Hey, Bartender, Genesees and Buffalo wings all around. Tonight we toast comebacks. Nah, not the St. Reich's Day Miracle kind of comeback. No, the Advil comebacks. The heart and gut and last-roll-of-athletic-tape comebacks.
Comebacks like the one by Buffalo's un-Bill-ievable defensive end Bruce Smith, who lined up with a set of bruised, braised and barbecued ribs and still spent more time in Miami Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino's face than Marino's dentist.
Comebacks like the one by Buffalo running back Thurmanator Thomas, a Nursing Today centerfold who played with throbbing hip pointers, a pulled groin and a hairless head and still made Dolphin defenders look like leftover sushi.
Comebacks like the one by Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly, who was returning from an aching knee, a stomped-flat ego and one of the worst weeks, emotionally, of his life. Going into Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Miami, Kelly had watched upstate New York turn into one giant I LIKE REICH button. He'd read the survey in two Rochester newspapers that had polled Bill fans and found them favoring backup quarterback Frank Reich as the starter by more than five to one. It's hard enough coming back from a strained ligament. Try it while your own fans wish you were standing on the sideline in a nice Versace suit.
Kelly had heard the nasty speculation that he was worried about blowing a reported $200,000 bonus he would receive if he quarterbacked the Bills to the AFC title. He had read the columnists calling for Reich to start. Made sense, of course. Against the Houston Oilers in the wildcard round of the playoffs, Reich had engineered (all together now) the greatest comeback in NFL history. Then he had led Buffalo to a 24-3 thumping of the Steelers in Pittsburgh. All Reich had done over that Give Thanks for Frank fortnight was go 2-0, complete 65% of his passes for six TDs, with only one interception, and earn himself a quarterback rating of 116.8, which was better than Joe Montana's all-time single-season record of 112.4. You're going to bench this guy? What do you do when Lassie saves Timmy's life, take her to the taxidermist?
It got worse. Kelly let NBC color man Bob Trumpy get on his nerves. "Jim Kelly will not be 100 percent in that football game," said Trumpy earlier in the week in a conference call with reporters. "He'll try to let the adrenaline, the emotion, the experience take over and tell him he's 100 percent.... He may, in fact, hurt his team's chance if he's not honest with how well his knee feels."
Kelly was so burned up that at the Bills' Saturday walk-through at the Orange Bowl, he greeted Trumpy with a short salutation that rhymes with yuck phoo.
Buffalo coach Marv Levy wasn't budging. He'd promised Kelly that he could have the job again when he was healthy. Starters don't lose their jobs to injuries, and that's that. "This decision was made weeks ago," said Levy.
When Kelly took the field on Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium, he looked nothing like a second-string quarterback. He looked like a third-string quarterback. He missed receivers badly. Plays looked ugly. Levy's collar looked itchy. Even when the supernatural wave that the Bills have been riding crashed on Miami, they didn't take much advantage of it. To wit:
•Buffalo cornerback Nate Odomes burgled the Dolphins' Fred Banks at the Miami 25. But Kelly threw a perfect interception on the next play.
•Smith crushed Marino in the backfield, causing the poor man to spit out the football like a cough drop. But the Bills couldn't get inside the Miami 10, and they settled for a field goal.
•Buffalo defensive end Phil Hansen nearly pulled a verterbra out of place tipping and then catching a Marino pass at the Miami 17. But the Bills sneezed at it, settling for another field goal.
•Buffalo special teams kamikaze Steve Tasker flew through the air to deflect a Reggie Roby punt, which traveled only 20 yards, to the Miami 40. All the Bills got on the next series was an errant field goal try.