ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- If the measure of greatness is Super Bowl glory, the Dallas Cowboys stand at the threshold of immortality.
If the measure of greatness is excellence over an extended period of time, the Buffalo Bills think they qualify.
"Our players never look back, they just look forward," Bills general manager John Butler said yesterday after Buffalo celebrated a record fourth straight AFC championship by dispatching the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-13, at Rich Stadium.
"That's what puts them in a category of great teams. I don't think winning a Super Bowl means you're a great team. I think longevity is what makes a great team."
The reward for the Bills' longevity is another shot at the Cowboys, who mauled the San Francisco 49ers, 38-21, in Irving, Texas, to win their second straight NFC championship.
A year ago, the Cowboys pulverized the Bills, 52-17, Buffalo's third straight Super Bowl defeat.
The Bills committed nine turnovers -- four interceptions and five lost fumbles -- in that game.
"We still haven't won the game we'd like to win," Bills coach MarvLevy said. "[But] I do not want to diminish in any way the accomplishments of this team, its resilience, its toughness of mind.
"This is the strongest-minded team that ever played the game, in my opinion. They've shown that over and over again. We're not out to prove anything but to ourselves."
The proving could be difficult against the Cowboys, who are trying to become the second team since Pittsburgh in 1980 to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The 49ers were the last team to accomplish a repeat, in 1989 and 1990.
Sunday's Super Bowl marks the first time the same two teams will return to the league championship game.
Both the Cowboys and Bills were impressive in their conference conquests yesterday. Dallas scored touchdowns on four of five possessions in the first half and broke a 7-7 tie with two touchdowns in less than four minutes.
The Cowboys were able to win without quarterback Troy Aikman in the second half. 49ers defender Dennis Brown hit Aikman in the head with his knee during the first series of the second half, and backup Bernie Kosar finished for the Cowboys.
Aikman, last year's Super Bowl MVP, completed 14 of 18 passes for 177 yards. Kosar completed five of eight for 83, including a 42-yard touchdown to Alvin Harper on a short hitch pass.
Emmitt Smith rushed for 88 yards and caught seven passes for 85 more for the Cowboys.
The game in Atlanta matches Aikman against Buffalo's Jim Kelly, and Smith against the Bills' Thurman Thomas.
Thomas gained 186 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns against Kansas City as the Bills extended their domination of the AFC to four straight titles.
Bills owner Ralph Wilson tried to put his team's accomplishment in historical perspective.
"It might be 75 or 100 years -- really, seriously -- before a team wins four consecutive conference championship games," he said. "Everybody in football knows how difficult it is."
The Cowboys, under coach Jimmy Johnson, might force Wilson to revise his timetable.
But the Bills have been a dominating team in the AFC, winning the last four championship games by a collective score of 120-33. In the last three games, they've beaten three high-profile quarterbacks -- John Elway of the Denver Broncos, Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins and yesterday, Joe Montana.
In their three Super Bowl defeats, they've lost to quarterbacks JeffHostetler, then of the New York Giants, Mark Rypien of the Washington Redskins and Aikman.
Although the Cowboys have been installed as 10-point favorites for next week, at least one non-Buffalo fan walked away from Rich Stadium predicting a Bills victory. That was Carl Peterson, president of the Chiefs.
"I think they're going to win it," Peterson said. "I would predict it. They're due. They've been there enough times. They know what takes.
"Whether there's an extra week or not, I think they'll take advantage of the situation. . . . I'd like to see them win. I wouldn't be surprised if they did."
Because the NFL adopted an 18-week regular season with two " byes, there is no week in between the conference championships and Super Bowl. The last time the Super Bowl had that format, the Giants nudged the Bills, 20-19, in Buffalo's first Super Bowl appearance.
The Bills know what to expect in the week that lies ahead.
"We've been prepped for the negatives," said center Kent Hull. "We heard them from the first day of training camp, through the regular season, and I'll probably hear some more in a few minutes. But we're ready to handle all that."
Kelly endorsed the idea the Bills are not intimidated by a fourth straight Super Bowl.
"We might have fallen down to defeat the last three, but I don't care because you can't count us out," he said. "The people who didn't want us there. . . sorry."
The Bills are ready for almost anything. The fact that Jimmy Johnson had predicted yesterday's win over San Francisco did not go unnoticed in the Bills' locker room.
"We'll see if Coach Johnson's got any more predictions after today," said Butler, the Bills GM.
Sunday's Super Bowl between the Cowboys and Bills will be the first back-to-back rematch in Super Bowl history. There have been two other rematches, but with three- and seven-year intervals:
SB ... ... Year ... ... Site ... ... ... ... ... Result
X .. .. .. 1976 ... ... Miami ... ... ... ... .. Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17
XIII .. .. 1979 ... ... Miami ... ... ... ... .. Pittsburgh 35, Dallas 31
XVI ... .. 1982 ... ... Pontiac, Mich. ... .. San Francisco 26, Cincinnati 21
XXIII ... 1989 .. .. .. Miami ... ... ... ... San Francisco 20, Cincinnati 16
XXVII ... 1993 ... ... Pasadena, Calif. .. .. Dallas 52, Buffalo 17
XXVIII .. 1994 ... ... Atlanta ... ... ... .. Dallas vs. Buffalo