Disclaimer: This article is long, the Bills play-off drought was longer and more painful, so suck it up.
I am a guest writer at BTB. Like all of the writers here on BTB, I grew up most of my life in North Jersey rooting for New Jersey and New York City teams. Three years ago, I moved to Rochester, about an hour due east of Buffalo, and while I was carrying boxes to help move in, I noticed a Bills flag in the neighbor’s window. I thought to myself “Wow look at that, a Bills fan, I can’t believe fans even exist for such an irrelevant team.” Little did I know three years later I would be listening to my car radio on a frigid cold New Year’s Eve to hear “15, 10, 5 Touchdown!” describing Bengals QB Andy Dalton’s touchdown pass launching the Bills into the playoffs and one of the most euphoric moments of my life.
There are a lot of teams out there that have put their fan bases through suffering: the Mets in the MLB, The Maple Leafs in the NHL, the LA Clippers in the NBA, and even the Cleveland Browns (0-16) are just some examples. The Bills, however, have put their fan base through a unique kind of misery over the past 30 years that no other team can equal.
To start, the Bills have never won a Super Bowl but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Bills first qualified for the Big Game in the 1990 season. The 1990 Bills were arguably the best ever football team to represent the city of Buffalo. Their offense seemingly scored at will and the defense stopped teams cold. QB Jim Kelly had the highest passer rating in the league, and they possessed the defensive player of the year in Bruce Smith. Their dominance earned them the nickname “The Greatest Show on Turf”. They steam rolled their way to the Super Bowl, winning the AFC championship game 51-3 over the Raiders. Whereas their opponents, the Giants, scraped by winning 15-13 on a last second field goal in a game where they failed to reach the end zone. The Giants also had lost their starting QB and were forced to us back-up Jeff Hostetler whose mustache is really just an insult to the male gender.
It was the Bills’ game to lose and that they did. BTW – the mastermind behind the upset victory for the Giants was none other than Buffalo nemesis Bill Belichick. Belichick, the Giants defensive coordinator, came up with an innovative defensive scheme with only 2 down lineman and 5 linebackers. The surprised Bills offense sputtered. Meanwhile, the Giants offense chewed up clock, further minimizing the opportunities for the normally high-flying Bills. The game plan was brilliant, keeping the game close. However, it looked like the Giant effort may still fall short as the juggernaut Bills marched to the 30 yard line with 8 seconds left to play with the score Giants 20, Bills 19. Scott Norwood lined up to kick a game-winning, no…. Super Bowl-winning 47 yard field goal, and then this happened.
Wide right! Wide right! The Bills lose.
The next day a beautiful, but relatively unknown, moment in sports history took place as fans gathered in Buffalo to greet their Second best Bills. The crowd, 25,000 people strong, chant “We want Scott! We want Scott!”. The fans of Buffalo publicly and warmly forgave their kicker. Scott made his way to the podium holding back tears and says, “I have never felt more loved than right now.”
Various other players and coaches made their way to the podium that day and promised the fans the Bills would return to the Super Bowl. And the Bills did, three more times. For a total of four straight Super Bowl appearances in a row, an NFL record, and they lost all four.
Super Bowl XXVI Bills 24 Redskins 37
Super Bowl XXVII Bills 24 Cowboys 52
Super Bowl XXVIII Bills 13 Cowboys 30
The Bills would go on to reach the playoffs in the 1995, 1996, and 1998 seasons but never advance past the divisional round. The last year the Bills made the playoffs was 1999. Yup, Bill Clinton was President, YouTube, FaceBook and Twitter were the stuff of science fiction, heck the Patriots hadn’t even won a Super Bowl.
The Bills were playing the Titans in the Wild Card round. The Bills kicked an apparent game winning go ahead field goal to make it 16-15 with 16 seconds left in the game. On the ensuing kick- off this happened.
