The Music City Miracle: Story of the Homerun Throwback (forward) Titans v Bills ’99 AFC Wildcard

As we make our way to the NFL’s 100th season we have to take a look back at the great moments over the last century. These great games that go on to impact careers, eras, and Hall of Fame legacies take place in the NFL playoffs. At times you’ll have something momentus happen during the regular season but it’s the finality and visibility of postseason play where everyone is viewing an individual event at the same time that grow into lore.

A first playoff game for a team in a new city and stadium where the Titans had been 8-0 in the regular season. The ’99 campaign had a collegiate type spirit as the Titans finally had a home after bouncing around like nomads for 2 seasons.

Now they were going to take on the Buffalo Bills in the ’99 AFC Wildcard Game. It came with a sense of irony as you looked back at the tumultuous turn that saw the franchise’s descent from the beloved Houston Oilers to the nomadic Tennessee Oilers. It’s genesis was the ’92 AFC Wildcard game some 7 years earlier.

At the time the Oilers were nearing the end of a frustrating era in which they’re Run n Shoot offense had been the scourge of the league. Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon had put up video game numbers as he and his trio of 1,000 yard receivers in Ernest Givins, Haywood Jeffires, and the late Drew Hill torched defenses in the regular season. Yet in the postseason the football gods weren’t so kind.

Between 1987-1991 the Oilers had made the playoffs all 5 years yet never seemed to have that signature game from Warren Moon to get to an AFC Championship Game. Injuries and timely defense from their opponents seemed to undo this team in the postseason and their window for a championship run was nearing it’s end.

Moon was turning 36 and how long could he play at a high level?

The ’92 team went 10-6 and had to go to take on the 2 time AFC Champion Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. They had beat the Bills 27-3 in the finale to set up the Wild Card tilt. In that game the Oilers knocked out Jim Kelly with a knee injury and wouldn’t have to face him in the Wildcard round.

Andre Reed scores the go ahead touchdown in the greatest comeback in NFL history.

In what should have been his signature win Moon blistered the Bills to go 19 of 22 for 4TDs and took a commanding 28-3 halftime lead. In the 2nd half the Bills turned the tables coming back from a 35-3 deficit to winning 41-38 in overtime. The greatest comeback in NFL history.

The collapse was devastating and the doubt and discourse whittled away fan support as the team descended to medicocrity over the next couple of years.

Finally Owner Bud Adams decided to move the team in 1996. He had watched Art Modell pull the plug in Clevleand & move the Browns to Baltimore the season before. Why try to win back a city that had tired of your failures when you can win anew elsewhere?? The Houston Oilers were no more and the Tennessee Oilers wandered the desert in search of a home.

They played the ’97 season in the Liberty Bowl and ’98 in Vanderbilt Stadium. Both were college arenas where they weren’t the main tenants and playing on a college campus. It didn’t have the look and feel of an NFL ball club as Eddie George and Steve McNair emerged as the team’s new stars. Then they made the decision to change the name of the team to reflect a new identity… the Tennessee Titans and would play in their own brand new stadium as Nashville became their new home.

A new energy hit Adlephi Coliseum immediately as the team was refreshed with new uniforms befitting the change. They played to raucous fans who showed an appreciation for having their own team. It never felt that way when they still had their Oilers name from their years in Texas. The team went 13-3 on the strength of Eddie George (1,304 yds / 9TDs) Steve McNair (337 yds rushing/ 8 TDs) and a smash mouth rushing offense while super rookie DE Jevon Kearse burst onto the scene with a rookie record 14.5 sacks.

The Freak was the playmaker on an aggressive physical defense and turned in the most impactful season since Lawrence Taylor in 1981. He was voted to his 1st Pro Bowl, All Pro, and took home the ’99 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. They won 7 of their last 8 including a 41-14 win over division winner Jacksonville in week 15. They were primed to make a run and 1st up in the wildcard round??

