SUPER BOWL XXVIII RUNNER UP 1993 BUFFALO BILLS

The jewel for 4th AFC Championship ….after beating Kansas City with Joe Montana, Marcus Allen, Neil Smith, and the late Derrick Thomas 30-13 to make it to Super Bowl XXVIII.

xxviiibRemember the chant going around Rich Stadium “Piss ’em off and go for 4??” It brings back goose bumps.  It was on T-Shirts, Jim Kelly said it on the air…was a great rallying cry.  USA Today had a headline please don’t let the Bills make it to the Super Bowl…etc…

xxviiib1I remember they asked Stephen Hawking right before Super Bowl XXVIII to calculate how long would it be for a team to make it to 4 Super Bowls in a row again.  He gave his explanation with the current (then) landscape of 28 teams and projected free agency, it wouldn’t happen again for another 46 years.  I wonder how that number is skewed now with 32 teams with the advent of the Texans, Ravens, Jaguars, and Panthers.

xxviii3Still its a feat to be celebrated.  I wish we would have brought home the BIG ring but my boyz were still a team to be lauded for their resilient effort.  Isn’t that the essence of sports and life?  Once you get knocked down get back up and go after it again…that’s the axiom!  Of course you’d like to win but its your effort that’s celebrated.

xxviiib2One final look back takes us to Jim Kelly’s debut back in 1986. His inspiring fans to think of a brighter future for long suffering Bills fans.

In a strange way its because MY Buffalo Bills kept getting up and going after it is why I remember them with such reverence even more so had they just gone to 1 and won it.

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SUPER BOWL XXVII RUNNER UP 1992 BUFFALO BILLS

Now that is a nice AFC Championship ring for the 3rd AFC Championship…

Man I should have been at Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena.  Got robbed in a sales contest at the dealership I worked in…had the tickets and airfare right there and.. Phukk Aaron…yet I digress.

 

xxvii23The Greatest comeback in history a few weeks before in the wildcard..41-38 over Houston.  Then bested Pittsburgh 24-3 in Bill Cowher’s first playoff game as Steelers coach.  Then beat the arch rival Dolphins, in Miami, for the AFC Championship game 29-10! I can remember many Bills fans torn about who should we start at quarterback: Frank Reich, who orchestrated those first 2 playoff wins or Jim Kelly!  I was torn myself thinking maybe go with Reich to shake things up a bit since we lost two Super Bowls prior and Dallas would have limited film to study..hmmmm what if?

Yet one of the strongest Bills team ever and I know I’m not alone in celebrating how euphoric it was winning that greatest comeback in history 41-38 over Houston. Celebrating that as a fan was like we had won a SuperBowl. Marv Levy was quoted in ’92 “Where it feels surreal and is this really happening? Most of the time when you’re making history you don’t realize it at the time. In this instance we did.”  I must have watched that game 10 times that week. That was the most uplifting game ever..work was great for the next few weeks, my girlfriend kissed better..etc…I don’t think you could find a Bills fan that didn’t feel that way also.

xxvii2Back 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 14-2. Good enough for homefield advantage in the NFC. Going into the final week the Bills were ready to clinch homefield in the AFC for a 3rd straight year when:

So in 6 quarters the Oilers had outscored the Bills 62-6 before the comeback if you included the previous week.The Bills were playing with house money the rest of that postseason. The 52-17 loss to the Cowboys was painful but the euphoric high all Bills had been on for the previous month tempered the pain.  No one shared what we had felt because no other team had ever come from that far down when it looked like the season was over.  It left all Bills fans optimistic going into 1993.

That wildcard win was a gift from the football gods.

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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.

SUPER BOWL XXV RUNNER UP 1990 BUFFALO BILLS

As the 90’s dawned we had a few teams that had been playoff staples during the 80’s and a few new teams coming of age. In the Buffalo Bills you had a team come of age as blue chip talent had been stockpiled in recent years. In the pre-free agent era you had to build a team through the draft. Just like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the 1970’s, the Bills sought to construct a champion brick by brick.

sb xxv2Defensive End Bruce Smith and WR Andre Reed came aboard in 1985. Jim Kelly agreed to terms after the USFL dissolved in 1986. Linebackers Shane Conlan and Cornelius Bennett were added along with CB Nate Odomes joined ranks in ’87. Aggressive veteran SS  Leonard Smith came in with 2nd round RB Thurman Thomas in ’88 as the Bills made the playoffs for the 1st time in 7 years.

The ’88 season saw a 12-4 Bills team with the NFL’s #4 defense make it to the AFC Championship Game. Although they lost 21-10 to Cincinnati, they were definitely a team on the rise. Yet injuries and infighting nearly brought the team down in ’89 as they became known as the “Bickering Bills”. They only finished with a 9-7 record and lost 34-30 to Cleveland in an amazing divisional playoff game.

sb25gnts2However a light went on for the ultra conservative Bills offensively. In week 3 they fell behind big in Houston. Kelly brought the Bills back with a 5 TD performance, a 47-41 win. In his USFL days, Kelly ran a Run & Shoot with the Houston Gamblers and looked most comfortable playing this style with a No Huddle offense. They unveiled it late in the season and won the AFC East before falling to Cleveland.

Kelly threw for 405 yards and 4 TDs. Thomas had come of age in the playoff loss with a record 13 receptions for 150 yards and 2 TDs. It capped a breakout year that saw Thomas run for 1,244 yards and 6 TDs. In 1990, several vets were let go and Darryl Talley, Kelly, Smith, Reed, Thomas, Lofton, and Bennett would have to take on leadership roles for the departed DE Art Stills, NT Fred Smerlas, OT Joe Devlin, then RBs Robb Riddick and Larry Kinnebrew. Would their new “No Huddle” K-Gun keep scoring at will?? After a 13-3 record secured home field advantage:

Alas Scott Norwood’s field goal sailed wide right and the best team the AFC had in years fell 20-19. The only team to lose the NFL championship by 1 point. However the Bills were a young team in their prime and they would be back. They would go on to be one of the league’s most galvanized teams. The infighting of ’89 was in the distant past.

Head Coach Marv Levy, GM Bill Polian, QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WR Andre Reed, WR James Lofton, and DE Bruce Smith all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Epilogue: When a long sought after quarterback finally joined the Bills in 1986, starved fans chanted for Jim Kelly to take the lowly Bills to the Super Bowl.

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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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chancellor.richstadium

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

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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