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With appetizers gone,it's time for Super Cowboys, Bills are main dish

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PASADENA, Calif. -- Bruce Smith sounds like a carnival barker.

"It's the game of the world. It's the Super Bowl, the granddaddy of all games," Smith said.

Step right up. In the Big Tent. It's Super Bowl XXVII. The Dallas Cowboys vs. the Buffalo Bills. In the Rose Bowl. It's Youth vs. Experience.

That's the way people talk about the Super Bowl. Forget that there have been only 26 of them. Forget that NFC teams have won eight straight. Forget that the Buffalo Bills have lost the past two.

The Super Bowl has become such an extravaganza that to suggest it's not what it's hyped to be is like suggesting the emperor isn't wearing clothes.

After all, of the 48 highest-rated television shows, 18 have been Super Bowls. The only other sporting event to crack the top 50 was the 1981 NFC title game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Cowboys.

The Super Bowl has become such an American institution that it doesn't matter what the matchup is. It's party time.

On paper, there's even a case to be made that today's Super Bowl could be a good matchup. The only problem is that they're rarely as good on the field as they are on paper.

There are two intriguing matchups. There's Dallas running back Emmitt Smith going against the Buffalo defense that was tied for second against the run, and there's Jim Kelly's no-huddle

offense challenging a Cowboys defense that ranked No. 1 overall.

Then there's the every-other-year theory. In 1989, in Super Bowl XXIII, Joe Montana put on a memorable late drive to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16. In 1991, Scott Norwood was wide right on a 47-yard field-goal try as the New York Giants hung on to beat the Bills, 20-19.

Now, it's two years later. Maybe, it's time for another good game.

The Bills, once known as the Bickering Bills, have done a good job of regrouping after their embarrassing 37-24 loss to the Washington Redskins in last year's Super Bowl.

Instead of dwelling on their failures, the Bills say they've learned from them. They don't seem worried that they could become the first team to lose three straight Super Bowls.

"I think the first year after we won the [AFC] championship game, 51-3, we were so hyped up that we thought we were going to just show up and win," wide receiver Andre Reed said. "It doesn't happen like that.

"Last year, there were so many distractions that it seemed like what could go wrong, did go wrong. Between what happened in the media . . . and the helmet business, and guys coming out in public and talking about racism and all that stuff. It had a lot to do with that [loss]."

Last year, Thurman Thomas skipped a media session because he was annoyed that former assistant coach Ted Marchibroda called Jim Kelly the Michael Jordan of the Bills. Thomas then missed the first two plays of the game because he lost his helmet.

Smith stirred up a controversy by saying the Buffalo fans were racist because some sent him disparaging letters.

This year, it's all changed. These are the new mature Bills. Thomas not only showed up for every media session, but by Thursday he was handing out little plastic Bills helmets to the reporters to make fun of his gaffe.

Reed summed up the Bills' new attitude by saying, "Chill out, man, play the game and then you can talk all the smack you want."

Smith, who two years ago proclaimed himself the best defensive player, said, "I'm not going to boast and brag about what I'm able to do."

He also has decided the racial situation in Buffalo is getting better.

"I think we should have racial harmony, and I think I should express what I think every time I see racial injustice. Things have improved in the last year in Buffalo," he said.

The only problem the Bills had all week was dealing with a report of an altercation between Darryl Talley and Magic Johnson's body guard in a nightspot. It's unclear what, if anything, happened, but the report didn't surface until three days afterward, and the Bills seemed to shrug it off.

Whether this new attitude will make any difference is difficult to tell. The key question is whether Buffalo can stop Smith. He's the master of the cutback run and difficult to bring down with one tackler.

The Bills also think the wave of emotion they've been riding since their incredible 32-point, second-half comeback against the Houston Oilers will continue.

Reed said the Bills were in a "zone" in that second half. "They talk about Michael Jordan being in a zone. That was definitely a zone game," Reed said.

The Bills also like to think their experience of being in two Super Bowls, even though they lost them, gives them an edge on the Cowboys, who have only two players (Charles Haley and Ray Horton), who have played in one. The Bills have 37 players who've played in one.

But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says his team's schedule offsets that.

"If you think about it, we have kind of played four or five mini-Super Bowls since September. The Monday night opener against the Redskins. The Monday night game with the Eagles. The return match with the Eagles. The playoffs with the Eagles and then us against the 49ers," he said.

The Cowboys' key players, quarterback Troy Aikman and Smith, have stressed that the Cowboys aren't assuming they'll be back in the Super Bowl, despite their youth.

"I don't care if you've been to the Super Bowl 34 times, if you're not mentally sharp, you're going to get beat," Smith said.

"I think being young is going to help us. I think we'll have a lot more excitement."

Aikman said: "I really think that experience is overrated when you're talking about playoff experience and Super Bowl experience. A game is a game."