Those Buffalo Bills who were nearing the end of their run with future Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas. Jim Kelly had already left the building after ’96 and the Bills began this strange odyssey of who should be quarterbacking??

Wade Phillips had taken over for Hall of Fame Head Coach Marv Levy and by all accounts favored Doug Flutie. He brought an energy to the team and an excitement even at this advanced age. Things seemed to pick up when he would go on a long serpentine run or scramble then hit an open receiver. An excitment christened “Flutie Magic”.

Eric Moulds was the new big threat in the Bills offense after a breakout ’98 (1,368 yds rec / 9 TDs) which was only bolstered by an NFL playoff record 240 yards in a Wildcard loss to Miami. Moulds was the future yet Andre Reed was still there to provide punch in the passing game.

Antowain Smith had become the featured runner as Thurman Thomas had shown wear after a Hall of Fame career. In ’99 he was injured with a lacerated liver that allowed him to return with fresh legs late in ’99 as Smith and Jonathan Linton had worn down toward season’s end.

One thing the Bills could bank on was the league’s #1 defense as Bruce Smith, Phil Hansen, and Marcellus Wiley provided a solid pass rush.

Yet all that paled in comparison to the ultimate betrayal that haunts Buffalo to this very day.

In an attempt to get a leg up on the franchise quarterback derby the Bills signed Rob Johnson before the ’98 season. He had started one game for an injured Mark Brunell while playing for Jacksonville. The offense would sputter under his leadership as he was often sacked for holding the ball too long. This is what prompted Phillips to replace him in ’98 & Flutie beat him out and started the 1st 15 games of ’99.

With a wildcard wrapped up and unable to improve their playoff position the Bills decided to rest Doug Flutie for the finale. It looked and sounded suspicious as Rob Johnson played the finale against a playoff bound Colts team also resting their starters. Then Coach Phillips dropped a bombshell and named Johnson the starter going into the Wildcard Game.

What?!?!?!?!!? The fanbase went bonkers and blew up switchboards and talk shows all week discussed Flutie v. Rob Johnson. Why would you disrupt the teams momentum to satisfy a front office pressuring you to start the $25 milion free agent?? Facing a Defensive Rookie of the Year coming off the ball with the intensity of a young Lawrence Taylor you decide to face him with an immobile quarterback?? What could possibly go wrong??

Less than 5 minutes into a game destined to be a defensive struggle, Kearse came screaming off the corner and sacked Johnson causing him to fumble out of the endzone. Safety 2-0! The Titans received the free kick and drove for a TD on a short field making it 9-0 just 7:00 into the game. It allowed Adelphia’s rowdy fans to stay at a fevered pitch as Buffalo fought uphill the entire game. Bruce Smith, in his last playoff appearance, kept Steve McNair under wraps sacking him 2.5 times.

The Bills clawed their way back in it and found themselves down 15-13 with 1:41 to go. Johnson had the chance to be a hero. Although he completed just 8 passes going into this final drive, he knew a playoff win could be the launching pad for his career. Johnson appeared calm amid the chaos and drove Buffalo to a last second field goal and a 16-15 lead! It appeared he had done it!! On one play he escaped his nemesis, Kearse and zipped his last completion to Peerless Price, all while scrambling with just one she on.

Once Steve Christie’s kick was good the Bills sideline exploded with emotion as the team brass scrambled to make reservations to go to Indianapolis for a rematch with Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and the 13-3 upstart Colts… all they had to do was get through the final :16

It was The Immaculate Reception of the new millenium since we were in January of 2000. The parallels were there as a city was hosting it’s 1st playoff game, a last second touchdown when the home team had no hope, and a long delay where the officials had to discuss the legitamacy of the scoring play. Only this time Instant Replay was used as an officiating tool. As a Billls fan I was screaming forward lateral and did so right before writing this…

The conclusive evidence is the 4th replay as Joe Theismann, Paul Mcguire, and Mike Patrick exalts “From THAT angle…” and I tried to argue for years it was a forward lateral.

