He was cold. He hurt. He wore a denim jacket over his mesh undershirt. His right arm hung stiffly at his side and he worked his fingers against the hurt. In his football shoes and blue jeans, he stood at the back of the end zone and watched the game die. In 34 seconds, 33 now, the Tampa Bay Bucs would lose the biggest game they ever played. Doug Williams leaned against the goal post, watching, and he let out a breath, a sigh, and the chill air made the sigh a cloud.

Doug Williams was a bad quarterback tonight. He completed only two of his 13 passes for 12 yards, both completions simple flips to nearby running backs. Anytime he went long. . .anytime he went to the sideline . . .anytime Williams tried a pass that a quarterback must complete to win a championship game, he threw the football terribly. He was wild high.

And then he was hurt. He ripped apart the bicep muscle of his throwing arm when, passing, he brought the arm down against the bars of someone's face mask. Williams came off the field to make room for the punting team. At the bench, he noticed something was wrong with his arm.

"It had a dent in it," Williams said later. He was dispassionate. His arm is his career, yet he spoke of it as a mechanic might speak of a wrecked car. It had a dent in it. "It was mashed down. I didn't know what it was. cI wanted to play. But the doctors told me it was torn."

So Williams put away his warrior's gear and put on his denims and stood on the sidelines with the Bucs until, near the end, he was cold and started walking toward the clubhouse. Without him, the Bucs had no shot. They couldn't run against the Rams tonight, gaining only 92 yards. And if Williams hit on only two of 13, the Tampa Bay faithful knew that three months ago Williams was five of 20 against the Rams in a 21-6 victory.

Tonight, behind only 6-0, all Williams needed was one big play. One pass. One mortar shell delivered 70 yards downfield. Williams can do that. So even though he was a bad thrower tonight, the Bucs went with him until he couldln't lift his arm. And when the Bucs lost, 9-0, Williams walked from that goal post to the 10-yard line to say nice game to Jackie Wallace, a Ram defensive back.

This was a game to joke about. Some how, though, the laughs come hard. You could say that only an All-Star team from this game would have a prayer against the Steelers. You could look at a series of bungles in the third quarter -- the penalty flags flying on four straight plays -- and say Steve Martin did the screenplay.

Nobody scored a touchdown. These are supposedly the two best teams in the National Conference of the mighty National Football League. And nobody could score a touchdown.

Well, they tried. Both L.A. and Tampa Bay put the ball into the end zone. But the Rams' TD was disallowed because of an illegal formation (a declared tight end, wearing jersey 77, lined up as a tackle, a no-no). And the Bucs' touchdown didn't count because the right guard, Greg Roberts, moved an instant before the ball was snapped.

Someone offered Roberts an excuse. Williams' replacement, Mike Rae, might call signals at a different cadence. Was that why Roberts, a rookie, raised up too soon?

"I can't blame it on that," he said. "I just made a mistake. I blew it."

If in defeat the Tampa Bay Bucs were revealed as a laughable offensive team hoping that Doug Williams keeps his artillery shells in the ball park, it too ought to be written down that the Bucs lost with grace.

No tears. No whining about officials. No excuses. This town is mad in love with its gladiators in orange and white. The local newspapers must have used an ocean of orange ink this week in paying unabashed homage to the Bucs. Only 93 to 72,126 ticket holders did not show up today, and one presumes those 93 had written excuses from their mothers. The 72,033 had reason to be proud.

"TAMPA," came the cheer from the left side of the end zone bleachers.

"BAY," came the answer from the right, and the paying customers kept it up in the fading seconds of their Cinderella season, choosing not to boo a team that failed to score a touchdown for the third time in its last five games.

"Doug," shouted a bearded man in a leather cap from his seat 15 yards away. "Doug Williams!" Leaning against the goal post, Williams did not turn. The man said, "Doug Williams, next year, man!"

Williams left the Bucs' training room a half hour later with his throwing arm in a sling. He walked directly into a crowd of TV cameras and microphones and ball-point pens, each held by someone wanting to know why Doug Williams had choked in the game that would put Tampa Bay -- 4-year-old Tampa Bay. . .the 0-26 Bucs -- into the Super Bowl.

They wanted to know why he choked. No one said it that way, but Williams knew the people with pens and microphones were not there to say nice game, way to complete two of 13. Had he wanted to, he might have slipped out a back door to avoid the question.

"I didn't pay no attention to him," Williams said when someone asked if it bothered him that the Rams' end, Fred Dryer, had said Williams was not a good quarterback. "They just played a good defensive game, that was it. . . .I just wasn't hitting, but the Rams had a lot to do with it."

"Were you frustrated?" someone said, meaning did you choke.

"I wasn't frustrated. We just couldn't get anything going. . . What we did, they expected it. They played a helluva defensive game. You gotta give credit where credit is due. They took away the things we did best."

What things?

"Everything," the quarterback in a sling said.

He smiled into the TV camera.