BY WEDNESDAY afternoon, Erroll Tucker, the onetime University of Utah return sensation now in the employ of the Buffalo Bills, had put the weekend into perspective.
"We can't be disappointed," he said via telephone from Buffalo. "We have to be proud. When you start in July you're striving for one thing, to make it to the Super Bowl. Well, we came within one game."Only last Sunday's 21-10 loss in Cincinnati to the Bengals kept Tucker and the Bills from moving on to the Super Bowl, scheduled to be played Jan. 22 in Miami.
Moments after that loss, in Cincinnati, the Bills were not in a good mood.
Tucker and tackle Joe Devlin exchanged words in the locker room as coach Marv Levy prepared to deliver a postgame speech. Devlin told Tucker to come forward for the speech and Tucker said, "I don't need this."
"It was the kind of atmosphere where, no matter what was said, it was going to light a fuse," said Tucker. "It was an emotional situation. I didn't want to lose that game. Nobody wanted to lose that game."
Not only was Tucker - who led the nation as a return specialist for Utah in 1985 - used as Buffalo's principal return man in the AFC championship game, he also filled in for cornerback Derrick Burroughs after Burroughs was ejected from the game in the third quarter for throwing a punch at Cincinnati receiver Tim McGee.
"The thing was, they knew Derrick had turned his ankle early in the game, and they were cutting under him on every play," said Tucker. "He finally had had enough and he retaliated.
"That locker room thing," Tucker continued, "was blown out of proportion. It was just verbal, that's all. There was no pushing or shoving or fighting or anything like that. Some reporters wrote that, but they didn't see anything and that wasn't the case at all."
By the time the Bills returned to Buffalo and had their official year-ending meeting Monday afternoon, all was congenial.
"Coach Levy told us he was proud of us," said Tucker, "and that we'd brought a lot of positive influences to Buffalo, and to have a good vacation."
For Tucker, that means going to the Super Bowl.
He and Ernest Givins, the running back for the Houston Oilers, are going to Miami for a sun break and the Super Bowl game between Cincinnati and the San Francisco 49ers. "Just wish I was suiting up," said Tucker.
After that, Tucker plans to spend spring quarter at the University of Utah, where he is about 40 units short of graduating in sociology, with an emphasis on criminology - which seems appropriate for a defensive back.
There was a point about a year ago when it looked like Tucker could have continued his schooling this past fall, in lieu of a career in football. Tucker had sat out the 1987 season rehabilitating a broken leg he had suffered while a rookie with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1986. He was not the most wanted man in the NFL. Tryouts with Dallas and the San Francisco 49ers didn't work out.
But then the Bills called. They had reviewed films of the Utah Tucker and told him, "If you are 85 percent of what you were in college, we can use you."
The first time he touched the ball as a Buffalo Bill, in an exhibition game against Houston this past summer, he returned a kickoff 57 yards.
He signed a two-year contract as a return specialist/defensive back and was back in business.
"We're a young team in Buffalo," he said. "And the experience we had this season should help us next year. We'll want to go even further."
To the Super Bowl again, in other words, and bring your teammates along with you.
For the record, Erroll Tucker's line on Super Bowl XXIII is to look for the 49ers to win, by a big number.
Not surprisingly, he has little affection for Cincinnati.
"I think the Bengals are too emotional right now," he said. "They're too much above the clouds. San Francisco has guys who have been there before. They know what it's all about. And I think San Francisco has too much offense for Cincinnati. If the 49er running game gets going they'll dominate."