PASADENA, Calif. -- All that three trips to the Super Bowl have accomplished for the Buffalo Bills is monumental embarrassment and an almost unprecedented record for self-disgrace. They deserve to be criticized and even pitied.
Total ineptness has become their calling card. The owner of the club, Ralph Wilson, shouldn't be made to suffer the anguish nor do the good citizens of Buffalo.
Three straight occasions the Bills have bid for the coveted prize and gone away empty. If there's ever a "next time" for Buffalo, they ought to defer to another representative of the American Conference and beg to stay home. And they might even consider giving back the $18,000, or turning it over to their favorite charities, as their end of the financial payoff.
A dreadful three-in-a row loser, which means this is the first time it has happened to any team in Super Bowl history. If this could be correlated to failures in love and marriage, they'd be challenging Tommy Manville and Artie Shaw.
The Bills were bad, bad, bad and, what's even more depressing, have gotten progressively worse in their past three visits to what is supposed to be the National Football League's showcase game.
The automatic question that evolves is were the Bills that bad or the Cowboys that good? Much more of the former than the latter.
For the Cowboys, they accepted the contributions made in their behalf by the woeful Bills, who left an aroma in the Rose Bowl that might require a visit from a fumigation service. They set a record for turnovers -- five lost fumbles and four interceptions.
The Cowboys, led by the game's most valuable player, Troy Aikman, a immensely gifted young quarterback, put the Bills away in a Super Bowl that was another in a series of disappointing presentations for those expecting a performance befitting what is supposed to be the "showcase" of the sport.
The Cowboys were impressive but all they really had to do was wait for the Bills to open the door of opportunity for them. In almost every way known to modern football, the Bills found a way to turn the ball over.
Coach Marv Levy, who wears a Phi Beta Kappa Key, didn't exactly distinguish himself with his decision-making. He ought to be made to stand in a corner, as used to happen in school, and write on the locker room blackboard how sorry he is for his miserable performance.
The Bills, taking a cue from their leader, brought a new meaning to the term self-destruction. Let it be said, without any misunderstanding, that Levy and the Bills were a perfect compliment to each other.
Buffalo got a gift touchdown early, following a blocked punt, to go ahead, 7-0. Then Jim Kelly was intercepted by James Washington and in six plays Aikman reached Jay Novacek with the tying score.
It was still early, but it was the beginning of the end for Buffalo. Kelly bungled the situation no sooner than he got his hands on the ball when he was sacked, fumbled and Jimmie Jones recovered for a touchdown. Just like that, in a matter of 15 painful seconds, the Cowboys had posted two TDs to assume a lead that would only grow to humiliating proportions for the Bills.
A 40-yard gainer from Kelly to Andre Reed had the Bills in position to square the account. They took the ball to the 1-yard line and in two rushes by Kenneth Davis and Thurman Thomas got nowhere. Still they were at the 1, maybe a mere foot away.
On fourth down, Kelly went to the air lanes, threw into traffic on a miserable effort and it was picked off by Thomas Everett for a touchback instead of a touchdown. This was a mere precede of things to come.
The next time, the Bills got possession they went 82 yards in 12 plays, looked good mounting the threat but at the 3-yard line and only a yard for a first down, the call was for Thomas on a misdirection play that consumed time and let the Dallas defense react.
It got nowhere so Steve Christie kicked a field goal. Frank Reich had come on to relieve Kelly, who injured his right knee and was through for the game. But on this day Frank wasn't able to order up a miracle, as he had when he brought the Bills back from a 32-point deficit in an earlier playoff with the Houston Oilers.
While at the University of Maryland, Reich also had rallied his team to the greatest comeback in college football annals when it shocked the University of Miami -- then coached by Jimmy Johnson, who now holds the coaching reins of the Cowboys. Reich had made up a 31-point deficit that time but, even though Johnson was aware of the coincidence, it was never going to be anything more than that.
Reich wasn't any better than Kelly. Each had two interceptions. The Bills' partisans in the Rose Bowl gathering of 98,374 held hope for Reich doing it again but it was too much to ask. The Cowboys were rolling, wouldn't be denied and were dominating the line of scrimmage both ways.
In five plays, Aikman passed to Michael Irvin from 19 yards away. Touchdown. 21 to 10. Thomas gave the ball back with a fumble at the 18. One play, another touchdown, the same combination -- Aikman to Irvin. This all transpired within 18 seconds. And, earlier, it had taken only 15 seconds for a double-touchdown barrage.
With the score 28-10 at the half, Buffalo wasn't able to pull itself together. Only further deterioration. It showed some signs of picking up the momentum but nothing happened and Buffalo was down 31-17 with only a quarter to play.
It could have been an all-time record defeat if Dallas, which scored 21 points in the final period, had not had a touchdown turned into a touchback. Reich had fumbled and Leon Lett, 292-pound speed demon, picked it up and ran 64 yards.
Lett should have been celebrating in the end zone, but hot-dogged it by holding the ball in the open, as if to attract attention, and Bills receiver Don Beebe knocked it out of his hand and it bounded across the back line for a touchback.
Johnson, in assessing the result, said, "When you turn the ball over as much as they did, you're going to have problems. Sometimes, it just snowballs."
Yes, on Super Bowl Sunday in Pasadena, Calif., with the temperature 61 degrees. And Levy, who knew he had been out-coached and his team out-played, told his players: "You don't want to hear a speech from me now. We're all hurting and speeches won't make it go away. We'll talk about it in depth at our team meeting on Tuesday."
For the Cowboys, it means they have come from a 1-15 showing four years ago, in Johnson's first year, to Super Bowl champions. This was the sixth Super Bowl for the Cowboys since the team was organized in 1960 -- more than any other organization, and they are 3-3.
The future looks bright and inviting. There's more excitement to come in Dallas. As for Buffalo and its frustrations, there's more hopelessness than hope.