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Former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith smiling during his Hall of Fame ring ceremony at halftime of an NFL football game between the Bills and the Miami Dolphins in Orchard Park, N.Y., Nov.29, 2009. (Dean Duprey/AP/Dean Duprey/AP)
Former Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith smiling during his Hall of Fame ring ceremony at halftime of an NFL football game between the Bills and the Miami Dolphins in Orchard Park, N.Y., Nov.29, 2009. (Dean Duprey/AP/Dean Duprey/AP)

ROBERT MACLEOD

A bittersweet look back at the Bills' Super Bowl heartbreak Add to ...

It is far better to have made it to the big dance than to not have been invited at all.

We’re talking the Super Bowl here and Bruce Smith, the former ferocious defensive end with the Buffalo Bills who used to devour opposing quarterbacks with uncanny regularity during his imposing 19-year National Football League career.

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With Super Bowl XLVI slated to go on Sunday in Indianapolis between the New England Patriots and New York Giants, it is an appropriate time to take a trip down memory lane, back to when the Bills were considered the class of the league.

Beginning in 1990, the Bills went on an unprecedented run, making it to the Super Bowl for four straight seasons, the only team in NFL history to be able to make such a claim.

The Bills also have the dubious distinction of losing all four title shots.

That includes a heart-wrenching 20-19 loss to the Giants in the first year when “Wide Right” – a reference to Scott Norwood’s field goal miss from 47 yards that would have won Buffalo the game – entered that city’s sports lexicon.

When you hearken back to that era the Bills had plenty of fine performers, including quarterback Jim Kelly, runningback Thurman Thomas and wideout Andre Reed.

But it was the leadership of Smith – so nimble and quick for a beast of a man who was 6-foot-4 and 265-pounds – who was the heart and soul of that Buffalo brigade.

The holder of the NFL career record for quarterback sacks (200), Smith was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009, his first year of eligibility.

These days, Smith – now 48 – is dabbling in real-estate in his home town of Norfolk, Vg., helping to mentor young kids, “and playing a lot of golf.”

On Sunday, Smith will be in Toronto as a guest of honor along with former league star Jevon Kearse at an official Super Bowl Party hosted by the NFL at the Sound Academy.

Similar festivities are also being staged in Montreal and Vancouver.

Smith told the Globe and Mail during a telephone interview that when you think back to Buffalo’s Super Bowl appearances, one can either be a pessimist or an optimist.

He prefers the latter.

“To be AFC champion four times in a row, when everyone is gunning at you, playing in frigid conditions with guys that were banged up and not able to play, it was an incredible run,” Smith said. “I’m just happy to have been a part of it.

“Would it have been nice to win one? Absolutely.”

As for the outcome of this Sunday’s game, Smith said he is picking the Giants – because of their defensive prowess, of course – to beat the Patriots.

“I think their defensive line will dictate the flow of this game,” Smith said.

As the hysteria for Sunday’s game grows, so does the speculation on everything from on-field performance to halftime hi-jinks.

You can find odds posted on everything, from whether Kelly Clarkson will forget or omit at least one word while singing the U.S. National Anthem (25-to-1 she will) to the most likely “move” Madonna will perform during her performance at half time.

Right now the odds-makers are forecasting the odds as 5-to-1 that Madonna will resort to “Tebowing.” The odds are 20-to-1 that she kisses Clarkson.

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