It was the end of an era as Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, and Bruce Smith were let go at the end of the season. They were the last of the Bills that had played in the 4 Super Bowls at the beginning of the decade. The football gods struck back for doing Flutie dirty and benching him going into the playoffs. It was only the 2nd time in NFL history where a backup was named to start the playoffs without an injury. Only the Jets in 1986 when Pat Ryan was named to start the ’86 AFC Wildcard over Ken O’Brien after the Jets lost their last 6 games was the other occasion.

As for the Titans… they rode this incredible momentum all the way to Super Bowl XXXIV where Kevin Dyson wound up in another famous play. Mike Jones tackling him at the 1 yard line as time ran out. Over the next 8 seasons the Titans were an elite team as Eddie George and Steve McNair became household names. Kevin Dyson had a good NFL career and is now Principle of a local school in the Nashville area.

The Music City Miracle didn’t become as famous as The Immaculate Reception…however had the Titans won a Super Bowl in the years that followed, it would have.

In January of 2000 it was played on ESPN and NFL Shows the rest of the month as it was truly a great play. One for the ages for everyone that wasn’t a Bills fan. We still bristle.

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SUPER BOWL XXVI RUNNER UP 1991 BUFFALO BILLS

Man was I nervous going into Super Bowl XXVI…I remembered the last game of 1990 (the year before) when Buffalo rested many starters yet were manhandled on the line of scrimmage in a loss to the Redskins 29-14 in old RFK Stadium. It was surrrreal with the Super Bowl in freezing Minneapolis the following season.

 

xxviThe Buffalo Bills were the scourge of the AFC, with NFL MVP and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas. 1991 was an excercise in getting back to the SuperBowl.  Fellow Hall of Famer Jim Kelly and the “K-Gun” was operating at full speed with Hall of Famer James Lofton, and soon to be H.O.F. Andre Reed this was the “Greatest Show on Turf” before the “Greatest Show on Turf”.  Kelly threw for nearly 4,000 yds and 33 TDs, while Thomas led the NFL with 1407 yds rushing and led the NFL with total yards from scrimmage on his way to leading in that category 4 yrs in a row to break Jim Brown’s record of 3 straight.  Add to that 2 different 1,000 yd receivers and this team was scoring like Madden football on rookie.

super-bowl-logo-1991The Bills were second to only Washington in scoring which was perfect since Bruce Smith was injured most of the year with a bad knee (missing 11 games). Without the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year the defense dropped to no. 19 in total defense yet still posted a  13-3 record.  Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley picked up much of the slack with each having All Pro seasons. The 1991 season saw the AFC take steps to catch the fast paced Bills but couldnt’ do it as the Chiefs and Broncos fell during the playoffs.  The Bills lost SS Leonard Smith with a knee injury before SuperBowl XXVI just as Bruce Smith was returning from his.

Alas the defense couldn’t hold up against the Hogs and the Redskins top scoring offense and fell 37-24 in Minneapolis. Coming up short in back to back Super Bowls normally sees a team descend quickly from the elite. Buffalo would be different. This championship ring was the jewel earned for that stellar, almost super season.

1990’s Buffalo Bills – The Rasputins of The NFL

When you think back to the Buffalo Bills team that made it to 4 straight Super Bowls, there are two schools of thought. You have one from the ignorant callous fan that says “Well they lost 4 straight Super Bowls.”  Then you have a more respectful set of players and fans that marvel at the feat of making it to four straight.

Andre Reed embracing Jim Kelly after hiss induction speech.

Andre Reed embracing Jim Kelly after his induction speech.

There was a point right before Super Bowl XXVIII when the media started to change their attitude toward the Buffalo Bills. After the win over Joe Montana’s Kansas City Chiefs in the ’93 AFC Championship, the country lamented over the Bills going to a fourth straight Super Bowl. When all of a sudden one of the networks had Stephen Hawking on and asked him a question: With the current landscape of 28 teams how long would it be before we would see another team make it to 4 straight Super Bowls?? Hawking sat quietly for a second and then pronounced “With the current landscape of teams it would take another 46 years.” Or if you’re counting at home it would happen in the year 2039.

