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Larry Felser: Question is: Who can stop the no-huddle?

The Buffalo News will honor longtime columnist Larry Felser this week by running a Felser column each day. Today’s column originally appeared on Jan. 21, 1991.

More than five minutes remained to be played in the first half Sunday afternoon when the major question of Super Bowl XXV changed abruptly.

For almost a year, the question had been: “Can any team beat the San Francisco 49ers in a Super Bowl?”

At approximately 1:45 Sunday, the fresh question became: “Can any team, including the 49ers, stop the Buffalo Bills’ no-huddle offense?” By 7:15, with the 49ers gone, it was a question the New York Giants will have to answer in Super Bowl XXV.

The Los Angeles Raiders came to Rich Stadium full of confidence Sunday morning. “We’re going to win,” confided a Raider football man. “We’re going to do everything: Run against them; pass against them.”

One for two isn’t bad. He was right on the button concerning the method of execution. He just had the wrong executioner.

By halftime, the Bills had scored more points (41) on the Raiders than any opponent in the Pride and Poise boys’ long playoff history.

In January 1968, the Green Bay Packers defeated them, 33-14, in Super Bowl II. The Raiders thought they were humiliated on that day.

Wrong. Neither Bo, nor Howie Long, nor Marcus Allen nor Al Davis knew what humiliation was. The Bills taught them in front of an audience of 80,324 in Rich Stadium.

There were 38 no-shows. They are required to bring notes from their mothers, explaining their absence.

The absence of the Raider defense was inexplicable. Art Shell, a coach not given to overstatement, called it “the best defense in our history” only a few days before.

In an entire 16-game regular season, they had surrendered only four running touchdowns.

The proud defense got hit by a train Sunday.

The Raiders found out how the 1940 Washington Redskins felt at halftime in their 73-0 loss to the Chicago Bears. That was the most one-sided game in NFL championship history.

The Bills’ 51-3 thrashing of L.A. was the most one-sided NFL playoff game in the last 50 years.

Kenneth Davis, Thurman Thomas’ understudy, ran for three touchdowns himself. Thomas ran for another. By halftime, Jim Kelly had passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas had run for an additional 109 yards.

James Lofton had four catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

Jim Plunkett, who quarterbacked two Raider Super Bowl champions, was asked if there was any NFC defense of the ’80s, the decade in which that conference dominated pro football, that might have stopped Buffalo on this day.

“Maybe the Chicago Bears might have made them detour a little in their Super Bowl year (1985),” answered Plunkett, “but, nah, not really.”

Tim Rooney was in the press box, serving as advance scout for the Giants.

“Awesome,” said Rooney of the Buffalo offense. “The Raiders couldn’t pass rush, they couldn’t blitz, they couldn’t stunt, they couldn’t do anything.

“Having good players has a lot to do with it, but Buffalo’s running game out of the no-huddle is so well conceived that you can’t entirely credit it to the talent.

“When the Raiders had one safety in the game, the Bills ran outside; when they had two safeties, the Bills ran inside; then Buffalo would split its tackles and run draws successfully.”

The second quarter may have been the longest 15 minutes in the history of the Raider franchise. The Bills took possession on the second play of the quarter with a 21-3 lead.

On the L.A. possession that preceded the Buffalo drive, the Raiders had tried to ram the ball down the Bills’ gullet, an old Raider tactic that has worked countless times.

It didn’t work this time. The running attack accomplished one first down, then the Raiders had to punt.

The Bills showed L.A. how to operate its own patented mechanism. In 11 consecutive running plays, the Bills put the ball into the end zone for a 27-3 lead.

“When they went to their dime package and put all those defensive backs on the field,” said Kelly, “we ran the ball.”

With all those defensive backs in the game, the Raiders were almost begging for draw plays and the Bills obliged them.

Last week, 79-year-old Sid Gillman, the Hall of Fame coach who is considered the father of the modern passing game, watched the Bills’ offense flog Miami.

“Buffalo is the best team I’ve seen in years,” observed Gillman. “It was like a seven-on-seven drill in mid-week. The Bills just went straight through them.”

The Bills had another seven-on-seven drill Sunday afternoon.

Can the Giants or anyone else stop this offense?

“Unstoppable?” mused Kelly. “We can stop ourselves.”

The way the Bills are playing, that’s hard to believe. They will find out for sure in Tampa Stadium in only six days.