IT IS NO exaggeration to say that today is the day I have been waiting for all my life. I just wish I could enjoy it.

For Buffalonians (yes, that's really what we call ourselves), watching the Buffalo Bills go to the Super Bowl -- favored, yet -- is not ordinary fandom or even simple local boosterism. It is the vindication of a city that has endured years of abuse, neglect and ridicule from citizens far less sophisticated who have ganged up against the Queen City and its erratic football team.

Admittedly, Buffalo takes some deserved heat, mainly for the cold, the snow, its flaky mayor and its disproportionately high number of bowlers. But do we really deserve to be called the Mistake on the Lake? To be told committing suicide in Buffalo is redundant? To be reminded that even if the Bills win, they lose because they have to go back to Buffalo?

We are loyal Bills fans, not just because being a fair-weather fan in Buffalo is, literally and until recently figuratively, an oxymoron. There simply isn't much else to do in Buffalo (though there is more than you might think). So we troop faithfully to Rich Stadium, watching, cheering, jeering, hoping that once, just once, Buffalo would make it to the big time.

We remember the lean years. Those humiliating 2-14 seasons when we'd shiver at old War Memorial Stadium (you saw it in the movie "The Natural"), throwing snowballs at the referees and rationalizing the losses. "It looks good this year," we'd say. "It looks like we could get the first-round draft pick. If we could just blow one more game . . . ."

The league made fun of the Bills, who had become the Bad News Bears of the NFL. Still, every year, every coaching change, every reluctant college recruit gave us new hope. We sent Bills quarterback Jack Kemp to Congress in gratitude for the games he played; we elected quarterback Ed Rutkowski Erie County executive for the same reason.

This year, hope became reality for the once-hapless Bills. I figure this is the sort of situation that will happen maybe once in my lifetime, kind of like a rare comet. And I wish that I could revel in the team's, and the city's well-deserved recognition.

But this was also the year that the reality of football, an undeniably nasty game, hit me alongside the unsettling reminder of the realities of war. The two became nearly indistinguishable last Sunday, when action in the Persian Gulf was stuck in between plays during the Bills-Los Angeles Raiders playoff game.

Perhaps it would have been less uncomfortable if the announcers hadn't insisted on using sports analogies to describe the war (as if no one's getting hurt or killed) and war analogies to chronicle the football match (as if it's not just a game). We learned from NBC anchor Tom Brokaw that the anti-missile Patriots are "at least 3-and-3, maybe {sic} the record better than that," while the NFL announcer commented that the Bills' ground offensive was unstoppable. The network newsies told us that "the score was perfect for the United States" in intercepting Iraqi missiles (that's kind of like having a good pass defense, for you football fans out there). Sportscaster Will McDonough praised the Bills because "they're physical" (that's like being able to kick Saddam's butt, for those of you watching the war on the other channel). Even the footage of under-siege reporter Arthur Kent was shown on instant replay.

At the game, the fans in Buffalo interrupted their pleas to kill, annihilate, slaughter and destroy the Raiders long enough to wave their American flags in support of the war. To make it less confusing, the good guys on the field were in red, white and blue, although even the enemy players were wearing American flag decals on their helmets. No one took much notice that Bills defensive player Bruce Smith's uniform was covered with blood. It's just a game, after all.

Sandwiched between the game and the war, or the conflict and the showdown, were car commercials, like some eerie reminder of our emotional and economic dependence on oil. There couldn't have been a more appropriate advertiser. In the brief debate over whether or not to play the Super Bowl in the middle of a real war, the automobile companies were put in the curious position of having a stake in seeing both fights continue as scheduled.

None of this, I would guess, matters much today in Buffalo. It is a city where Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture may be found on a city corner, where you can get "Buffalo wings" just about everywhere and where they make probably the best pizza ever created. As goofy as Buffalo's mayor is, he managed to get a spiffy baseball stadium planted in the middle of downtown, and the sports-crazy residents set a record last year for minor league attendance. For Buffalo, having the Bills in the Super Bowl is what it would be like for Chicagoans to have the Cubs in the World Series. In fact, it's more, because Chicagoans have Chicago to fall back on.

But it wasn't the spirit of that Buffalo that I saw last weekend on the networks as I watched the Bills qualify for their first-ever championship. I have never been completely comfortable with my affection for football, but I have reasoned that the game, if nothing else, sublimates our aggressions. Last Sunday, though, it appeared to do more to whet America's appetite for war.

It's not surprising that the Super Bowl was not ultimately canceled. There's just too much money involved in it, as you will see when the commercials for just about everything people make and buy are shown today during scheduled time-outs. Of course, there's a lot of money involved in the war as well.

Of course I'm glad they're going to play. And like all my maligned Buffalo compatriots, I'd like to be able to cheer my team on to a long-awaited championship. Who else could we root for -- the New Jersey Giants? But with the Super Bowl just a pre-game show for the real war, I think I'm going to have a hard time watching.