It rang a Bell

In an utterly meaningless NFL game yesterday, the Bills defeated the Cowboys 16-6 in Buffalo. Both teams came into the game out of the playoff race, and neither can have a winning record, since the Bills are now 7-8 and the Cowboys fell to a wretched 4-11.

I guess Buffalo still has something to play for next week since if Rex Ryan can lead the Bills to victory over the Jets, Ryan may be able to keep his former employer out of the playoffs.

The Jets overtook the Steelers for the second AFC wild card when Pittsburgh lost in Baltimore and New York defeated the mighty Patriots 26-20 in overtime in New Jersey. New England won the overtime coin toss, but Mr. Sunshine himself, Bill Belichick, told his captains to kick off to start overtime. Ryan Fitzpatrick burned the Pats with the winning touchdown pass to Eric Decker (Mr. Jessie James).

Back to Dallas and Buffalo. Yesterday’s matchup brought me back to an earlier meeting between the two clubs.

The clubs played in back-to-back Super Bowls following the 1992 and 1993 seasons, the only time that’s happened, although there’s a chance it could this year if the Patriots and Seahawks oblige, although the Cardinals are in no mood to help their NFC West rival.

The first matchup was horrendous; the Bills turned the ball over nine times and lost 52-17, and it might have been worse had Don Beebe not knocked the ball out of the right hand of Leon Lett at the 2-yard line in the closing minutes, forcing a fumble which resulted in a Buffalo touchback instead of a Dallas touchdown. The second meeting saw the Bills lead 13-6 at halftime, only to lose 30-13.

Yet it wasn’t either Dallas-Buffalo Super Bowl I remembered yesterday while I sat in Buffalo Wild Wings watching the games.

It was November 18, 1984, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I was eight years old and in the third grade at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic school, about one mile from my home and only a few feet from the home of the Dauterive family.

My parents, my brother and I went to visit my maternal grandmother, who lived by herself in a shotgun duplex in the Algiers section of New Orleans, the part of the Crescent City which was on the opposite bank of the Mississippi River from the rest of the city. We would go over there on many a Sunday after lunch, but this time, we were there earlier, in time for the early NFL games to kick off at noon.

The early game on CBS was Dallas at Buffalo. The Cowboys were starting to crumble, but still had future Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Randy White, and were in the thick of a four-team fray in the NFC East with the Giants, Washington and the St. Louis Football Cardinals, who were having a rare good season.

The only race the Bills were in by November 18, 1984, was the race for the #1 draft pick. And thanks to Buffalo’s perfect record–the wrong kind of perfect–it really wasn’t a race.

Buffalo came in 0-11. The Bills’ standout quarterback, Joe Ferguson, was hurt. Their top running back of previous seasons, Joe Cribbs, had defected to the United States Football League following the 1983 NFL season, signing a contract with the Birmingham Stallions, a popular move given Cribbs starred at Auburn in the late 1970s. Buffalo’s defensive leader, inside linebacker Jim Haslett, was out with an injury. Nose tackle Fred Smerlas was getting absolutely bludgeoned, simply because the Bills lacked competent ends.

Ferguson wasn’t supposed to be the Bills’ starting quarterback in 1984.

That was supposed to be the domain of Jim Kelly, who was selected 13th overall by Buffalo in the 1983 draft. Kelly, who played for Howard Schnellenberger at Miami, refused to sign with the Bills and instead went to the USFL’s Houston Gamblers. He wouldn’t play for the Bills until 1986, and only after the USFL won only $3 in its antitrust case vs. the NFL.

CBS’ announcing team, Dick Stockton and Hank Stram, focused on the Cowboys in their opening spiel. The Bills were winless, and CBS probably resented having to cover a game in Buffalo. Since Buffalo is in the AFC, CBS had to only go to western New York twice a year at most. The game was blacked out in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse since it was not sold out, even though the Cowboys were in Buffalo for the first time since 1971.

Those who weren’t at what was then known as Rich Stadium (now Ralph Wilson Stadium) missed a really good show.

On the first play from scrimmage, Greg Bell, a rookie from Notre Dame who became an immediate starter following Cribbs’ departure for Alabama, took a handoff from backup quarterback Matt Kofler. Bell burst past the Cowboys’ defensive line led by White and Ed (Too Tall) Jones, outran the linebackers and left Everson Walls and Ron Fellows in his wake.

The 85-yard touchdown left the Cowboys, dressed in their unlucky dark blue jerseys, shell-shocked.

Bell finished the day with 206 yards on 28 carries, becoming the first opposing player to rush for 200 yards vs. the Cowboys since Jim Brown did so for the Browns two days after President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in 1963.

Buffalo 14, Dallas 3. Maybe the most embarrassing loss for the Cowboys to that point in franchise history.

The Bills ended the year 2-14. The consolation was the #1 draft pick, which the new general manager, Bill Polian, used to select Virginia Tech defensive end Bruce Smith. Once Smith, Kelly, Cornelius Bennett, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and all the rest of the pieces were in place, the 1984 disaster (and the one glorious afternoon) were a distant memory.

As for Dallas, the decline was on whether or not anyone knew it. The Cowboys finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1974. They won the NFC East in 1985, largely by going 3-1 vs. the Redskins and Giants, but in 1986, Dallas finished 7-9. In 1988, the Cowboys went 3-13, and two months after the season ended, Tom Landry was unceremoniously fired by new owner Jerry Jones, who hired his college roommate, Jimmy Johnson.

Later that afternoon, I watched the 11-0 Dolphins lose 34-28 in overtime at San Diego when Buford McGee rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown.

The next night, the Saints won their first Monday night game, defeating the Steelers 27-24 in the Superdome. I couldn’t watch, because the game was blacked out.

Any Given Sunday? It was never more on display than November 18, 1984.

 

 

 

About David

I am a sportswriter for a group of weekly newspapers in small towns across northern Kansas. I grew up in New Orleans, went to college at LSU and wandered in the wilderness until Hurricane Katrina finally put me on the path to my current job.

Posted on December 28, 2015, in National Football League, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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