The Buffalo Bills will be among the last eight NFL teams left following their 27-24 victory over the Colts today in western New York to open the NFL playoffs.
It’s the Bills’ first playoff victory since 30 December 1995, when they defeated the Dolphins 37-22 at home.
Chiefs fans were ardently rooting for the Colts, who would have come to Kansas City had they won. Instead, either the Ravens-Titans winner or the Browns (if they defeat the Steelers) are coming to Arrowhead. The Bills will host either the Ravens-Titans winner or the Steelers.
Just how long ago was the 1995 NFL season?
Buffalo’s coach was Marv Levy, who led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-93 (all losses), but was on the downside of his coaching career, which ended after the 1997 season. Still, getting any team to four consecutive Super Bowls, especially one as downtrodden as the Bills were prior to his arrival during the 1986 season, is worthy of his bust in Canton.
How bad were the Bills before Levy?
Between 1966, the year after Buffalo won its second conseuctive AFL championship, and 1985, the Bills played in five playoff games, winning one, the 1981 AFC wild card vs. the Jets.
The Bills went 1-13 in 1968 and again in 1971, 2-12 in 1977, and 2-14 in 1984 and ‘85.
I’ll never forget the 1984 Bills started 0-11, then somehow beat the Cowboys 14-3 at home. I watched the game with my brother at my maternal grandmother’s shotgun home in the Algiers section of New Orleans, and couldn’t believe it when Greg Bell ran 85 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. By time we got home, the Bills sealed what likely was the Cowboys’ most embarrassing loss in franchise history at that time.
Miami’s coach the penultimate day of 1995? Donald Francis Shula.
Shula, who passed away last May at 90, coached his final game that day, ending a 33-year career which began with seven seasons in Baltimore and continued with 26 more in Miami. Shula coached Johnny Unitas at the beginning of his career and Dan Marino in the end, with Earl Morrall, Bob Griese, Don Strock and David Woodley in between.
The Dolphins needed to defeat the Rams in St. Louis on the final day of the regular season to qualify. It was Shula’s 347th and final win. Hopefully, his record for coaching is not broken by the jerk in New England.
Some of the rookies who debuted in 1995: Hall of Famers Curtis Martin, Terrell Davis, Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks; Tony Boselli, who would have been in the Hall of Fame if not for injuries; servicable quarterback Kerry Collins; workout warrior Mike Mamula; and lesser lights Blake Brockermeier, Dave Wohlabaugh, Brendan Stai and Tyrone Poole.
Levy and Shula were not the only long-tenured coaches. Jim E. Mora was in his 10th season with the Saints. Marty Schottenheimer was in his seventh with the Chiefs. Ted Marchibroda was in the fourth season of his second tenure with the Colts. Bill Cowher (Steelers) and Mike Holmgren (Packers) were each in the fourth season. BIll Parcells was in his third with the Patriots, and Dan Reeves his third with the Giants.
Buddy Ryan was coaching his second, and last, season in Arizona. He was fired 12 hours after the Cardinals lost the last regular season to the Cowboys on Christmas night. The mastermind of the 1985 Bears’ 46 Defense never returned to football. Ryan passed away in 2018, but his legacy is far from dead, thanks to sons Rex and Rob.
The biggest news of the 1995 NFL season was the debut of the Panthers and Jaguars, the NFL’s first expansion teams since the Buccaneers and Seahawks of 1976.
The Rams played their first season in St. Louis under new coach Rich Brooks, fresh off leading Oregon to the Rose Bowl. Contiuining the tradition of losing football in the Gateway City established by the Cardinals from 1960-87, the Rams went 7-9, their sixth of nine consecutive losing seasons.
The Raiders played in Oakland for the first time since 1981 and collapsed down the stretch, losing their last six to finish 8-8.
The Browns were playing their 50th—and final—season at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium (aka The Mistake by the Lake (Erie)). that November, Art Modell shocked the sports world by annoucning the Browns were moving to Baltimore for 1996. Eventually, Modell had to leave the Browns’ name, colors and history behind, and the franchise was renamed the Baltimore Ravens. The new Browns debuted in 1999 in what is now First Energy Stadium.
The Bills’ quest for their fifth Super Bowl berth died in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers prevailed 40-21 in the first AFC divisional playoff. The next day, the Steelers were gifted home field for the AFC championship when the Colts, led by Jim Harbaugh, downed the Chiefs 10-7 at frigid Arrowhead.
