Football experts judging the Buffalo Bills of the early 1990s may be awaiting the team's performance in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys. But Bills fans and owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. don't need to wait that long.
"It might be 75 or 100 years before a team wins four consecutive conference championship games," a pride-filled Wilson said moments after the Bills ran through the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-13, winning the AFC championship and becoming the first team ever to reach four straight Super Bowls.
"I'm savoring this now," Wilson said. "I'm so happy and proud of this team and the way they have responded."
That's just how the Bills' faithful felt in the Rich Stadium parking lot after the game, before learning that their team would face the Cowboys, who won the NFC championship with a 38-21 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
"Whatever the outcome of the (Bills-Dallas rematch), I don't think anyone can deny that the Bills are the team of the '90s, making the Super Bowl four years in a row," Sam Pantano, 37, of Buffalo said, as he awaited his next dip in a hot tub he and some friends rented for the day.
This was an old-fashioned football butt-kicking, on both sides of the ball. The offensive line tossed a sack shutout at the hungry Kansas City pass rushers and opened up enough holes for Thurman Thomas to run for 186 yards, while the swarming defense held the Chiefs to a mere 52 yards rushing.
"We just dominated the line of scrimmage," said Fred Adams of Orchard Park, whose family held up a sign -- and a pink dress -- suggesting that Kansas City quarterback Joe Montana wear the dress meant for Bruce Smith in a potato chip commercial. "We did whatever we wanted to do."
That made it a game to savor, a tasty nugget enjoyed by a raucous sold-out and thawed-out Rich Stadium crowd that heeded coach Marv Levy's plea to drown out Montana when the Chiefs were on offense.
"It was so loud I couldn't hear the calls in our own defensive huddle," safety Mark Kelso said, noting that the team felt the electricity when it first walked onto the field.
"My helmet was shaking," linebacker Mark Maddox added. "You heard the vibrations like you were in a dome."
The fans rarely sat down through this game, even in the high-priced seats. And as the clock wound down on the Chiefs, few fans left, opting instead to
savor the moment.
The last 5 1/2 minutes were choice, as the crowd staged a public coronation for the four-time champs. When Thomas scampered three yards for the last of his three touchdowns, the crowd celebrated by hoisting Bills flags and signs like "We're Back! Deal With It America."
Fans also practiced their karaoke skills, singing along with two ballads that could become new theme songs: Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind," referring to Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta, and Aretha Franklin's "Respect."
"We're finally going to get the respect that's due to us," Debbie Spencer, 35, of Grand Island said from her front-row seat about 45 minutes after the final gun.
"We should get Rodney Dangerfield as the Bills (spokesman), because we don't get 'no respect,' " added her friend, Liz Leitner, 37.
In a way, Bills fans seemed to be almost thriving on that lack of respect as they await their fourth straight Super Bowl.
"There's only 80,000 fans in America cheering for the Bills and 200 million rooting for anyone else," Tim Fournier, 33, of Rochester said in the stadium parking lot. "When we win, it'll be a just reward."
Following three Super Bowl losses -- two blowouts and a frustrating nail-biter -- most fans know better than to make any rash predictions.
But they sounded optimistic.
Some cited the shorter one-week period before the Super Bowl, which they said should keep the Bills more focused. Others agreed with Wilson's belief that the team is peaking: "We seem to have pushed the accelerator down the last few weeks." And some think the lowered expectations for the Bills will help the team.
"There's no pressure on them to win," Ms. Leitner said. "Everybody expects them to lose."
The players themselves sounded determined and eager, but no one was spotted doing any cartwheels in the Bills locker room.
"Why get all hyped up now when we have one more thing to prove?" Maddox asked. "Getting to the Super Bowl isn't our final goal."
Sunday's game featured a symbolic passing of generations after the Bills knocked Montana out with a hard three-man body slam early in the second half. Bills quarterback Jim Kelly looked like a young Joe Montana, picking apart the Chiefs defense, drawing them offside, changing plays at the line of scrimmage and throwing no interceptions.
That performance helped ensure that the woozy Montana wasn't the only delirious one after the game. So were 76,642 others.
Bring on the Cowboys.