The Cowboys showed in the NFC title game how they can dominate a game. They had only a 416-415 edge in yardage, but they controlled the ball for 35:20, including a nine-minute second-half drive by wearing the 49ers down with Smith's runs.

They also didn't turn the ball over, and they took it away from the 49ers four times.

"That's really been our approach all year," Aikman said. "We realize the importance of not turning the ball over. This game will be field position and turnovers and who can control the football. We took the same approach in the playoffs that we did all season long."

Aikman's coolness under fire is a factor, too.

"I think my biggest improvement has been knowing where my third and fourth receivers are and being able to get back to those guys and avoid the sacks," he said.

The 49ers sacked him four times, but he completed 24 of 34 passes.

Another factor is that Johnson may take the most daring approach any coach has taken in the Super Bowl. Most coaches tend to play it safe and cautious in the Super Bowl. It'll be a surprise if Johnson does. "Our approach is to be aggressive," he said.

In the NFC title game, he went for it on fourth-and-one from the 49ers 17 instead of attempting a field goal that could have put the Cowboys ahead, 27-13.

The 49ers came back to score a touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-20 and had a chance to win it. Again, Johnson wasn't cautious. On the first play when the Cowboys got the ball, Aikman completed a 70-yard pass-and-run to Alvin Harper that set up the clinching touchdown in a 30-20 victory.

If the Cowboys can control the ball and keep the Buffalo offense off the field the way they did against the 49ers, the Dallas defense may not have to worry about the Buffalo no-huddle.

The first quarter should set the tempo. For the Bills to have a chance, they have to get an early lead. If the Cowboys get ahead or stay even, they tend to wear teams down in the second half.

If nothing else, the Bills don't seem to be going into the game with a sense of anxiety. They can shrug about their failures.

Reed said: "I think a lot more people want to see us win than lose, I think especially this time, maybe they feel the third time, 'let them win this time.' [They feel] let these guys win one so we don't have to ask them the same questions all the time. If they ever get back, 'Well, it's the fourth time you guys are here. Do you see anything different from the previous three?' "

XXVI results

K?

Year .. Result . .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Site

1967 Green Bay (NFL) 35, Kansas City (AFL) 10 .. .. Los Angeles

1968 Green Bay (NFL) 33, Oakland (AFL) 14 .. .. .. .. Miami

1969 N.Y. Jets (AFL) 16, Baltimore (NFL) 7 .. .. .. ..Miami

1970 Kansas City (AFL) 23, Minnesota (NFL) 7 .. .. .. New Orleans

1971 Baltimore (AFC) 16, Dallas (NFC) 13 .. .. .. .. Miami

1972 Dallas (NFC) 24, Miami (AFC) 3 .. .. .. .. .. .. New Orleans

1973 Miami (AFC) 14, Washington (NFC) 7 .. .. .. .. ..Los Angeles

1974 Miami (AFC) 24, Minnesota (NFC) 7 .. .. .. .. .. Houston

1975 Pittsburgh (AFC) 16, Minnesota (NFC) 6 .. .. .. New Orleans

1976 Pittsburgh (AFC) 21, Dallas (NFC) 17 .. .. .. .. Miami

1977 Oakland (AFC) 32, Minnesota (NFC) 14 .. .. .. .. Pasadena, Calif.

1978 Dallas (NFC) 27, Denver (AFC) 10 .. .. .. .. .. New Orleans

1979 Pittsburgh (AFC) 35, Dallas (NFC) 31 .. .. .. .. Miami

1980 Pittsburgh (AFC) 31, Los Angeles (NFC) 19 .. .. Pasadena, Calif.

1981 Oakland (AFC) 27, Philadelphia (NFC) 10 .. .. .. New Orleans 1982 San Francisco (NFC) 26, Cincinnati (AFC) 21 .. ..Pontiac, Mich.

1983 Washington (NFC) 27, Miami (AFC) 17 .. .. .. ... Pasadena, Calif.

1984 L.A. Raiders (AFC) 38, Washington (NFC) 9 .. .. .Tampa, Fla.

1985 San Francisco (NFC) 38, Miami (AFC) 16 .. .. .. .Palo Alto, Calif.

1986 Chicago (NFC) 46, New England (AFC) 10 .. .. .. .New Orleans

1987 N.Y. Giants (NFC) 39, Denver (AFC) 20 .. .. .. ..Pasadena, Calif.

1988 Washington (NFC) 42, Denver (AFC) 10 .. .. .. .. San Diego

1989 San Francisco (NFC) 20, Cincinnati (AFC) 16 .. ..Miami

1990 San Francisco (NFC) 55, Denver (AFC) 10 .. .. .. New Orleans

1991 N.Y. Giants (NFC) 20, Buffalo (AFC) 19 .. .. .. .Tampa, Fla.

1992 Washington (NFC) 37, Buffalo (AFC) 24 .. .. .. ..Minneapolis

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