For most of the past decade the only reason an AFC team was in the Super Bowl was because the NFL needed two teams to play the game.

The conference lost six straight championship games by an average score of 40-14 and won just two in 10 years.But here come the Buffalo Bills, who arrive as 5-point favorites over the New York Giants for Sunday's silver anniversary game.

And the Bills are not only an AFC team, but an original, born 31 years ago as part of the old AFL, a let-it-all-hang-out league where anything was liable to happen and often did.

Being favored over the old establishment Giants has to tickle them, considering their heritage - products of a maverick league where any thing went.

Sometimes, it seemed like the theater of the absurd. Denver's early teams wore outrageous looking tiger-striped socks, because the owner got a good deal on them. New York's attendance figures included fans disguised as empty seats.

There were point-a-minute offenses and token defenses. You didn't dare take your eyes off passers like Babe Parilli and Daryle Lamonica. You never knew what you might miss. It was fun football and Buffalo was right in the middle of the madness.

Now the franchise is all grown up and in the Super Bowl for the first time. It arrives flying the flag in a place where the AFC has suffered terribly lately.

And it arrives playing some good old-fashioned AFL football. They've scored 96 points in their two playoff games and feature an offense based on an exciting no-huddle play mix.

The last time the AFC won a Super Bowl was the last time Tampa hosted this celebration of pro football in 1984, when the Los Angeles Raiders defeated Washington 38-9. The Raiders, then representing Oakland, also beat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in the 1981 Super Bowl.

Except for that, the AFC has spent the Super Bowl's past decade as an afterthought, lopsided losers most of the time.

Denver absorbed a 55-10 defeat by San Francisco last year, preceded by a 42-10 wipeout by Washington in 1988 and 39-20 loss to the New York Giants the year before that. Chicagoembarrassed New England 46-10 in 1986, a year after San Francisco beat up Miami 38-16.

Overall, the AFC-NFC Super Bowl log is split down the middle - 12-12. But four of the dozen AFC victories belong to Pittsburgh and another to the Colts, both old NFL franchises assigned to the new conference as part of the 1966 merger.

Except for the Raiders with three championships, the Dolphins with two and the Jets and Chiefs with one each, the old AFL has come up empty in this game.

Now, though, here comes Buffalo, running on full, making its Super Bowl debut. First-time visitors to this event often are flustered by the fanfare. The Bills, however, seem unflappable. They play seat-of-your-pants, often impromptu football. They don't bother with old fashioned stuff like huddles. Who needs a huddle?

In the AFC championship game, Jim Kelly fumbled a snap and turned the busted play into a touchdown pass. That stuff doesn't come out of huddles. Fans watch that and wonder "What next?"

That was the style that made the old AFL so popular with its fans. These Bills are a throwback to that time, when anything might and often did happen.

A touchdown pass off a fumbled snap? Parilli and Lamonica must have loved that.