The Buffalo Bills clowning around on Super Bowl picture day before XXV.

The Buffalo Bills clowning around on Super Bowl picture day before XXV.

Well the NFL now has 32 so it may not happen again in our lifetimes thanks to new mathematical algorithms. On Saturday WR Andre Reed became the 6th member of the early 90’s Bills to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s time to take a look back at one of the unique teams in NFL history and The Chancellor of Football’s favorite football team.

When did the thought of Buffalo making it to the Super Bowl have genesis?? Try week 1 of 1986 when Jim Kelly debuted after coming over from the USFL:

Reed joins fellow WR James Lofton, RB Thurman Thomas, the late Ralph Wilson former owner and founder, Head Coach Marv Levy, and QB Jim Kelly in Canton. It was this team’s closeness that was on full display as Reed was inducted. Kelly, who has been battling cancer, was determined to attend the ceremony and threw Reed one final pass that brought on the loudest cheer of the evening.

Kelly and Reed before taking the field in 1990.

Kelly and Reed before taking the field for the 1990 AFC Championship Game.

The amazing thing is how far this group had grown as men. Most people don’t realize or remember this team was known as the “Bickering Bills” during the 1989 campaign. Infighting almost derailed a season as they went 9-7 after a 12-4 campaign the year before marked them as a team on the rise. They would go on to become the NFL’s most galvanized team as the new decade took shape.

The 1990 Buffalo Bills were the first team to lose the NFL Championship or Super Bowl by a single point…20-19. Talk about being tantalizingly close. Most experts and pundits believed they would be dominant in 1991 as they went 13-3 with homefield advantage again. Thurman Thomas was league MVP and Bruce Smith was coming back from injury as the 1991 playoffs beckoned.

Back to back Super Bowl losses had many fans and pundits writing off the Bills. How would they recover?? Yet all these players were in their prime and led by unsung leaders like LB Darryl Talley, they dusted themselves off and came right back in 1992. During this season they were 4-0 against the NFC west including a 38-35 win in San Francisco vs. the 49ers who went 13-3. Good enough for homefield advantage in the NFC. Going into the final week of the season the Bills were ready to clinch homefield in the AFC when:

Once the most dominant team in the AFC, several teams had caught up to the Bills and the K-Gun offense. The 1993season brought on the first season of free agency as the Bills roster started to be plucked over. Gone were LBs Shane Conlan and Carlton Bailey. LT Will Wolford signed with the Indianpolis Colts. How much longer could they jeep their core players intact??

Other AFC teams bolstered their offensive units as QB Joe Montana and Marcus Allen joined the Kansas City Chiefs. The Dolphins started to acquire talent around Dan Marino as they brought in free agents Keith Byars and Mark Ingram. The Raiders pulled a coup and brought in Jeff Hostetler to quarterback the Raiders back to the playoffs.

The Houston Oilers resurrected Buddy Ryan and his 46 defense to conquer the AFC. They signed LB Wilber Marshall to help fortify an already talented defense. After all it was the defensive collapse in the 41-38 loss to the Bills in the ’92 playoffs that propelled Ryan’s hire in the first place. All of these teams wanted a shot at the aging Bills.

The 1993 team fought it’s way to another 12-4 record although the games were much closer. Was this still the AFC’s best team?? They seemed to be just a step ahead of the competition within the conference instead of leaps and bounds as they had been in 1990 or 1991.

The offense evolved into Kelly engineering more of a controlled passing game as TE Pete Metzellars led the team in receiving. Where in previous years the team really stretched the field with James Lofton and Andre Reed. Lofton retired after ’92 and the Bills brought in possession receiver Bill Brooks. Thurman Thomas was still in his prime but defenses ganged up on the run now that the Bills couldn’t stretch the field. The result?? Thurman did rush for 1,315 yards but a career low 3.7 yard average.

