A Super reunion -- or a dreaded rematch

In a perfect world, Joe Montana not only would stare down his old teammates, the San Francisco 49ers, in the Super Bowl, but also would get the ball 80 yards from the end zone, with two minutes left and a five-point deficit.

You want drama? A Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the 49ers would serve it up.


What you might get instead is defensive tackle Leon Lett rambling 80 yards for the touchdown he didn't get last January, when the Dallas Cowboys trampled the Buffalo Bills, 52-17.

Lett was stripped of the ball and Super Bowl glory at the goal line, or the score would have been 59-17.


And if this year's Super Bowl is a rematch between Dallas and Buffalo, remember that the Bills are following the sorry lead of the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos played in three of four Super Bowls between 1987 and 1990.

They lost all three by increasing margins. They lost to the New York Giants by 19 points, to the Washington Redskins by 32 and the 49ers by 45.

Ominously, the Bills have lost the past three Super Bowls by increasing margins: to the Giants by one, to the Redskins by 13, to the Cowboys by 35.

You don't have to be a sports psychologist to figure out the Super Bowl can become an intimidating experience.

That's where Montana would fit in quite well. He's 4-0 in the big game, and intimidation-resistant.

Sunday's conference championship games offer two intriguing matchups of big-name quarterbacks and suspect defense. Sounds like fun.

Kansas City Chiefs (13-5) at Buffalo Bills (13-4)


Before Montana gets a shot at his old teammates, he first must pass through that icy patch of artificial turf in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Indeed, the playoffs have been a minefield for Montana so far. First, there was the wild-card battering he took from the Pittsburgh Steelers (27-24 overtime win). Then there was the menacing threat of Buddy Ryan's Houston Oilers defense (a 28-20 win). Now there is Buffalo, the defending AFC champions.

So far, Montana has been up to the task. He authored the 28th and 29th fourth-quarter comebacks of his illustrious career the past two weeks. He took a beating both games, but now, few doubt that he still has that magic that can elevate a team beyond itself.

The Bills pose a different problem, though. Their defense raked in an NFL-high 45 take-aways. Defensive end Bruce Smith is having perhaps his best all-around season.

And the Bills are usually at their best when things look bleakest. Trailing the Los Angeles Raiders 17-6 in the second quarter Saturday, they got back into the game on a gift touchdown after Steve Tasker returned a punt 67 yards to the Raiders' 1.

Jim Kelly (27-for-37 for 287 yards and two TDs) played a flawless game in incredibly bad conditions. It caused center Kent Hull to say later, "I've never seen him as focused as he was the last five or six weeks."


Defensing the Bills' passing game will be critical. Conceding the Buffalo running game has slipped a notch, Kelly said the Bills know they have to win with the pass.

The Chiefs matched fire with fire when they blitzed Houston quarterback Warren Moon. They sacked him nine times, forcing five fumbles, recovering three.

Come Sunday, there will be two big questions: Can Kansas City's defense do it again? Can Montana?

San Francisco 49ers (11-6) at Dallas Cowboys (13-4)

The brash Cowboys couldn't find much intensity for the Green Bay Packers in a 27-17 walkover on Sunday. When coach Jimmy Johnson immediately started talking about the Super Bowl, you wonder whether they'll find it this week against their old nemesis, the 49ers.

The 49ers had something to prove in a 44-3 conquest of the New York Giants. Namely, that they aren't the same team that lost three of its last four regular-season games.


Quarterback Steve Young has something more to prove. Namely, that he's better than the quarterback who threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles in a 30-20 loss to the Cowboys in last year's NFC championship in San Francisco.

Young, the man who made Montana expendable, has had a curious season. He threw nine interceptions in his first five games, but only seven in the last 12. He threw none in the 49ers' 26-17 loss at Dallas Oct. 17, when his turnaround began.

The Cowboys have won six in a row -- the longest streak of any team still alive -- but their fortunes hinge largely on two injured players.

Emmitt Smith, who separated his right shoulder Jan. 2, played sparingly against Green Bay. He gained 60 yards, but carried only twice in the second half. He's the one player the Cowboys can't lose. The other injured Cowboy is pass rusher Charles Haley (back). But the ex-49er sees red every time he sees his old teammates. He'll be ready.

Given the NFC's nine-year domination of the AFC in the Super Bowl, this game will produce the heavy Super Bowl favorite.

Unless Montana pulls off another miracle, that is.