The country knows this play as the “Music City Miracle”. Here in Western, NY it’s just “The Forward Pass”. Either way, it is the play that sent the Bills into what ended up being the longest playoff droughts across any of the four major American sports.
The 2000 season saw the Patriots acquire both Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The famous duo would go on to build a dynasty winning the AFC East 14 of the next 17 years and five Super Bowls. In week 14 of the 2000 season the 7-6 Bills played the 7-6 Colts. Prior to the game the Bills head coach, Wade Phillips, said both teams, “were basically out of it”. The Bills lost 44-20 and the Colts later would go on to clinch a playoff berth.
In 2003, the Bills opened the season with a 31-0 trouncing of the Patriots in the season opener. Newly acquired safety, Lawyer Milloy who had just been cut by the Patriots helped secure the shutout victory with a sack. In week 17 of the same year the Patriots shutout the Bills 31-0 and go on to win a Superbowl.
In the 2004 draft the Bills selected Lee Evans (Lee who? exactly) 13th overall, passing up Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger. The Bills started the season 0-4 but rallied to a 9-6 record going into week 17. To make the playoffs the Bills needed the Jets to lose to the Rams, and for the Bills to beat a Steelers team starting their 3rd stringers. The Jets lost, and so did the Bills missing the playoffs for the 4th straight season.
The Bills select defensive tackle Kyle Williams 134th overall in 2006. Remember that name for later but forget that the team had a 7-9 record.
The walk in the wilderness continued in 2007 when the Bills draft Marshawn Lynch 12th overall. In week 5, the Bills were featured on MNF for the first time in seven years to play the Cowboys led by, you guessed it, Coach Wade Phillips who the Bills had let go in 2005. No matter, the Bills led the whole way and were set to pull off a huge upset win. The Bills scored with 24 seconds left to play to cut the lead to 24-22, but the ensuing tying 2-point conversion the pass intended for Terrell Owens is batted down to the delight of a rowdy and packed home crowd. The Cowboys, however, go on to recover the onside kick and convert a last second 53 yard field goal to win 25-24.
The Bills acquire fading star Terrell Owens in 2009 and he is presented a key to the city. At age 35, TO’s antics continued, but his elite play did not. Week 1 of the season the Bills faced the Patriots on MNF. The Bills were up 24-19 with just over 2 minutes to play as the Patriots kicked off. The Bills return to the 30 but the ball is fumbled and recovered by the Pats. Brady throws the game winning touchdown shortly thereafter. The Patriots finish 10-6 and win the division, the Bills finished the season 6-10, dead last in the AFC East.
Exhausted yet? Heck we’re just a little over halfway through, we’ve got eight years more to go. Imagine living it as a Bills fan.
The 2010 draft the Bills select defensive tackle Torrell Troup, Rob Gronkowski was selected with the very next pick.
The Bills select defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in 2011 passing up on Von Miller, A.J Green, Julio Jones, and J.J Watt. (Dareus now plays for Bills opponent on Sunday, the Jaguars). The Bills beat the Patriots in the season opener for the first time since 2003 and open the season 3-0 but drop the next seven games and miss the playoffs.
In the forgettable 2012 season, team owner Ralph C. Wilson shows signs of aging and gives up the role of team president, starting swirling rumors about the team’s future in Buffalo.
The Bills later hire up and coming Syracuse coach Doug Marrone for the 2013 season. He referred to himself as “St. Doug” alluding to the idea it takes two miracles to become a Saint, first was his revitalizing of Syracuse, next was the Buffalo Bills who finished 6-10.
Ralph Wilson dies at age 95 intensifying rumors the Bills will leave Buffalo. Sabres owner Terry Pegula, however, buys the team for $1.4 billion quelling fears the Bills would relocate. The Bills finish 9-7 and would have clinched playoff berth if not for losing to the 2-12 Raiders in week 16. After the season Coach Marrone essentially quit the team. There was a $4 million opt-out clause written into his contract in case the Bills relocated. The Bills stayed in Buffalo but “St. Doug” did not. Marrone now coaches Marcell Dareus and the Jacksonville Jaguars who will square off against the Bills later today in the first Bills playoff game in 18 years.
