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A VOTE FOR DON SMITH AS BILLS' UNSUNG HERO

I AGREE completely with Marv Levy on this one. Get the Pro Bowl out of here. I was fed up about 15 minutes after they released the names Wednesday, unleashing the usual torrent of whining about who made it, who was left off and whether they should have sent the entire Bills roster and office staff.

Sure, I'm sorry Darryl Talley missed again. Obviously, Shane Conlan will continue to be selected as long as he is ambulatory and showing up for games on a regular basis. And Jim Ritcher, the quiet offensive guard, has an even bigger gripe than Talley, though his support group isn't nearly as vociferous.

But as Levy is constantly reminding us, winning football games isn't about individuals. It's about players working together in harmony, subjugating their egos for a larger purpose, and accepting their roles, no matter how large or small.

That's the lesson this team learned a year ago, when the egos spun out of control and turned the Bills into a national joke. They had a bundle of Pro Bowl choices in 1988 and '89, too, but somehow it wasn't enough. It wasn't until these players put individual considerations behind them (Bruce Smith notwithstanding) that they became a true team.

"A personnel guy once suggested drafting a player and I said, 'I don't like him,' " Levy said. "He said, 'This guy has the ability to be in the Pro Bowl.' I said, 'Get me guys who have the ability to put us in the Super Bowl.' "

Stars put you in Super Bowls. But as Levy knows, you need role players to get there, too. It seems for every big play by Jim Kelly or Bruce Smith this season, there was a critical play by a role player -- Mike Lodish sacking Randall Cunningham, J.D. Williams stopping Ottis Anderson, David Pool breaking up a pass in the end zone.

But there has been no greater role player this year than Don Smith, the reserve running back who came from Tampa Bay as a Plan B free agent last summer in one of Bill Polian's most shrewd and vital deals. There might not be a place for his kind in the Pro Bowl, but Smith is my choice as the Bills' Unsung Hero for 1990.

Every time you look up, Smith seems to make a big play. It's amazing to look at the stats and realize he has rushed for only 72 yards, because every yard seemed to come at a crucial time: the TD against Denver on the direct snap; the big run that kept the winning drive alive here against the Jets; his 1-yard dive for the first down last week against the Giants after being stood up on the initial hit.

"I'm definitely gratified," Smith said of his performance this season. "I'm getting a chance to perform and it's something I take pride in doing -- going out and doing things correct and with a lot of discipline. That's the key at this level. You have to be disciplined in everything you do, and that's my goal, to be the best player I can under any circumstances."

With Kelly sidelined, Smith has taken on the additional role of third-string quarterback. Levy calls him the "disaster quarterback" and shudders to think of what might happen if he actually had to use him. Smith hasn't even worked out with the quarterbacks this week. But he was a record-setting wishbone quarterback in college at Mississippi State and he'll be ready if the improbable occurs.

"You really can't prepare for it," Smith said with a chuckle. "It's just like riding a bicycle as a little kid. You learn to run and throw and you never forget it. I hope nothing happens, but . . ."

If it does, he becomes this generation's Tom Matte. Maybe you remember Matte, the Baltimore Colts' running back who was forced to play quarterback in the 1965 playoffs when Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo went out with injuries.

"No, I've never heard of him," Smith said.

"He had the Colts' plays scribbled on his wrist that season," he was told.

Smith said it sounded like a good idea.

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