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.