Meanwhile the passage through NFL purgatory would trudge on in 2015 with the hiring of Rex Ryan. He won the head coaching job convincing new owner Terry Pegula that his defensive “wizardry” would frustrate Brady and his Patriots. That is when I enter the picture. I had just moved from New Jersey to Rochester, and not fully realizing this sad history at the time I joined the Bills fanhood. The Bills Mafia was excited about the bombastic Ryan, but having watched him coach the Jets, I knew Brady had more football “wizardry” in his left toe nail then Ryan did in his entire 300 pound frame. In games Brady played in against the Bills during Ryan’s tenure the Patriots were 3-0 where the pats averaged over 33 points a game. But 2015, some key rays of hope began to show with acquisition LeSean McCoy and the QB role was given to Tyrod Taylor.
In week 16 of the 2016 season the Bills played the Dolphins in a must-win game. The Bills punted on 4th and 2 in overtime because “it was a long 2 yards”, according to Coach Ryan. The Dolphins went on to kick the game winning field goal the next drive, eliminating the Bills from the playoffs for the 16th straight season.
Now we finally come to the 2017 season. I could fully recap the 2017 season, but I don’t see the point. The Zay Jones dropped pass vs Carolina, the blowout loss to the Jets on MNF, the Peterman game, none of it matters anymore. The Bills are in.
To understand the Bills and their fans one needs to understand western NY. When one thinks of the state of New York the first thing that comes to mind is of course New York City, then maybe Long Island and next might Albany (upstate New York which is different than western NY). Western NY is always the afterthought. Western New Yorkers carry that cross as a chip on their shoulder. People here don’t try to change that by seeking glamour they change it by earning respect, but still it seems nobody cares to notice.
The Bills face the same the issues of the people they play for. The Pats are the dynasty team of the AFC East. The Bills are third in line of their own state behind the Jets and Giants (whose stadium is actually in New Jersey). The Bills are the grinders, like their fans. There aren’t many cities that would not only stand by their team through such misery, but also come to be known as one of the rowdiest and most loyal fan bases in the country in the “Bills Mafia”. What people don’t realize about the Bills Mafia is that they are more than drunken football fans jumping from RV’s into tables.
Like a graduating class from Marine boot camp, they are a band of brothers and sisters who have suffered and fought together. They have fought to keep their beloved Bills in Buffalo. They have watched a field goal fly wide right denying their closest shot to a Super Bowl, they have watched the Music City Miracle crush their last playoff dreams, they have watched devastating loss after devastating loss in pivotal games, they have watched 10 different head coaches, and 17 different starting quarterbacks fail to clinch a playoff berth, and on December 31st, 2017 they watched the Bengals line up for a 4th and 12 from the 48 with 50 seconds left on the clock. For once in the history of the Bills, the unthinkable, the impossible, broke the Bills way as the feet of Bengal’s receiver Tyler Boyd touched pay-dirt in Baltimore. The Bills were going to the playoffs. Putting words to the collective euphoria would be a disservice to what it meant to Bills fans. So let’s watch.
Folks outside of Buffalo seem to think the excitement is misplaced, “You guys are just gonna lose to Jacksonville” is something you often hear. But the people don’t understand how exciting it is just to be in the playoffs. Perhaps the Bills will have finally earned the respect they have strived, worked, and cried for over the past 17 years. With rumblings about a power struggle in New England, maybe 2018 will mark the beginning of a new era in Buffalo. Nobody can know for sure, Bills fan can only hope, but after the past 25 years hope is the one thing the Bills and their fans are really good at.
P.S.- I have only been a Bills fan for 3 years. I do not intend to act as if I know what it was like to live with the Bills over the past 25 years. Instead this article is my display of respect to the loyalty and passion displayed by Bills fans over their history.