like to lose a second one.

SUPER BOWL MATCHUP

Analysis: If Smith were healthy the way he was last year in his MVP season, this would be the matchup of the game. Lachey is one of the game's best left tackles -- if not the best -- and Smith is one of the league's best pass-rushing ends -- if not the best. But since Smith missed most of the season with a knee injury, the Bills have to hope he can hold his own against the Redskins' power rushing game. One of the keys to the Redskins' success is that they've rarely gotten into those third-and-long situations -- that's when the opposing defensive ends can tee off and rush. That's one of the reasons that Mark Rypien was sacked only seven times this year. If the Bills can stop the Redskins on first and second downs and give Smith some free shots on third down, when he doesn't have to worry about the run, he could give Lachey some problems. But if the Redskins can run right at Smith, the way the Giants did last year behind Jumbo Elliott, and set up those second-and-four downs when Smith has to play both the run and the pass, Lachey should have the edge, especially since Smith isn't 100 percent. In three previous games, Smith doesn't have a sack against Lachey, but two of the games were in their rookie seasons in 1985, and the third was the meaningless season finale last year. This time, the stakes will be a lot higher.


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