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PAUL MAGUIRE is trying to be the Bruce Smith of NBC football analysts. The former Bills punter and local talk show host has bragged to a national newspaper critic that he is having a "great year."

Unlike Smith, Maguire didn't back that up with his performance after the Bills' 17-13 victory over the New York Giants Saturday.

Maguire was included in NBC's post-game show, apparently to gloat about his prediction the Bills would win.

He was embarrassing, spending a considerable amount of time making lame jokes about his playing career and adding a tasteless comment about overweight New Orleans running back Craig Heyward.

Turning serious, Maguire suggested if backup quarterback Frank Reich stumbled next week against Miami, third-stringer Gale Gilbert might enter the picture. Maguire based his comments on what he saw as the Bills' preseason analyst, when Gilbert outplayed Reich.

That was a long time ago. And one wonders if Bills coach Marv Levy would want to play with Reich's confidence now because it might affect the team's confidence. But since Maguire has such a chummy relationship with Bills General Manager Bill Polian, you have to wonder if his remark has credibility.

There has been speculation Maguire might be in line to succeed Bill Walsh as NBC's top analyst if the former San Francisco coach returns to coaching.

The last two weeks have allowed local viewers to compare Maguire and Walsh. For his work in the Bills' rout of Indianapolis, Maguire gets better grades for his presentation. For his work in the Bills-Giants game, Walsh gets better grades for substance. An ideal analyst would have Maguire's relaxed, viewer-friendly style and Walsh's sharp analytical eye.

Maguire is best at instantly diagnosing replays. But he often belabors the obvious and is his own best fan, often laughing at his feeble attempts at humor.

The dry Walsh illustrated his analytical skills on the Bills' first offensive and defensive plays. On defense, he noted the Giants' running game plan was to drive defensive end Leon Seals off the ball. On offense, he noted the Bills expected the Giants to play zone defense instead of man-to-man against the no-huddle.

Walsh has a tendency to repeat himself. He frequently noted that the Bills defense was better individually than collectively because it lacks discipline. But he was unable to explain exactly what he meant.

Since he has won some Super Bowls, Walsh has considerably more national credibility than Maguire. When Walsh says the Bills are "potent, really potent" offensively, or calls Smith "the best defensive player of 1990," it isn't taken as ramblings of a biased commentator who drives with Polian to their cable talk show. It means something.

Will McDonough of "NFL Live!" was able to give Smith's proclamation some credibility. In McDonough's third annual poll of coaches, Smith was overwhelmingly voted the AFC's top defensive player. Kelly was named AFC offensive player of the year in McDonough's poll.

If Lawrence Taylor isn't the choice in McDonough's poll of NFC coaches next week, Smith can rest his case.

Actually, former Giants linebacker Harry Carson might have ended the controversy Saturday night in an unintentionally comical exchange. Now a Madison Square Garden Network analyst, Carson criticized Smith for being self-centered by mouthing off during the week. Then the host of the MSG show asked Carson, "Was he (Smith) right?"

"I think he is," said Carson.

A different kind of football controversy may be brewing between Chs. 2 and 7. An ABC affiliate, Ch. 7 appeared to run portions of NBC's interviews with Smith and Reich without giving credit. Ch. 2 may protest.

Cost-cutting Ch. 2, meanwhile, didn't send anyone to New York, which forced NBC to use Bills interviews conducted by a Rochester TV reporter on Sunday's "NFL Live!"

It makes you wonder if Ch. 2 officials realize these are the Buffalo Bills, not the Rochester Bills. They should be embarrassed.

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