The die is cast. On Saturday the Buffalo Bills cross the Rubicon. Or at least the Passaic River. The best team in New York faces the best team in New Jersey in a game that could have vast implications. Rising from the Meadowlands swamps like a fine mix of wasteland gases, the result of this game may tell us via smoke signal if we are about to see, at last, another competitive Super Bowl.
I would hesitate to shout this into Bruce Smith's face. But I am not sure that the Bills, for all their glitter, are the best guys to carry the AFC banner into combat against the dreaded and superior NFC. They happen to be a meager 1-14-1 against the point spread in games at NFC stadiums. I still suspect that in the long run the only colors that will obscure NFC dominance will be silver and black. But this week, the Bills will do for a barometer. They should also provide the game of the weekend.
Logic dictates that all the talk about division dominance is circumstantial. But the circumstance here is that the NFC is on a fearsome roll. And the surface impression is that its teams are doing it partly with myths and intimidation.
Why else would John Elway suddenly do his impersonation of Mark Malone in a Super Bowl? Why would the Broncos get the Giants on their heels with bold play-calling, only to face first and goal from the 1 and decide to establish Sammy Winder's off-tackle powers? Please send the answers to these questions to Aristotle, P.O. Box XXV, Athens. Nothing cries for deep thinking more than old-fashioned superficiality.
In a lengthy chat with Aristotle the other day, a clear philosophical truth was reached: There is no innate imbalance between conferences. These teams all draw from the same talent pool and spend the same TV money. Their fortunes go in cycles, like any art form. Euripides might dominate the stage for five years. But you never know when Aeschylus will bounce back with a "now girl" like Clytemnestra.
But if reasoned philosophy were to seize every aspect of our sports and entertainment, what would we do for laughs? Mail order hucksters and touts would run out of sucker clients, because even the suckers could pick obvious winners on their own. The television stations would have to replace sophomoric games with old movies, thus facing the unheard-of prospect of making a profit.
No, keep your clear thinkers and do-gooders. Give me Clytemnestra, Cleopatra, Madonna. Even in a matter with the global importance of a rivalry between football conferences, let's hold onto our images.
Ever since the New Kids on the Block in the old American Football League began throwing sand in the faces of the aristocratic bullies of the NFL, I have compiled a treasury of what it all means. I am now prepared to release it. If you have been wagering with me through my worst season, consider this a consolation prize.
The NFC is Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette at Versailles. The AFC is Voltaire and Rousseau.
The NFC is Maginot Line. The AFC is a guerilla strike.
The NFC is Tom Dewey, the AFC Harry Truman.
The NFC is the old boy network, lunching leisurely amid the polished oak of the Downtown Athletic Club. The AFC is a band of inside traders.
The NFC is the guy you knew in high school who always took the prettiest girl to the prom. The AFC is the silver-tongued devil who took her home.
The NFC is Wellington Mara. The AFC is Al Davis.
Simplistic generalities of course. I majored in them at college. And they give a person something to hold onto when the real world gets too complex. We are talking here about two groups of millionaires who benignly share revenues as well as attitudes. If we don't give them sharper definition, how can we root?
Anyone unencumbered by wagering positions knows that he or she should root for the Bills, who are getting 3 1/2 from the Giants. But I am not that pure of heart or bankroll. And the trends say Giants. The Bills' pathetic road record against the NFC has already been established. They also are only 6-15 in the final month of the season since 1985. The Giants are 10-2 in final month home games and they have won their last five final home games.
Bruce Smith certainly has emerged as the best defensive player in the league. But the suspicion is that his presence will get Lawrence Taylor aroused. Giants minus 3 1/2.
In another fascinating encounter, the Chiefs are 3 1/2-point favorites at home against the high-powered Oilers. The Oilers have the widest home-road victory differential in the league and they are particularly weak on artificial turf. Best matchup: Houston punter Greg Montgomery against perhaps the greatest punt blocker in history: Albert Lewis. Result: Take the Chiefs minus 3 1/2.
The Cowboys, dreaming of a late streak into the playoffs are 5 1/2 over the Cardinals at Dallas. This number is excessive. All season, the Cowboys have won only one game by more than four. This is the first time they have been favored over anyone in two years. Hey, the Cardinals have their own ridiculous playoff aspirations. I'll take Phoenix plus 5 1/2.
In the eagerly awaited ESPN duel Sunday night, the Bears are 3 over the Lions in the Silverdome. We know how dazzling the run-and-shoot can be when a Warren Moon is firing for his mini receivers. Will we ever know how great Barry Sanders could be if the Lions ever benched a few wide receivers and put in a tight end and a fullback to block for him? Not this week. The old better team bromide. Bears minus 3.
Monday night, the 49ers are 5 1/2 at Anaheim over the Rams. The Rams have upset the Niners once this season and always give them trouble, right? Wrong. Strangely, this is a dramatic road series. The visitor has covered 15 of the last 18. The Niners will have a good tuneup for the playoff drive. Niners minus 5 1/2.
Last week: The Seahawks getting 3 1/2 from Green Bay held off a late rally by the immortal Blair Kiel, who hadn't thrown a pass in three years. Seattle, 20-14. Chuck Knox: coach of the year. The pathetic despicable disgraces to the planet called the Colts, getting 5 at home, were marinated by the Bills, 31-7. The Redskins giving 4 1/2 beat the Bears only 10-9, a wrong number. The Saints getting 4 at Anaheim handled the Rams, 24-20. The silver and black laying 3 on Monday night, beat the Lions, 38-31.
Total for week: 3-2.
Total for season: 36-34.