TAMPA, JAN. 22 -- Buffalo Bills Coach Marv Levy, saying he was too busy preparing his game plan, surprised and angered NFL officials this morning by refusing to attend a required Super Bowl XXV news conference and photo session.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue reportedly was extremely upset about the matter, and officials said Levy faces a fine for skipping one of the NFL's most heavily attended media events.

But if Levy had come here hoping to be part of history, he got a piece more quickly than he might have expected. In 25 years of Super Bowls, he's the first coach to skip a scheduled news conference.

Levy, who is usually very accessible to reporters, apologized for his absence late today and promised to attend all remaining scheduled events.

"I intended to come over," he told the Buffalo News. "I'll express my apologies tomorrow. I got so doggone immersed in {the game plan}, and time completely got away from me. I wasn't disdainful of it. I understand people are disturbed and I feel bad."

NFL officials were particularly angry since Giants Coach Bill Parcells made his news conference despite playing the late NFC championship game Sunday in San Francisco and not arriving at the team hotel until almost dawn Monday.

They didn't learn that Levy wasn't showing up until the Bills arrived at Tampa Stadium. Quarterback Jim Kelly, defensive end Bruce Smith and several others did attend.

"Bills Coach Marv Levy did not receive permission from the league to miss Tuesday's mandatory interview and photo session," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's director of communications. "This is a clear breach of club obligations. Commissioner Tagliabue was assured by Bills General Manager Bill Polian . . . that Levy will be available as scheduled the remainder of the week. The matter will be reviewed further following the Super Bowl."

Levy's absence points up the problems teams are having in this new Super Bowl format. For only the third time in 25 years, there's only one week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. In 22 Super Bowls, there'd been two weeks in between, thus allowing teams to put their game plans together at a leisurely pace.

But this week, coaches have the difficult task of preparing a game plan while traveling to a neutral city and attending daily news conferences. Many coaches, including the Washington Redskins' Joe Gibbs, hate having their routines disrupted.

Gibbs and his staff usually begin working on their game plan late Sunday night or early Monday morning, then don't leave Redskin Park until Thursday night, when the lion's share of their weeks' work is done.

Levy had considered sending his players here and keeping his coaching staff in Buffalo for an extra day to work on the game plan. But he decided on Monday that the Bills would travel to Tampa together.

They arrived at 8 p.m. Monday and the coaches worked most of the night on the game plan. More than one player sympathized with Levy's predicament.

"It's happening real fast," running back Thurman Thomas. "We really haven't a chance to let it all sink in because we've been busy every minute. It's the same way for the Giants."

Several players, including Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor and his Buffalo counterpart, Cornelius Bennett, joked that the one thing they wouldn't be missing this week was a news conference.

"This is my day in the sun," Bennett said, smiling. "I won't tell a reporter no all week."

Taylor said: "I love you guys. It's part of the Super Bowl hype." . . .

Speaking of Taylor, when the Bills and Giants played last month, one of the highlights was Buffalo end Bruce Smith's announcement that he, not Taylor, is the best defensive player in football.

Pressed on the subject today, Smith refused to jump-start the debate, saying the remarks had been miscontrued from the start. But he clearly believes he's the best and not many people will argue with a season in which he had 19 sacks and became the most feared defender in the AFC.

"Right now, Bruce Smith is the best player in this league," Taylor said, "and he's going to get better. In about five years, someone else is going to come along and call himself the best -- and he'll be right. That's the way it goes."

Taylor, 31, pointed out he had played 10 years in the NFL, had been in a few thousand collisions and couldn't expect to play like the young pup he'd been six years ago. Still, after playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday, he'll be leaving to play in his record 10th straight Pro Bowl.

"I know my limitations," Taylor said. " . . . I'm just trying to go out respectably. You go out and take into account your teammates can help you and be a part of the scheme. I've got a reputation and that helps." . . .

Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson was asked if the Bills are the best offensive team he's seen this year.

"No, the Redskins are the top offensive team in this league," he said. "I've heard our division might be broken up and I hope like heck they get us away from Washington. The Redskins have two top running backs {Earnest Byner and Gerald Riggs}, and each one of them is different. People say their offensive line is not as big as it used to be, but they beat on you all day long. They have so many receivers, it seems like they're bring them out of the locker room."