With the wear and tear of 10 additional postseason games over the previous 3 seasons, would they have enough in the tank to make it to that 4th Super Bowl?? That became the prevailing question. After a 29-23 come from behind win against the LA Raiders in sub zero weather in the divisional playoffs, here came Joe Montana, Marcus Allen and the Kansas City Chiefs. The AFC Championship at stake.

As we’re winding down the football life of these Buffalo Bill teams of the early 90’s, we get to really appreciate it several decades later. The outside world caught a glimpse into the closeness of this team. It was on full display as you watched last weeks induction ceremony. It was felt with conviction when Reed declared “The Bills will stay in Buffalo!”

There is nothing like being a Buffalo Bills fan. The excitement leading up to each of those Super Bowls were tempered as you came down after each loss. Then six month later we had to endure the fall of OJ Simpson, the greatest player in the history of the franchise. Bills players and fans had to endure that purgatory together and it could be the genesis of all this closeness. No one else could share in the pure elation after the greatest comeback in NFL history either. That entire January in 1993 was special.

The entire AFC had been caught in a vice as they had to deal with the 1st prolific passing offense to hail from a cold climate. The Bills were undefeated in Rich Stadium in the playoffs until 1996. They were 7-0 during these four years.

We watched as they endured the advent of true free agency and kept on winning. Public scorn or ridicule as the Super Bowl losses began to mount. Teams even tried to resurrect dead legends in Joe Montana, Buddy Ryan, Keith Jackson, and Marcus Allen to knock us off…yet the Bills kept marching.

Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas as they visited Jim Kelly at the start of his battle with cancer.

Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas as they visited Jim Kelly at the start of his battle with cancer.

To be a Bills fan and rally around the exploits of these players was easy. The ability to dust themselves off and march right back to the Super Bowl year after year taught a lesson in perseverance. Twenty five years ago they were known as “The Bickering Bills” and now they have matured into a close group rallying around Jim Kelly with his cancer battle. Its even easier to rally around them as men. Now each have taken their place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame which comes with a big ring.

me-thurman-hof

Met Thurman Thomas at the post enshrinement party for Kevin Greene at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Prayers from The Chancellor of Football are with you Jim Kelly. As a Miami Hurricane and Buffalo Bill fan…big time prayers. Get well!

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The Chancellor at Rich Stadium for Bills v Cowboys in Sept. 1996.

Andre Reed Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

Andre Reed was a very dangerous receiver with the Buffalo Bills in the late 80s and early 90s.

Andre Reed was a very dangerous receiver with the Buffalo Bills in the late 80s and early 90s.

As many of the NFL’s best ever gather for the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, Andre Reed, who has been a finalist 7 times, remains on the outside looking in. Many forget how dangerous Andre Reed was with the football when the Buffalo Bills rose to prominence back in the late 80’s. He was a budding superstar before the Bills brought in James Lofton during the 1989 season.

Essentially and unselfishly he sacrificed personal glory as a slot receiver where he spent most of his time getting hit by linebackers and running away from safeties as he perfected the run after the catch. He could have been a prima donna and cried through the media for more passes, but he didn’t. He sacrificed for the good of the Buffalo Bills and it could be those lack of numbers now keeping him out of the Hall. So lets take a closer look.

During the early 1980’s, the Buffalo Bills were a downtrodden franchise with little direction. The Bills had stumbled in the standings from 1982-1984. going 14-27. The area was economically depressed and morale was low on a football team that was literally Siberia in NFL circles. However that changed in 1985 with the first overall draft selection of future Hall of Famer DE Bruce Smith and spent a fourth round pick on a little known receiver out of Kutztown St. Who?? Exactly. This was the draft where the pre-draft talk was on Jerry “World” Rice of Mississippi Valley State, and Al Toon out of Wisconsin. However there was talk brimming on a little known receiver shuffling off to Buffalo.

