Bruce Smith has told it like it is for as long as some of his friends can remember. He once nonchalantly said to his coach at Virginia Tech that he knew he would be a "top pick" in the 1985 NFL draft. And he was. The first. He privately told friends that the Outland Trophy, annually given to college football's best lineman, should go to him. And it did. Of course.

All of those were private conversations. Now, that inner confidence has gone public. If the truth hurts, the Buffalo Bills' talented defensive end says, then so be it. Because someone has to speak up for Bruce Smith even if it is Bruce Smith.

He says he is the best defensive player in the game today. "No one can really compare to what I've done," he said. He thinks that:

Lawrence Taylor is great but he's old news. He should step aside.

Reggie White? Nah.

Smith should seriously be considered for the league's most valuable player award.

"Bruce is Bruce," Bills quarterback Jim Kelly said. "Whatever he wants to say is up to him."

The thing is, there is little arguing with Smith, because mostly everything he says about himself is true. Right now, with the possible exception of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, there is no player in the league that can single-handedly change the outcome of a game the way Smith can.

He is the exclamation point on a pounding Buffalo defense that has at least one sack in the last 12 games, 12 sacks in the last three games and 23 in the last six. The 12-2 Bills will be tested in Buffalo on Sunday against the 11-3 Miami Dolphins, whose offensive line has yielded an NFL-low 13 sacks.

A victory would assure the Bills the AFC East title and the home-field advantage in the playoffs. Should the Dolphins beat Buffalo, then win at Indianapolis on Dec. 30, they would take the division and the coveted home field.

For Smith, a national televison audience will be watching. He can prove to a lot of people what he has known all season, that right now there is no better defensive player in the land.

He "looks like he's probably the most dominant player in football right now, defensively," said Giants Coach Bill Parcells.

Smith has an NFL-high 19 sacks and is three away from breaking the single-season record set by former New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau in 1984. Smith has 92 tackles, 5 passes deflected and 4 forced fumbles. This week he was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time.

But that's not enough. He wants more recognition, as evidenced by his recent campaign to promote himself.

"I basically wanted to make sure people knew about me when I spoke out," he said. "No one else spoke out for me. Everybody kept telling me that I would get the recognition I deserve and that I should be quiet. Well I've been waiting and waiting and waiting and nobody brought anything up until I brought it up.

"And then, when I brought it up, people tried to say: 'Well, he shouldn't say those things. Let other people say them.' Well, I've been waiting. I get tired of waiting for those things. I just want the recognition I deserve."

It all started the week of the Bills' victory over the Giants last Saturday. Smith said Lawrence Taylor was and is a great player, but. . . .

"Over the last 10 years {Taylor} has probably been the most dominant player in the league," Smith said. "But I think I've taken it a notch above him. Right now, it's time to give credit to somebody who deserves it. It would be an injustice if I don't get the MVP."

Taylor wouldn't talk about Smith's comments, taking the back door out of Giants Stadium before a frenzied New York media got to him. But teammates weren't shy about talking.

"Bruce is an excellent player," Giants safety Dave Duerson said. "But if you are the best player, you don't have to say anything. You lead by example and you're great in your performance, not great in your speech."

Before the Bills met the Eagles on Dec. 2, Smith talked about the comparisons with Philadelphia's White, a fellow Pro Bowl lineman and a friend.

"You can't take anything from {Taylor} or Reggie White or whomever you want to put in that category," Smith said. "Right now, I just think I'm the best. If you can't tell by the past performances I've had these last 11 games, then you're blind. The media's blind, the fans are blind, the sportcasters are blind. I just don't know what to say."

He said White "will bull-rush you over -- his moves are very effective. I just feel my repertoire is a little more extensive. I'm not going to get into a push and shove match. Reggie's a friend of mine. He's a helluva player and I don't want to take anything away from him. I just think I've come into my own this year."

Smith says he decided to speak up because he "got very tired of being ignored by the media. It was like my season didn't exist to some people. I guess you could say that I went on a campaign to let people know about me."

Friends say his words shouldn't be misunderstood. "What he says may sound like a guy that is extremely cocky, but he really isn't," said Wake Forest Coach Vince Dooley, Smith's coach at Virginia Tech.

"He's honest. Very honest. Very, very honest. That's the word I was looking for. He says exactly what he thinks. As long as I have known Bruce he has always been that way."

Smith now is even trying to let the world know about teammates he felt were shunned for the Pro Bowl. He felt that right outside linebacker Darryl Talley, who leads the team in tackles with 105 and has two interceptions -- one returned for a 60-yard touchdown -- should have made it over San Diego Chargers linebacker Leslie O'Neal.

Smith also said rookie Miami offensive tackle Richmond Webb "isn't near the quality player" as Bills tackle Howard Ballard.

Smith then repeated what he has said throughout the year: "The truth. It hurts sometimes, doesn't it?"