Shelton had hurt his right hand making a tackle earlier, so he was wearing an extra pair of gloves because he thought they would give the hand more stability. On the radio Cope hollered, "Let's get that big defensive play! C'mon, wave those towels!" The fans, many of whom were tuned in to their radio conscience, waved their towels madly and screamed.
When Reich went back to pass, Shelton stayed close to Beebe. And when the ball left Reich's hand, it looked as if he had made his only bad decision of the day. The pass went right to Shelton at the 15. "I didn't even run at him," Reich said, "because I knew [if Shelton intercepted] there was no way I'd catch him."
Instead of picking off the pass and running 85 yards for a touchdown that would have put Pittsburgh in the lead, Shelton failed to grasp the ball as it hit his outstretched hands. "I saw the goal line before the ball hit me," Shelton said. "It would have been six. Sometimes the plays you don't make come back to haunt you."
On the next play Lofton, split wide right, was supposed to run a post pattern, taking Walker, who was back in the game, deep to the middle of the field. However, as they left the huddle, Reich told Lofton to run a fade pattern, a 9 Route, because he thought Lofton could end up in single coverage if the Steelers clogged the middle. "The key on a fade is James's release off the line," Reich said. "If he can get ahead of the corner right away, I can throw it out there for him, and he can either slow down or speed up to catch it."
Reich laid it out there perfectly for Lofton, who made the catch in the end zone with Walker on his back. Suddenly, instead of Pittsburgh leading 10-7, Buffalo was on top 14-3. Even though 19 minutes were still left to play, the game was over.
From there Reich was mistake-free. In the playoffs he has completed 37 of 57 passes for 449 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception. Davis helped run out the clock, rushing for 64 yards in the fourth quarter. He slashed and sprinted the way he had been expected to when he came out of TCU, a second-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 1986. Buffalo picked him up on Plan B in '89.
Meanwhile Wright and Hansen continued to collapse the pocket. Wright, an eighth-round selection in '88, got his fourth sack of the postseason when he nailed O'Donnell on third-and-10 with seven minutes to go. Hansen, a farm kid from North Dakota State who was plucked in the second round in 1991, had 13 tackles, a sack, a deflected pass and a fumble recovery in the two playoff games.
The Bills are an entire team of contributors as they head into the title game in Miami. Kelly will take the starting job back when he's healthy, but it may not be this week. Last weekend he still couldn't move laterally because of a strained knee ligament, and he said, "I won't risk my career for one playoff game." Thomas will start, but who knows how long he'll last. Smith, who already had three cracked ribs on his right side, left the Steeler game with bruised ribs on his left side.
Should Buffalo prevail against the Dolphins, don't be surprised if yet another new hero has stepped forward. That's the kind of season it's turning out to be for the Bills. "What we've come to learn," said Reich, "is that when you win, there's enough glory for everybody."