Reed as a rookie showed promise as he caught a modest 46 passes for 637 yards and 4 touchdowns. He and Smith were the first cogs in a rebuilding project that would include QB Jim Kelly in 1986, Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett in 1987, and Thurman Thomas in 1988. The Bills became a defensive minded team that ran the ball with a combination of Ronnie Harmon, Thomas, and Robb Riddick. It was the 1988 season, Reed’s fourth, where the team took off racing to an 11-1 record and became the first team to win their division by Thanksgiving. Reed made the Pro Bowl for the first time that season catching 71 passes for 968 yards and 7 touchdowns. Despite missing two games to injury. The Bills dropped the Houston Oilers 17-10 in the divisional round before falling to Cincinnati in the AFC Championship Game 21-10.

However it was the 1989 season where Andre Reed and the Bills offense hit full stride. For the record, he had become the NFL’s most dangerous receiver after the catch. In a year where the Bills found themselves in shootouts they opened up the offense with a no-huddle reminiscent of Kelly’s run & shoot USFL days. Reed burst into the nation’s consciousness when he had a 5 catch 135 yard 2 TD performance in a wild 47-41 overtime win against Houston. It was the game of the year and in spectacular fashion, Reed took a routine 5 yard pass and turned it into a winning 28 yard score. He juked the initial defender covering him, ran through an attempted arm tackle and took it down the sideline. Ballgame!! Reed finished with 88 receptions for a career best 1,312 yards and 9 touchdown (#2 in NFL /receptions) and became one of the league’s game breakers.

As the 9-7 Bills limped into the playoffs, they faced the aging Cleveland Browns in a divisional playoff.  With his team down 3-0, Kelly 0 for 5, and needing some offense, it was Reed who struck with a game breaking 72 yard touchdown to get the Bills into the game 7-3.

Reed went on to catch 6 for 115 yards and a touchdown as he was matched up against All Pro Cornerback Frank Minnifield all day. The 34-30 loss was one of the greatest games in NFL history and the nation’s first glimpse of what was to come. By 1990, with James Lofton now entrenched as a starter on the outside, the Bills ran their 3 receiver no huddle offense from the outset of the season and not as a 2 minute offense.  At the time, they made a then unheard of decision to have Reed play in the slot instead of the “Z” receiver. This isn’t like now where defenders aren’t allowed to really tee off on receivers running inside routes. He was never going to be the receiver running under picture perfect bombs again. He had to fight for yards the tough way….after the catch in the middle of defenses. As for the Bills offense??

Andre Reed tries to avoid Mark Collins in Super Bowl XXV.

Andre Reed tries to avoid Mark Collins in Super Bowl XXV.

Over the next five years, the Bills finished #1 in offense 3 times as the team went on to 4 Super Bowl appearances. During that time Reed amassed 288 receptions for 5,128 yards and 35 touchdowns on one of the offensive juggernauts in NFL history. While teammates Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas won several offensive player of the year awards and an NFL MVP in 1991, it was Reed who was the only Pro Bowler in all five of those seasons. The attention defenses afforded Reed on the inside is why Lofton reemerged as one of the league’s deep threats. Thanks to 2, 1,000 yard seasons, Lofton retired after 1992 as the NFL’s yardage reception leader with 14,—- yards. The last few years of his career propelled him to Canton as a Hall of Famer thanks to Reed’s sacrifice within the team’s offensive structure.

One of the greatest aspects of Reed’s career was his performance in the postseason. We already alluded to the great game he had against the Browns in 1989. In ’90 the Bills had homefield throughout the playoffs yet Jim Kelly had missed the last three regular season games. Experts weren’t sure they could pick up where they had left off, until Reed caught a shallow crossing route, broke two tackles turning it into a 40 yard touchdown. 7-0 and the Dolphins were hanging on for dear life. In a 44-34 triumph, Reed scored the clinching touchdown on a similar play from 26 yards out. On the day he caught 4 passes for 122 yards and a pair of scores.

