Why these Bills won't be Buffaloed

LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES -- Meet the Buffalo Bills, suddenly a snapshot of Super serenity.



"We're calm, huh?' receiver James Lofton said yesterday, smiling.

But it's more than just calm. It borders on that glazed-eye tranquillity common to folks who sell books in airport corridors.


"It's called taking a more positive approach," center Kent Hull said.

But it's more than just a positive approach. It's that unwavering, unblinking, unsettling assuredness common to people who think they know something important that you don't.

"We're very relaxed," linebacker Shane Conlan said.

He's not kidding. Once known as the NFL's answer to "Divorce Court," the Bills suddenly are as smilingly imperturbable as "Up With People."

About Thurman's helmet . . .

"Ask," Thomas said, not unpleasantly.

. . . the possibility of losing three Supes in a row . . .

"Big deal," Conlan said.


. . . this being a must-win to avoid being branded a big loser?

"World War II," coach Marv Levy said, "was a must-win."

These are the Bills? The same Bills whose prior Super appearances were particularly notable for their selfishness, huffiness and general self-destruction?

"You won't see it this year," Conlan said.

What's going on around here? Mind control? Inner peace?

Would you believe a bit of both?


It all started last spring, when the Bills held a mini-camp a couple of months after their embarrassing Super loss to the Redskins, before which Thomas and Bruce Smith had prattled on about the modern dilemma of not getting the pub they felt they deserved.

"Marv put it to us dead straight," Conlan said. "He was extremely upset about that [pre-game] stuff. He said that this was a team game and you better start acting like it, and that it was never ever gonna happen again, and that was the way it was, period."

In other words, shut up?

"Um, you could put it that way," Conlan said.

The result has been a beatific, bicker-free year, with this week just more of the same. Then their new mellowness doubled when they came from 32 points down to beat the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs.

That day they went from talking about vacation plans on the sidelines to winning in overtime, and it was as if they recognized that that was God's game, that their remaining postseason life was to be treated as the miracle it was, and thus with respect.


"Once you've been down 32 in the second half and come back to win," Conlan said, "it's hard to talk about anything else as adversity. You come to believe anything is possible."

Such as winning a Super Bowl after losing two in a row.

"Don't get me wrong, beating the Cowboys will be incredibly hard," Conlan said, "but it's hard to find a challenge tougher than coming back from 35-3 in 25 minutes in the NFL."

And so history takes a turn. The Vikings were fatalistic before the last of their Super losses. The Broncos got angry when reporters brought up their 0-for record, a sign that they couldn't handle it. You figured the Bills would stand right in that line, probably setting a record for answering questions with, "What do you mean by that?" Instead, their locker room is Mister Rogers' neighborhood.

In one corner, there is the ever-pleasant Levy, talking about "Truman," the biography he is reading. In another corner is Thomas, telling helmet jokes. In the middle is Mitch Frerotte, the pass-catching lineman whose goal is to be a pro wrestler named Pit Bull.

Of course, it's possible that, after three years of the same faces, the media is just too tired of the Bills to harass them into being uptight. Levy's interview session lasted all of five minutes yesterday. There was just nothing new to say.


But make no mistake, the Bills are responsible for their placid, self-confident countenance. What weight it will carry Sunday is hard to determine. One theory is that it could dissolve instantly into panic if the Cowboys jump ahead early. And it is a general rule that a team needs turnovers more than a sense of peace.

Still, the Cowboys are fortunate that they don't get a daily dose of the Bills' new religion of attitude, as does the media in the morning interview sessions. It's downright unnerving to see a team taking a volley of potshots to the conscience without any apparent damage or anything less than a smile. Maybe it won't matter in the end. But you know what? It probably will.