PASADENA, CALIF. — PASADENA, Calif. -- Everyone at home will tell them how many elections Abraham Lincoln lost before he became president.
Then they'll snicker.
Everyone at home will tell them how many times Babe Ruth struck out.
Then they'll snicker.
Everyone at home will tell them how many teams never even got to the Super Bowl once, let alone three times.
Then they'll snicker.
Everyone at home will say they're sorry.
Then they'll snicker and mumble about who's REALLY sorry.
That's what the Buffalo Bills had to look forward to today, a day and a half after losing their third straight Super Bowl not by a field goal but by dismemberment.
"We're the first team to lose three consecutive Super Bowls," the normally boisterous and often belligerent Cornelius Bennett said oh so softly. "You know Dallas is going to get all of that publicity, but we'll probably get more pub then those guys because we lost three straight Super Bowls."
Actually, the Bills lost two straight Super Bowls. Sunday they were destroyed. There is a difference.
"Any time you have nine turnovers, you don't have a chance in the world -- even if you have every great player in the league on your team," Bennett said.
The Bills, quite obviously, do not have every great player in the league on their team. A few of their angrier fans may argue that they don't even have all the great players in Buffalo on their team.
Regardless, they lost their third straight Super Bowl by a score of 52-17, which is the way Barry Goldwater and George McGovern lost presidential elections. Considering that the Bills are from Buffalo, the word avalanche comes quickly to mind.
Now they must carry this load not just until next season but for as long as they draw breath. They have lost and lost and lost the world championship game.
It will haunt them the way Ralph Branca was haunted for the one pitch he made to Bobby Thomson instead of all the other pitches he made for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It will haunt them the way Roy Riegels was haunted for 50 years for running the wrong way in the Rose Bowl.
It will haunt them no matter what the Buffalo Bills may do in the future, although, to be honest, most people don't expect them to doing much anymore. Not these Buffalo Bills, anyway.
"If we would have won the game, we would have gone down as one of the better teams in NFL history," Buffalo safety Henry Jones said. "But I guess we're with Denver and Minnesota now, teams that have lost three Super Bowls. All the games we've won over the last three years ... they really don't mean anything unless we win a world championship."
It should be pointed out, as Bills coach Marv Levy tried to do Sunday night, that his team has won more games the last three years than any team in football. It is a powerful team with many weapons, both on offense and defense. Some might look at its talent and call it great. But the public will look at the bottom line and call the Bills losers. Worst of all, the Buffalo Bills know it.
"I'm not so much concerned about how history will treat this team," said Buffalo running back Kenneth Davis. "I think we're concerned about how we should treat one another because it was me and 46 other guys out there playing the game and nobody else. We have to sit down and take a gut check about ourselves."
That will be tough, tougher than the previous two times they looked at each other, because of the score and the situation and the three straight -- three straight, for Pete's sake -- losses, but some of them will survive it. Some of the Bills quit Sunday and with good reason. Others, however, bowed their necks, as receiver Don Beebe did with the score 52-17 and all hope lost and a Dallas defensive lineman named Leon Lett running for another touchdown and joking as he went.
As the 276-pound Lett approached the goal line, which was 62 yards away when he picked up the ball, he slowed almost to a walk and held the ball below his knees, gloating. Suddenly there was the 190-pound Beebe, his fury driving him to chase this Cowboy for more than 60 yards and then slap the ball out of his insolent hands just to prevent one final touchdown. He had lost, Beebe knew, but he was no loser.
"Here's a game 52-17 and he has enough pride that he doesn't want the guy to score again and he runs down the field and makes the play," Levy said. "I felt at the time that there was really no hope that we were going to pull it out, but there was a little glimpse of pride in the fact that a guy on our team has that kind of pride to do it. I give him a lot of credit."
Beebe was not looking for credit. He was looking just to do his job, as so few Bills had done. Whether it was 52-17 or 17-17, he felt, credit was not the issue, just as making it to three Super Bowls was not the issue. The issue was playing the game.
"I wasn't going to quit," Beebe said. "The way I've been coached since high school was if you can make a play, make it. I was determined to catch the guy and try to knock the ball out. Then, when he started to celebrate around the 10-yard line, I knew I was going to be able to catch him.
"A lot of guys came up to me and said, 'That was unbelievable hustle. We're proud of you.' Everybody feels really bad about what happened. Guys were shocked in the locker room. Some guys were crying. Obviously, we worked real hard to get here with the playoff games on the road and then to lose like we did. . . . I would almost have rather lost on the last-second field goal."
Just for the record, they already did that. Two Super Bowls ago, when this train wreck started.