In 1992, Reed was the Bills only top shelf performer in the AFC Wild Card tilt with the Houston Oilers. After spotting the Oilers a 35-3 third quarter lead, Buffalo roared back to win 41-38 in the greatest comeback in NFL history. Both Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and Hall of Fame running back, Thurman Thomas didn’t play that day. All Reed did was team with Frank Reich, gather 8 receptions for 136 yards and 3 second half touchdowns including the one that tied it at 38 to force overtime. Although the Bills were beaten soundly in Super Bowl XXVII, Reed had another spectacular performance with 8 receptions for 152 yards, breaking two catches for over 35 yards in the second quarter to keep the game close. At halftime the Cowboys jumped his routes on their way to a blow out win. He was that much a factor early….but Dallas pulled away 52-17.

The ultimate reason Reed is a Hall of Famer is the way he played. Without being the size of a linebacker like Brandon Marshall, Terrell Owens, and this huge new breed of receiver, Reed only stood 6’2 and 190 lbs, yet he didn’t catch short passes and slide to the ground waiting to get touched down. He stiff armed defenders and ran through arm tackles for most of his touchdowns. He was the greatest ever receiver when it came to yardage after the catch. As you saw in the latest film, he caught passes over the middle and only when the Bills caught teams in a blitz did he sight adjust to a longer pattern. Otherwise he ran through defensive backs with ease. Over his 16 year career, he gathered in 951 receptions for 13,151 yards and 87 touchdowns. He ranks 10th all time in receptions and his 27 receptions in Super Bowl competition is 2nd only to Jerry Rice.

Had Andre Reed not sacrificed for the good of the Bills offense, would James Lofton have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? Would Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas?? For a period, Kelly and Reed held the record for most touchdowns by a combination in NFL history. They wrested that mantle from Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry, which has since been broken by Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. The closest duo in the 1990’s was Steve Young and Jerry Rice. All of these players are either in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or a shoo-in to get there as the count down for Manning will start this February. Only Marvin Harrison and Andre Reed are on the outside looking in. Reed deserves to be in the Hall of Fame for his fearless play.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Andre Reed

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NEXT: 2013 Washington Redskins Preview

The Greatest NFL Game Never Talked About

Webster Slaughter’s hauling in a 52 yd TD in the second quarter.

Welcome to another episode of theater of the past. The most famous games in NFL history have always been playoff games. Football is a game of emotion and it’s the finality of knowing your season could be over that can elevate the play of both teams. Yet some playoff games are talked about and held with esteem while others are rarely written about, rehashed, re-shown, or ever discussed among the greats.

To us, there is a heavy bias toward the glamour franchises or darlings that the media aid in anointing their games great while others are passed over. One such game was the 1989 AFC Divisional playoff tilt between the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills. Not only was it great, it was as great as “The Epic in Miami”, or in our CEO’s estimation better.

This was a magnificent football game. You have to realize that particular weekend you had John Elway and the Denver Broncos hosting the cinderella Pittsburgh Steelers in one playoff game. Jim Everett’s underdog Los Angeles Rams in New York facing Lawrence Taylor’s Giants, and the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers of Joe Montana hosting the Minnesota Vikings for a third straight post season. Yet it was the Browns v. the Bills that caught the imagination of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was in attendance, and Donald Trump who was in the box with Browns owner Art Modell. Why??

Well the Browns, famous for their “Dawg Defense”, had been stung 3 years before by John Elway’s Denver Broncos in the ’86 AFC Championship, and the following season with Earnest Byner’s fumble in the 1987 AFC Championship. Although the Cleveland Browns had been the NFL’s Team of the decade in the 1950’s, they had been a down franchise for many years. However each time the Browns thought they had a team capable of winning it all, they lost in heart breaking fashion on 3 occasions. The stellar teams they had from 1985-1989 were aging and many pundits thought this was the last chance for this team to get a Super Bowl win for owner Art Modell.

