THE NOVEMBER ratings sweeps demonstrate that it is almost impossible to exaggerate how popular the Buffalo Bills are with local television viewers.
According to Arbitron, the Bills Monday night loss to Houston Nov. 26 earned a 50 rating. That means that half of the Western New York households with television were tuned to the Bills. No share figures are available, but it is safe to assume that 70-75 percent of Western New Yorkers with their TV sets on were watching the Bills.
To put the rating in perspective, the Super Bowl generally draws a national rating in the low to mid-40's.
And believe it or not, the Monday night game was not the highest-rated Bills game of the sweeps.
The Bills 4 p.m. game with the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 4 earned a 51 rating on Channel 2 despite the fact the Bills romped, 42-0.
Another way to compare the popularity of the Bills is to look at the Sabres' ratings on Channel 29. The three Sabres games played in the same period earned ratings of 8, 6 and 4.
Not surprisingly in this football-mad town, Monday Night Football does much better here than it does nationally. The four November games averaged a 34 rating and 53 share, about double the national average. If you take the Bills 50 rating out, the three other games still averaged a 28 rating. The Nov. 19 game between the Dolphins -- the Bills' AFC rival -- and the Raiders had a spectacular 38 rating.
Nielsen ratings figures are expected to arrive this weekend.
The Bills no longer can complain that they are getting no respect nationally. This week, the three regulars on Home Box Office's "Inside the NFL" -- Nick Buoniconti, Len Dawson and Cris Collinsworth -- all picked the Bills to defeat the Giants today.
The show -- which airs on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday on the pay cable network -- will be coming to Buffalo this week to preview next week's key matchup with the Dolphins. HBO takes the show on the road about four times during the regular season. It last came here in October 1988 and set up shop at the waterfront.
"It is not often we go back to a city so soon," said producer Rick Bernstein. "But this is one of the best stories in the league this year."
The show will be shot Tuesday afternoon at the Rich Renaissance Niagara, the portion of Rich Products that duplicates Niagara Falls inside.
"It was quite nice shooting outside here in October but we need something to protect ourselves from the weather now," said Bernstein.
The program's "Cover Story" will feature Bills receiver Andre Reed, the "Where Are They Now" feature will focus on former Bills field goal kicker Pete Gogolak and his brother Charley, and the Pigskin Potpourri segment will ask several Bills players for some lighter items on their Christmas wish lists. Too bad Fred Smerlas isn't here anymore to lighten things up.
Bruce Smith has agreed to be interviewed on the program, Jim Kelly is a possibility if his schedule permits and coach Marv Levy may tape an interview Monday night.
The Bills game with the Giants leads off the first of three Saturday doubleheaders featured in the NFL's new contract. That is up by one double-header from years past.
ABC also got an extra Saturday night game Dec. 22 and two wild-card playoff games in the new deal.
O. J. Simpson, who gave the Bills the star treatment last Sunday prior to their victory over Indianapolis, is doing a feature for NBC's "NFL Live!" today on Giants coach Bill Parcells, who has the most famous case of kidney stones in America. Some of his players might add he has a lot of gall, too.
NBC analyst Bill Walsh, who will work the game with Dick Enberg, also will do a scouting report on the Bills. The show also will discuss what it calls the game's key matchup between Smith and Giants tackle Jumbo Elliott.
Adelphia cable is carrying Syracuse's basketball game with that basketball power Towson State Thursday. Only a handful of Syracuse games won't be televised here on some channel. Unfortunately, one of the handful was last Wednesday's competitive game with Canisius.
Rich Bradley, who is putting together Adelphia's new regional sports service, said the game was unavailable because it wasn't being carried by Syracuse broadcast TV and there wasn't enough time for Adelphia to prepare for its own broadcast.
"Canisius would have liked us to put that game on," said Bradley. "If it had been in Buffalo, we would have done it."
The eyes of most Bills fans will be on the Miami-Seattle game on Ch. 2 at 1 p.m. Sunday, but TCI will be offering a few alternatives. It will carry two other 1 p.m. games -- the Loser Bowl between Atlanta and Cleveland on Channel 33 and the Pittsburgh-New Orleans game with playoff implications on Channel 18.