UNITED STATE Bills leave egos behind in Cowboys matchup


Pasadena, Calif -- When the Buffalo Bills found their way to Minneapolis for Super Bowl XXVI a year ago, they made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Defensive end Bruce Smith wanted to shuffle out of Buffalo on his gimpy knee.

Running back Thurman Thomas wanted an award bigger than Most Valuable Player of the NFL. Such as being known as the Michael Jordan of the NFL.

Assistant coach Chuck Dickerson added to the folly when he compared the Washington Redskins offensive linemen to Neanderthals. That was a no-no that cost Dickerson his job. You can call them Hogs, but you can't call them Neanderthals.

It all ended in humiliation and a 37-24 defeat for the Bills. A year later, they say they learned their lesson. The sins of Minneapolis, they say, won't be repeated in Pasadena.

That's what they say, anyway. We'll see once the Dallas Cowboys, full of their NFC championship, fire the first shot.

In the meantime, here are some potential game-turning matchups:

Big game experience

Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson won a national championship at Miami (he also lost one to Penn State's Joe Paterno). But that doesn't compare with the Super Bowl. In four years at Dallas, Johnson's teams have played four playoff games (3-1), including one NFC championship.

In six-plus Bills seasons, Marv Levy has coached in 12 playoff games (8-4), with three AFC champ-ionships and two Super Bowls.

Super Bowl experience counts for something, but it wasn't enough to get Dan Reeves of the Denver Broncos or Bud Grant of the Minnesota Vikings over the hump.

Johnson was smart enough to seek the advice of two multi-Super Bowl winners, Joe Gibbs of the Washington Redskins and former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells.

Running game

Emmitt Smith continued to be the Cowboys' workhorse this season. He led the NFL with 1,713 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. He had seven 100-yard games in the regular season, and two more in the playoffs.

The Bills' Thurman Thomas actually had a higher per-carry-average (4.8 to 4.6), and led the league in scrimmage yards.

Limited in postseason play by a hip pointer, Thomas averaged only 3.5 yards a carry in three games.


The big difference between Dallas' Troy Aikman and the Bills' Jim Kelly is that Kelly completes fewer passes and throws more interceptions. Advantage, Aikman.

While Kelly was scraping off the rust of a two-game absence in the AFC championship game, Aikman has been the model of postseason consistency. In his two games, Aikman threw for 522 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Cowboys like to soften up a defense by throwing underneath the opponent's coverage, then going deep. That's one reason Aikman has such a high completion percentage.

Kelly relies on the no-huddle and his ability to read defenses on the run. Sometimes, it gets him in trouble. He puts the ball deep more often than Aikman, and takes more risks, which is why he has more interceptions. Kelly's timing was off in the AFC championship game, but two weeks of practice should help that.


One critical factor in Dallas' passing game is the size of its receivers. Michael Irvin is 6 feet 2 and 199 pounds at one wide-out. Alvin Harper is 6-3 and 207 at the other. Tight end Jay Novacek is 6-4, 231.

They will be matched up against Bills cornerbacks Nate Odomes (5-10, 188), James Williams (5-10, 178) and Kirby Jackson (5-10, 180). Buffalo's biggest defensive back is strong safety Henry Jones at 5-11, 197. Mark Kelso is 5-11, 185.

That height advantage means the Cowboys get balls that other receivers don't ordinarily reach. And that means the Bills have to pressure Aikman more quickly if they're going to disrupt the passing game.

The Bills receivers had not necessarily distinguished themselves this year. Andre Reed's production fell off (he complained he didn't get the ball enough), James Lofton finally showed signs of slowing down, and Don Beebe emerged as the team's true deep threat.

Pass rush

The Cowboys' Charles Haley had a deceptive six sacks -- deceptive, that is, because he was credited with 42 quarterback pressures. That's relentless pressure.

Dallas got considerable pressure from the other end position, too, where starter Tony Tolbert and backup Jim Jeffcoat combined for 19 sacks and 35 pressures.

Fortunately for the Bills, Buffalo has a pair of Pro Bowl tackles to slow that rush. Will Wolford has the assignment of blocking Haley, and Howard Ballard will go against Tolbert/Jeffcoat.

Smith supplies the Bills' rush. Bouncing back to near-1990 form, Smith had 14 sacks and 22 pressures. He'll face tackle Mark Tuinei.

Special teams

Shaky at times this season, rookie Lin Elliott of Dallas was good on 24 of 35 field-goal attempts.

Buffalo's Steve Christie, brought in to replace Scott Norwood this season, hit 24 of 30. In the AFC championship game, Christie made five of six, none from beyond 38 yards. His miss was from inside the 30.

Both teams are good cover teams downfield. In Kelvin Martin, the Cowboys have a potential game-breaking kick returner, though.

Super Bowl XXVII

Buffalo Bills (14-5) vs. Dallas Cowboys (15-3) Date: Sunday, 6:18 p.m.

Site: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

TV: Channels 2, 4

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Line: Cowboys by 7

Super Bowl records: Bills 0-2, Cowboys 2-3

Series: Cowboys lead, 3-1

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