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SUPER BOWL CLUBS BOTH SAY THEY ARE `AMERICA’S TEAM’

SHARE SUPER BOWL CLUBS BOTH SAY THEY ARE `AMERICA’S TEAM’

It's not even close to a war of words. Maybe not even a skirmish.

Still, when the players aren't available yet and the Super Bowl hoopla is just beginning, it sure is refreshing to hear something unusual, different, even slightly controversial.Not that Marv Levy meant to cause any headlines when, almost as an aside at the end of his news conference to open the week's festivities, he laid claim to a title that clearly has belonged elsewhere for decades.

That title, "America's Team," in fact has been the property of the Dallas Cowboys. And it is the Cowboys, of course, who will face Levy's Buffalo Bills for the NFL championship on Sunday.

"America's Team sometimes is what someone names themselves," Levy said. "We've had an outpouring of letters from all over the country since our Houston game, with people telling us we were America's Team."

The Bills staged the biggest comeback in NFL history in that wild-card game, coming back from 35-3 to win 41-38 in overtime. That victory might be more meaningful than any in club history because it displayed so obviously - to the players as well as the public - that this team can handle adversity. And adversity rarely was an obstacle for Buffalo the last two years - until it hit in the big game and the Bills couldn't deal with it.

Levy described those letters as saying, `You're the ones we're looking at as the underdog, the ones who fought their way back. You're the blue collar guys.' "

"I told our players, `You know who will be wearing red, white and blue out there when we play that game? You are - the Buffalo Bills."'

Levy has a point. In overcoming injuries to stars such as Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett, the Bills have shown a load of perseverance. After blowing the AFC East title by losing their season finale to Houston while undermanned and on the road, they staged that memorable rally the next week to eliminate the Oilers.

Then they won two playoff games on the road, a place they hadn't won in the postseason since 1981. They did it with dominating defense. They got the first two of their three January victories with Frank Reich, not Kelly, at the helm.

So if they want to call themselves "America's Team," let them.

"That's great for Marv Levy," Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said when told of the fan mail - and Levy's claim. "I don't care. All I want to do is beat the team we play Sunday, and that's the Buffalo Bills. I don't get carried away with the `America's Team."'

After so much national television time in this decade - the Bills are the only AFC champion in the 1990s and are making a record-tying third straight trip to the Super Bowl - they might be America's Most Familiar Team.

"I see a lot of star players," Johnson said of the Bills, who would be the first team to lose three consecutive Super Bowls if they can't stop the AFC's slide in the big game, now at eight. "Bruce Smith is as fine a player as we've faced all year, maybe the finest. Cornelius Bennett ... Darryl Talley, who is one of the most underrated players.

"On their offense, the number of talented, experienced players in their entire lineup allows them to do some things other teams are not able to do.

"They have so much diversity on offense. They can do things probably across the board better than most teams.

"We're not that complicated."

They are as full of stars when they have the ball, though. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek surely deserve the acclaim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and James Lofton receive.

Dallas also has the top-rated defense in the league.

And, regardless of Levy's protestations, it still has that national aura.

"When I got involved with the Cowboys, I saw the interest as a big positive," team owner Jerry Jones said. "I didn't like the criticism we had in 1989, but the success and popularity motivated me to have the kind of team our fans deserve."

Those fans remain legion, across the United States.

"If the Buffalo Bills are getting some of that, we know how they feel."

Like America's Team.