YOU CAN ADD Bill Walsh to the chorus of sportscasters who believe the Buffalo Bills will beat the Miami Dolphins Sunday afternoon.
"I feel very strongly that the Bills have an inherent advantage with the home field, weather conditions that are dramatically different than what Miami is used to and the fact they have a great defense," said Walsh in a telephone interview from his California home. "They have every incentive after losing the first time to Miami. If Frank Reich plays as they expect him to, they will win the game."
Last week, Walsh, who coached the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl wins before turning to broadcasting, said never had seen quarterback Jim Kelly play better. What effect does he think the injury to Kelly and switch to Reich will have?
"Kelly, if necessary, could carry his team," said Walsh. "I'm not sure Reich can do that at this point."
Walsh's flattering remarks about the Bills defense may surprise viewers of last week's Bills-Giants game. Walsh repeatedly said the Bills had great defensive personnel that had the tendency to be undisciplined. What did he mean?
"In the past, especially, they have had great talent and very good effort but they were not in mesh together," said Walsh. "People would make surprisingly easy gains on them. Big holes would open up. This year not so much. They are playing better as a unit, but the Giants gobbled up huge chunks of yardage early that you wouldn't expect Buffalo's talent to give up.
"When you have a (Cornelius) Bennett and a (Shane) Conlan along with (Bruce) Smith, they will often be so intent on getting to the ball carrier that they go around the wrong side of the block and eliminate themselves from the play."
He said the tendency stops when players "appreciate more and more" the benefits of playing as a unit.
"I think they are awfully close. In the final analysis, Buffalo played very well against the Giants. They would be the best team in the league if Kelly were playing."
Early in the game, Walsh suggested that the Giants considered defensive end Leon Seals vulnerable to the run, which suggests the Dolphins might attack him Sunday.
"That is the kind of remark we got from the Giant staff," said Walsh. "They also said that Bennett is a great athlete but you can get him blocked to one side or another."
Walsh did have very kind things to say last week about linebacker Darryl Talley. He called him a Pro Bowler but the league's players disagreed this week.
"At San Francisco, Keena Turner finally made the Pro Bowl once," said a sympathetic Walsh. "He was one of our very best players and a team leader like Talley. When it comes to voting for the Pro Bowl there are only so many players on any given team."
There has been speculation that Walsh won't be on NBC's team much longer. His two-year contract as the network's No. 1 analyst expires after this season and he is the subject of many coaching rumors. Will he be back?
"They'd like me to return," said Walsh. He said negotiations will begin in a few weeks.
"I'd like to remain at NBC. There are options. My best bet is probably not to say much more about it."
Although his low-key presentation has been criticized, Walsh's substance overshadows his lack of style. Has NBC asked him to change?
"Not really," said Walsh. "They're finding now that if they just allow me to go ahead I'll make more and more direct statements and they will be made more dramatically."
He and Dick Enberg work today's Minnesota-Los Angeles Raiders game instead of the
more important Bills-Miami game because today's game is going national.
Paul Maguire works the Bills game with Marv Albert. Maguire also may do a piece on "NFL Live" on the the adjustment the Dolphins will need to make because they are playing in Buffalo in December. Since Maguire lives here, presumably the piece won't suffer from the usual national slams.
"NFL Live" regular and Buffalo Bills great O.J. Simpson also will be here. Last Saturday, he accidentally referred to the Bills as "we" before quickly correcting himself to appear more objective.
You can take O.J. out of Buffalo, but not the Bills out of O.J.
It is time to say something nice about Maguire.
The NBC commentator and Eden resident played Santa Claus on Wednesday. He certainly is jolly enough and big enough to fill the role. It seems Maguire met a couple of travel weary Bills fans on a flight from Miami to Raleigh, N.C.
Brothers Tom and Kevin Wilcox were traveling from Bogota, Colombia, where Tom picked up the son (Thomas John or T.J.) that he and his wife, Marian, adopted through a local program.
Maguire was in the last row of first class and the Wilcoxes were in the first row of coach. Noticing the two men and the baby, Maguire struck up a conversation.
"He said, 'What are you guys doing? Didn't they make a movie out of this?' " explained Tom.
Maguire invited them for a drink at the stopover in Raleigh and later asked for their tickets, saying he realized they were tired and wanted to make sure everything was in order on the flight to Buffalo.
"When he came back, he said 'You go up with me, you are in first class,' " said Tom.
"I told him it was fantastic. I was worried about being jammed in coach and it was a fantastic surprise."
Tom said he believes it cost Maguire about $400 but it really was a priceless gesture.
"We ended up (on the trip to Buffalo) being Three Men and a Baby," noted Tom. "Paul is one of the finest people, one of the warmest people I've ever met. This is something I'll never forget. He is invited to any function T.J. is involved with."
Bills running back Thurman Thomas didn't endear himself to the producer of HBO's "Inside the NFL" on Tuesday.
Producer Rick Bernstein met Thomas and Bruce Smith on his flight to Buffalo. Bernstein said Thomas agreed to go to Tuesday's taping in the same limousine that was bringing Smith to the Rich Niagara Renaissance.
On Tuesday, Smith waited at Thomas' home for about an hour before the limousine driver had to give up and bring Smith alone. Thomas participated in the Bills canned food drive Tuesday and then apparently forgot about the HBO show, which would have given him some flattering publicity.
The holdup delayed the show's filming and caused Bernstein to scramble for a replacement for Thomas. Unable to get another Bill on such short notice, Bernstein settled on Buffalo News writer Vic Carucci.
Bernstein was upset at Thomas' no-show appearance because the primary reason the show goes on location is to speak with players.
The most interesting part of the show -- which airs again at 10 a.m. today -- was the sideline conversation between an injured Kelly and Reich.
"Don't let him," said Kelly. "If you feel comfortable with that gun don't let him out of it."
"I know," replied Reich.
Presumably, "him" was offensive coordinator Ted Marchibroda, and Kelly was advising Reich to protest if the coach wanted to stop using the no-huddle offense.
Speaking of embarrassing, Ch. 7 led its 6 p.m. Wednesday newscast with a sophomoric response to Miami sportswriter Bob Rubin's Buffalo-bashing column, which appeared in that day's editions of The News.
Early in the 5 p.m. newscast, Ch. 7 sports anchor Jerry Azar, who used to work in Miami, created a stir by speaking in a Spanish accent after his bashing of Miami. In later newscasts, he apologized to any Hispanics or other viewers who might have taken offense.
If Ch. 7 wanted to childishly react to Rubin, it would have been wiser to end its newscast with this silliness instead of giving it prominence early in the newscasts.
ESPN's Chris Berman also was in town this week to do a feature on Reich and the Bills for Sunday's "GameDay" program.