We wanted The Sound of Music, and we got Son of Frankenstein. Let the hand-wringing begin.
The Super Bowl dream matchup that had everyone's heart beating faster—the Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers, Joe Montana against Steve Young, Psychology Bowl I, rejection and redemption—went into the Dumpster. What are we left with? O.K., fans, let's hear it for the Dallas Cowboys versus the Buffalo Bills, the same pair that gave us last year's 52-17 Turnover Bowl, which extended the Bills' Super Bowl losing streak to three.
The Bills and the Cowboys marched through Sunday's conference championship games like two teams that knew they were destined to meet again. Sure, in each game there were some moments of suspense, but it was all catch-up suspense. Can we pull to within seven? Oh, we can't? Well, maybe later.
Buffalo's 30-13 victory over Kansas City was built on a first-half mismatch that the Chiefs didn't adjust to until too late. It was big guys versus little guys, Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas pounding away behind those huge hogs up front, biting off chunks of yardage on the old Washington Redskin countertrey, with the offside guard and tackle pulling to lead, massing more power at the point of attack. The Bills were running at six defensive backs and only one linebacker, a 4-1-6 dime that was designed to cut off the passing. The Chiefs, for some reason, didn't switch out of that rather soft alignment until the second half, but by then the Bills had run off 44 plays and K.C.'s front four were wobbly-legged.
The Bills won't be running against any dimes when they meet the Cowboys this Sunday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Dallas will use the same base 4-3 defense—four quick down linemen backed up by a trio of lightning-fast linebackers—that held the San Francisco ground game to 84 yards and limited the Green Bay Packer rushing attack to 31 yards the week before.
And while the 49er offense was operating in fits and starts in the first half of the 38-21 Cowboy victory, the Dallas offense was a machine: five possessions before intermission, four touchdowns, one tick away from perfection. The Cowboys built a 28-7 lead in the first half and a 273-110 advantage on the yardage charts. Quarterback Troy Aikman was elevating his game to an even higher level and would finish the day with 14 completions on 18 attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Emmitt Smith accounted for 144 all-purpose yards, and wideout Alvin Harper kept a drive going in that nearly flawless first half with an astonishing fingertip catch inches off the ground.
That's what the Bills will face. Yes, their defense was good enough to unhinge Montana, whose fluttery passes were a sad ending to a magnificent season, and to keep an offense led by Dave Krieg, who came in when Montana was knocked groggy in the third quarter, out of the end zone on four of the Chiefs' last five possessions. But as Buffalo linebacker Cornelius Bennett said, "We're not playing the Chiefs next week."
The big question everyone is asking is, What under the wide blue sky will the Bills do differently this time? How will a team that has performed progressively worse in three straight Super Bowl defeats—to the New York Giants, the Redskins and the Cowboys—reverse that depressing trifecta, especially after last year's horror show?
"That loss was disgusting to us," Buffalo special teams Pro Bowler Steve Tasker said on Sunday. "To invest six months and stink it up...just disgusting."
The Bills went into their first Super Bowl after a season in which they had terrorized folks with their no-huddle, three-wideout offense. The Giants buried them with possession time, but at the end it was the Bills who were on the move and the Giants who were absorbing the punches. If Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood's field goal try with four seconds remaining had gone a few feet to the left, well, nobody would be writing about this three-loss merry-go-round.