Now, thanks to some very rich rookie linebackers, Smith is getting people to come see him. And they like what they see. " Bruce Smith is the finest defensive end in the league," Elway said after looking up at Smith one time too many. Says Broncos offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan, "We saw him make some moves we haven't seen on film all year. One time he took our guy outside, then spun back inside like somebody who weighed about 210 pounds. Very graceful."
And with Bennett outside, rushing frequently and fervently, Smith's salad days literally are here. "They can't double us both, right?" Smith says. And he doesn't even mind that he's making a lot less gravy than Biscuit. "I was thrilled when I looked at Biscuit's numbers," he says. "I just can't wait to get back to the bargaining table. Yesssssssss!" Smith's contract is up after next year. Sounds expensive.
With Bennett on one side, Smith on the other and Conlan in the middle, it works out to something of a human disposal unit, even if Conlan, our last subject, has to go through life as the second-most-famous big-buck Bill linebacker choice from the '87 draft. Not only did Bennett's arrival push Conlan, against his wishes, from outside to inside linebacker, but he's making less wampum than Bennett—about $200,000 per year less. He doesn't mind. "I'd pay Bennett more, too," he says. Of course, he isn't speaking for his agent, Brett Senior, who asked his client if he wanted to renegotiate. (Conlan said no.) Nor for his mother. "She tells me, 'He's not that much better than you,' " says Conlan.
She might be right. Conlan's no blitzer like Bennett, but he's thirsty for tackles. On a third-and-one late in the first Miami game, Conlan threw off a tight end, ducked under a fullback and tripped the ball-bearing tailback. Buffalo tied the game on the next series. "We'd have taken Conlan before Bosworth," says Levy. "People told me, 'Bosworth can make the Pro Bowl someday.' And I'd say, 'Yeah, but I want a guy who can make the Super Bowl.' "
O.K., reality break. The Super Bowl is a good bit down the yellow brick road—Buffalo is 6-5—but if it ever happens, Levy has as good a chance as anybody of being there. Already, with his Smotherers Brothers threesome, he's winning games no recent Bills coach would have dared to waste prayers on. Typical was the 17-14 upset of the New York Jets on Nov. 22. Conlan had 12 tackles, three hurries and two near interceptions (all right, he dropped them both). Bennett was only fantastic, too, with six tackles, 1� sacks and two batted passes. And Smith, playing with the flu, gave Jets quarterback Ken O'Brien a case of the chills. He had five tackles, 1� sacks and two hurries.
Said Jets All-Pro center Joe Fields of Bennett, "I knew he was quick, but he still beat me. I thought I had him. But he had the speed to turn the corner and go right by me." Said Jets guard Ted Banker of Smith, "He's the best pass rusher in the game." As for Conlan, he was named the NFL rookie of the week for the second time in the last three. This makes his mother very happy.
Levy is happy, too, just to be staying where he is. That's another change for Buffalo. Two years ago Kay Stephenson began the season as coach. Bullough finished it. Last year Bullough began it, and Levy finished it. So tired were the Bills of having to reshoot team pictures that Levy volunteered to just have a shot of himself taped over Bullough's for last year's team photo, an offer the Bills accepted.
But this year's photo shows a team with only five players over 30, only nine who were with the team before 1985, and—most fortuitous of all for Levy—Smith, Bennett and Conlan. Put away the scissors and the glue, boys. Looks like Marv will be in the picture for a while.