ATLANTA -- Time for Bud Bowl. Time for the Judds. Time for Michael -- in a basketball uniform, we pray -- Sir Charles, Grandmama and Shaq.
Oops, almost forgot.
Time for the Buffalo Bills.
See, this is the problem. It's not that the Bills are losers. It's just that they've been awful to watch, on a day when even the commercials and the halftime show are compelling.
Any casual sports fan can admire the Bills for their NFL-high 58 victories in the '90s, and their four straight AFC titles. But the Super Bowl isn't merely a sporting event. It's a multimillion-dollar spectacle. It's a three-ring circus. It's entertainment.
Actors don't forget their lines and expect Academy Awards. Singers don't botch their lyrics and expect standing ovations. But the Bills, they fall all over themselves in the Super Bowl, and expect to be forgiven by 130 million viewers.
Respect? They want respect?
The rock band Nirvana put it best:
Here we are now. Entertain us.
The B-52s and Stevie Wonder will appear on NBC's pre-game show. Gladys Knight, Charlie Daniels, Kris Kross and the Georgia Satellites will warm up the Georgia Dome. Natalie Cole will sing the national anthem.
The game starts at 6:18.
It would be nice if, for a change, the drama lasted longer than the dip, or maybe until the Judds' halftime reunion.
It would be nice, like, if the Bills showed up.
They did in 1991, and narrowly lost one of the greatest Super Bowls in history. The Bills were praised, not criticized, after falling, 20-19, to the New York Giants. Indeed, if Scott Norwood had made his last-second, 47-yard field-goal attempt, we'd probably be talking about a Buffalo dynasty.
Remember how valiantly the Bills played that day? Bruce Smith sacked Jeff Hostetler for a safety. Jim Kelly led the final drive from his 10-yard-line with 2:16 left. Thurman Thomas gained 190 yards from scrimmage -- 55 on five catches, 135 on 15 carries.
How different the perception of the Bills would be if only they had matched that effort in their next two Super Bowls. They'd be everyone's favorite underdogs, heartbreak kids. Instead, they came disguised as the Indianapolis Colts. Therein lies the rub.
The Bills fell behind Washington 24-0 and lost, 37-24. They made nine turnovers against Dallas, and lost, 52-17. If they were singers, they would have been booed off the stage. If they were actors, people would have walked out on the movie.
The NFC has won nine straight Super Bowls, but it isn't that superior -- especially not against the Bills. Heck, Kelly is 14-0 against the NFC as a starter the past four regular seasons. There's no way he should be 0-3 (two touchdowns, six interceptions) in the Super Bowl.
Respect, they want respect.
How about earning it?
Frankly, this game should be fairly close, if for no other reason than the law of averages. The Bills are healthier than in previous Super Bowls, and Kelly and Thomas are rolling. Still, that doesn't mean the outcome will be different. There's just something about the Cowboys, an impenetrable arrogance, an unmistakable aura.
That, more than anything, is the difference between these teams. The Bills want validation. The Cowboys want a coronation. Shrivel from the moment? The Cowboys live for the moment. They relish the spotlight. They command center stage. They're entertainers.
In his opening news conference, coach Marv Levy said the Bills embodied the American ethic -- "to persevere and to push on and to fight the tide." It's impossible not to like Levy -- think of your favorite uncle -- and it's difficult to dispute his contention. Still, there's one thing he forgot. America loves a winner.
A month ago, Bobby Bowden and Tom Osborne wrestled over The Big One, and now it's the Bills' turn. The truth is, they don't have to win tonight. They're 10 1/2 -point underdogs to a team claiming to be on the verge of greatness. Repulsive as the Cowboys are, the Bills can win legions of fans simply by putting on a good show.
The temptation is to pick the Cowboys, 62-3, but we'll settle for 37-20. Will that get the Bills off the hook? Doubtful. But just this once, they'd better show up. It's time for the Bud Bowl, time for the Judds, time for Michael, Sir Charles, Grandmama and Shaq.
It's Super Sunday.
Here we are now. Entertain us.
Pro football writer Ken Murray
The Bills are locked in Super Bowl purgatory. They can't beat the Cowboys for two principle reasons. One, quarterback Jim Kelly throws too many high-risk passes -- he's been intercepted six times in three Super Bowls and he's been knocked out of two of them. Two, the Bills' secondary can't handle Troy Aikman's passing game. Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper win the matchup with Buffalo's secondary, hands down. And the Cowboys probably will neutralize Bruce Smith's pass rush by running Emmitt Smith right at him.
Cowboys 31, Bills 20
Sun columnist Ken Rosenthal
The Bills rally from a 10-0 deficit after Jimmy Johnson pulls a Mike Ditka, ordering a handoff to Leon Lett on 1st-and-goal, only to see him fumble. Aikman saves Johnson with a 78-yard touchdown pass. Irvin moonwalks in tribute to Michael Jackson. Thurman Thomas storms off the field.
Cowboys 37, Bills 20
Evening Sun columnist John Steadman
Beating the Dallas Cowboys would be kind of like pointing a BB gun at the the man in the moon and hitting him between the eyes. Well, maybe not that much of a long shot. However, the Buffalo Bills' Super Bowl assignment is predicated on an emotional surge that will get them in position to stay close and compensate for the Cowboys' superior weapons.
Bills 23, Cowboys 17
Pro football writer Vito Stellino
If it's January, it must mean it's time for the NFC team to win the Super Bowl. For the last decade, the NFC team in the Super Bowl has been one of the few things that are certain in life. Barring another Aikman concussion or another Emmitt Smith shoulder injury, the Cowboys appear to be the usual NFC lock. Now we've got to put up with another year of gloating from Jimmy Johnson.
Cowboys 28, Bills 10