Share this article

print logo

CHAMPS AGAIN! BILLS' WIN EARNS TITLE, IGNITES WILD CELEBRATION

Take that, you Fish.

The Buffalo Bills combined a Scrooge-like defense with a terrific Jim Kelly impersonation by supersub Frank Reich to whip the Miami Dolphins 24-14 Sunday, taking their third straight AFC Eastern Division championship and providing the perfect early Christmas gift for their fans.

"You can't ask for anything better," season-ticket holder Pete Cieslica, 18, of Hamburg said while savoring the victory in a stadium parking lot an hour after the final gun. "It means a trip to the Super Bowl (in Tampa, Fla.). I don't think there's anybody in the AFC who can beat us at home."

The Bills also earned a franchise-record 13th victory, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, a first-round bye in the playoffs and some recuperation time for the injured Kelly.

In the meantime, Reich did fine, thank you, completing 15 of 21 passes and touchdown strikes to James Lofton and Andre Reed.

"Frank played an exceptional football game," Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett said in the happy -- but fairly quiet -- Buffalo locker room.

"If I'm surprised by anything, it's how cool Frank Reich was under pressure," no less an expert than former Bills star O.J. Simpson said behind theBills bench.

"Tampa, Tampa, Tampa . . .," the fans began chanting with 59 seconds left, and they weren't referring to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thoughts of the Bills making their first Super Bowl appearance were on the minds of most of the 80,235 fans as they left the park.

While the Bills coaching staff handed out game balls to all 45 active players, the main heroes were Reich, running back Thurman Thomas (with 154 yards and a gorgeous, 13-yard touchdown run), the offensive line and the entire defense.

"The Bills defense has been incredible," Simpson said.

The game was marred, however, by two bad moments, a compound leg fracture that ended wide receiver Don Beebe's season and a fairly ugly scene when hundreds of fans rushed the goalposts at the tunnel end of the stadium.

At least four security guards and two fans reportedly were injured in the ministampede, which resembled the running of the bulls at Pamplona, as security guards and reporters attempted to stay ahead of the goalpost-hungry pack.

The Bills needed no assist from the weatherman in dominating the Dolphins, out-gaining them 429-309 yards and holding the ball for almost 37 minutes.

"Operation Blizzard Shield," one sign stated, but the only snow on this day came in the form of the abundant confetti tossed in the air on the Bills' three touchdowns.

Fans celebrated the relatively balmy day -- no snow, only a late-game mist of rain, winds of only 10 mph and 33 degrees at kickoff. One woman wearing a two-piece bathing suit regaled the fans in one end zone, while Tom McLaughlin, 21, of Clarence wore only a bathing suit, Bills boxer shorts, a headband and sneakers.

"The Dolphins can't handle the weather," McLaughlin said. "This is Buffalo weather. . . . I'm not wearing a shirt for the rest of the playoffs. The next good weather for the Bills will be Jan. 27 in Tampa."

While the weather wasn't a factor, the Bills players and officials toasted the fans.

With the game on local television and the weatherman predicting freezing rain and then snow, only 198 no-shows missed the game. The actual attendance, 80,235, was a record for the Bills.

Those who did attend seemed to raise their normal decibel level a bit, and the noise was almost deafening at field level whenever the Dolphins offense approached the line of scrimmage.

"We've got magnificent fans," coach Marv Levy said after the game. "Were they a factor in the game? Without question."

"They make a difference every home game, regardless of what's at stake," wide receiver Reed added.

Guard Jim Ritcher said the fans seemed determined not to let a victory get away from them.

"I think we have the greatest fans in the National Football League," he added. "There aren't many places that can fill an 80,000-seat stadium, and we do it week in and week out."

And crowd favorite Leonard Smith, perhaps the last Bills player to leave the field as he joined in the postgame celebration, said later, "I'm just happy we'll be here through the playoffs and the fans will get to see us play. They deserve it."

Following their season-ending game at Washington Sunday, the Bills have one week off. Then, they would need to win two games at home, on the weekends of Jan. 13 and 20, to reach the Super Bowl.

They'll have most of their weapons, probably including Kelly. The fans should be louder. And the weather probably will get worse.

But the players seemed determined not to get too impressed with those possibilities and with their emerging status as AFC favorites for the Super Bowl.

"Until we win the Super Bowl, I'll just say we're a good team," Bennett said. "When you win the Super Bowl, you're a great team."

Stay tuned.

There are no comments - be the first to comment