The other side had an up and coming Buffalo Bills team that rose to prominence as a defensive giant in 1988, after nearly a decade of futility. High draft picks,which included future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, and Shane Conlan carried this team to the 1988 AFC Championship Game. After losing that game to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills were looked upon as a team of the future. However the team almost imploded in 1989 from infighting and finger pointing, which earned them the nickname ” the Bickering Bills”. The offense of Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas was starting to show signs of life as the defense slumped slightly from the year before.

Better than “The Epic In Miami”?? Yes! This game featured big play after big play and came down to the wire with the Browns prevailing 34-30. To compare it to the great ’81 AFC Divisional playoff: Want to talk excitement?? With touchdowns of 33, 44, 52, 73, and 90 yards out, this game in ’89 had 5 touchdowns from 33 yards or more compared to 2 in that one. The only other playoff game in the Super Bowl era to equal 5 TDs of that distance was Super Bowl XXXVII between the Bucs and the Raiders. This game had 4 lead changes as compared to 3 in the earlier game.

Each had the record holder for receptions in a playoff game with 13 in both Thurman Thomas and Kellen Winslow. (both Hall of Famers) Each had a Hall of Fame Coach, Marv Levy of Buffalo and Don Shula as well as quarterbacks in Jim Kelly and Dan Fouts. Where the earlier game went to double overtime and ended on a boring field goal, this one had a sense of de ja vu. The Bills made a last second march toward their goal line with time running out, just like John Elway and “The Drive.” Although this time Clay Matthews intercepted Jim Kelly at the 1 yard line with :03 left. Now that is a finish!!

The game was also one of the best ever broadcast with Charlie Jones and the late Merlin Olson making the call. Here are the sights and sounds of the biggest plays from that game…

One outstanding aspect of this game was how great the commentary was. Notice how Charlie Jones and Merlin Olsen allowed the viewer to take in the sights and sounds of 80,000 fans going crazy. This is the antithesis to Joe Buck, who our CEO thinks is the worst play by play man ever. One aspect of announcing a football game versus a baseball game: Allow the visuals to stimulate the viewer more so than the commentary and know when to acquiesce to such.

Epilogue: Why is this game not revered like “The Epic In Miami”? This game had more Hall of Famers and neither game produced a Super Bowl winner. We feel that it might have something to do with the media’s growing disdain for the University of Miami football team, from which both Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar hailed. Then NFL Films, who rarely slights a team due to media prejudice, chose NOT to put this game in the Cleveland Browns 1989 Yearbook. Seriously?? That was embarrassing. Yet alas it came down to one play and Clay Matthews made it. So when you saw the 4th quarter fumble caused by his son Clay Matthews III in last year’s Super Bowl, and Casey Matthews forcing a 4th quarter fumble in last year’s National Championship Game for Oregon, you now know it’s in the genes.

The Browns would go on to lose their 3rd AFC Championship Game in 4 years to the Denver Broncos that brought an end to their playoff run. However the Buffalo Bills went on to a record 4 straight Super Bowls which began the following season. From 1986-1993, one of these teams was in every single AFC Championship game for an 8 year period. It was this game that was the birth of the Buffalo “K-Gun” offense and the crossing point where Cleveland conceded to Buffalo as an AFC elite team. For one game, and four hours of sheer escapism magnificence, they played to the highest level worthy of being one of the greatest NFL playoff games ever played and is due more in it’s remembrance.

I dedicate this article to the late Charlie Jones and the late Merlin Olsen for their broadcasting excellence in elevating this game to one of  magnificent lore. Your call on this afternoon in January 1990 was simply the best ever. Gentlemen, thank you for a job well done.

R.I.P. Charlie Jones and Merlin Olsen

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