Pittsburgh survived Indianapolis 20-16, but only after Aaron Bailey lost possession of Harbaugh’s Hail Mary when he hit the ground in the back right corner of the end zone on the game’s final play.
The Steelers fought the Cowboys tooth-and-nail in Super Bowl XXX, but two pathetic throws by Neil O’Donnell resulted in two interceptions by Larry Brown, and Dallas won 27-17. No wonder Pittsburgh didn’t return to the Super Bowl until Cowher and the Rooneys drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Buffalo needed something good to happen. The Sabres have been wretched for more than a decade. The Braves left when I was 18 months old, and the NBA will NEVER come back. The city has struggled economically for as long as I’ve lived. New York’s governors have favored the Big Apple for far, far, FAR too long at the expense of the rest of the state. And of course, there’s always the snow.
Maybe this will help the push for a downtown stadium, something Terry and Kim Pegula stress is vital for the Bills to survive. I can’t blame them, because the stadium in Orchard Park is older than me, opening with the double murderer’s 2,003-yard season of 1973.
I wouldn’t mind living in Buffalo. I’d trade the snowy winters for cooler summers, although the humidity would be more than Kansas.
I’d better enjoy these zero-degree days (Celsius, of course) while I can. The mercury will shoot above 20 soon enough and have me in shorts for seven months.
The NFL playoffs for the 2015 season began at 3:20 p.m. Central Time today. The Chiefs are kicking the crap out of the Texans, who are getting absolutely shitty quarterback play from Brian Hoyer, who has thrown three interceptions and fumbled. It frankly should be a lot worse than 20-0.
The Houston Cougars, who went 13-1 and won the Peach Bowl under first year coach Tom Herman, would have put up a better fight today than the Texans. The Cougars’ quarterback, Greg Ward Jr., could have used his athleticism to make plays out of the pocket, and Herman would not have put Ward in bad situations the way Bill O’Brien has done with Hoyer.
Houston has never experienced a Super Bowl, whether it be with the Oilers from 1966 (the first season of the Super Bowl) through 1996, or the Texans since 2002. Guess what? It won’t happen until Houston finds a quarterback. Save for a couple of decent seasons from Matt Schaub with the Texans, the last time a Houston NFL team had a strong quarterback was Warren Moon with the 1993 Oilers.
Speaking of the 1993 Oilers, the Chiefs are one quarter away from winning their first playoff game since winning 28-20 over the Oilers at the Astrodome in that season’s AFC divisional round. Houston started 1-4 in 1993, but won its last 11 regular season games, and many experts believed the Oilers would win the AFC and prevent football fans everywhere the misery of the Buffalo Bills losing in the Super Bowl for the fourth consecutive season.
Instead, the Chiefs came to Houston and rode the right arm of some guy named Joe Montana to advance to the AFC championship game for the first time since Kansas City won Super Bowl IV in January 1970.
The Chiefs are still looking for their first trip to the championship game since defeating the Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans. Kansas City lost the 1993 AFC championship game at Buffalo, with Montana exiting in the second quarter due to a concussion after a hard hit by Bruce Smith. The Bills won 30-13, and would lose Super Bowl XXVIII by the exact same score to the Dallas Cowboys. Unlike Super Bowl XXVII, when Buffalo turned it over nine times in losing 52-17, the Bills led 13-6 at halftime, only to squander the lead early in the third quarter when the Cowboys’ James Washington returned a Thurman Thomas fumble for a touchdown.
The Bills have won ONE playoff game since Super Bowl XXVIII. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999, when they were eliminated by the Tennessee Titans in the wild card round by the Music City Miracle.
Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson resigned two months after Super Bowl XXVIII. Barry Switzer came in and led the Cowboys to victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, but Dallas has won just two playoff games since, and has yet to return to the NFC championship game.
The Chiefs now await the outcome of tonight’s Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game to see where they play next. If the Steelers win, Kansas City is on its way to New England to face Tom Brady and the Patriots. If the Bengals win, the Chiefs are in Denver for a third meeting with the Broncos. The last thing I would want as a coach is facing Brady and Belichick in Foxborough. No way.
Kansas City fans, do NOT wave Terrible Towels. You want the Bengals to win.
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.