The Bills are 10-2 in the '90s against NFC teams in the regular season—the two losses being meaningless season enders in which Kelly was kept out of action—and 0-3 in Super Bowls. You have to wonder if the Bills lack something in the gut: Kelly's 49% passing and six interceptions have buried them in the last two Super Bowls. You wonder if the team is lacking in coaching savvy: The best all-purpose back in football, Thurman Thomas, has touched the ball an average of only 16 times a game in the three Super Bowls. You wonder if Buffalo lacks concentration: The night before last January's Super debacle, coach Marv Levy implored his charges to protect the football against the swarming Cowboys, and the Bills proceeded to turn it over nine times. You wonder if they lack something on defense: The Bills have four millionaire defenders, and yet they have surrendered 36.3 points per Super Bowl loss.
Finally, you wonder if Buffalo can win this conference for a fourth straight year. "Everybody wants to take our pulse," Kelly says. "Jeez, it never ends. Hey, the Super Bowls are games we'll never forget. But what are we supposed to do? Give up?"
By this time the Bills should be thoroughly demoralized and ready to throw in the towel. But towel throwers wouldn't have come back from a 35-3 deficit, as they did nine months ago against the Houston Oilers in the wild-card round. The Bills are good at forgetting, good at turning their heads when the Super Bowl highlights Bicker onto their big screens. Says Levy: "Here's what I told them at minicamp: 'You guys are the most resilient s.o.b.'s I've ever come across in my life."
3. Is this the year of the ancient quarterback?
Undoubtedly. Seventeen of the starting 28 quarterbacks in the league are over 30. In fact, at an average age of 30.8, the current class of starting quarterbacks is the oldest since the AFL and the NFL merged, in 1970. Steve DeBerg of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is 39, and the Kansas City Chiefs' Joe Montana is 37. In November the New York Giants' Phil Simms will celebrate his 38th birthday, and Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers, his 37th. "Playing quarterback is a learning process more than any position," says Simms. "it's taken me years to finally feel like there's nothing a defense can do to confuse me."
Of course, DeBerg is no lock to last the season in Tampa, where he will be pushed hard by Craig Erickson; Montana hasn't started a game in 32 months; and Simms hasn't played a 16-game season since 1986, his Super Bowl MVP season.
4. Will the Philadelphia Eagles erupt in civil war?
It seems inevitable. Let's recap: Quarterback Randall Cunningham has a huge Atlantic City wedding in the spring, and he invites everybody on the team. Plenty of offensive players show, but only two from the defense. Early in training camp coach Rich Kotite gives the players a half day off so the defensive players can run a benefit for the Jerome Brown Foundation, a tribute to their teammate who died in a 1992 auto wreck. Cunningham is invited, but he's a no-show. When free-agent defensive end Reggie White signs with the Packers, he calls Eagle owner Braman a liar on national TV and accuses Cunningham of not being a leader. With the exception of linebacker Seth Joyner, all of the acknowledged team leaders—quarterback Jim McMahon, running back Keith Byars and defensive linemen White and Mike Golic—leave as free agents. In all, the Eagles lose 11 free agents, with key defenders Joyner and end Clyde Simmons seemingly eager to follow in '94.
During the off-season Simmons says the Eagles are like "lost children" without White. Star wide receiver Fred Barnett, while holding out, tells his agent he's dying to leave Philly. Kotite issues a gag order, threatening to fine players [1/16] of their salary if they make public comments critical of the team. To which Joyner replies, "Nobody's going to take away my constitutional rights."
Two newly acquired defensive tackles that the Eagles thought would help, the gimpy Michael Carter and the fading Keith Millard, don't. The defensive line is shredded by the Jets in the preseason; Millard jumps offside five times in the game, and Carter retires two days later. The troubled right end, Tim Harris, waits to hear if he'll be suspended by the league for his second drunken-driving offense. In a book due out this fall, Cunningham pines for a better relationship with his coach.