Being a Buffalo Bills fan is a hard weight to shoulder. It’s like committing yourself to always being the bridesmaid, never the bride. Sure, Ralph Wilson stadium in Orchard Park has one of the best tailgating scenes in the NFL if not all of sports. Sure, the Bills have a long history of playoff success (except for when they don’t…). Sure, some of the greatest players in the history of the game, from Bruce Smith to Jim Kelly to Thurman Thomas to OJ Simpson (more on that name later) have worn Bills blue and white for most if not their entire careers. The Bills are even an original AFL team, after all- they deserve a little love.
But… this is a franchise that seems to specialize in heartbreak, failure and tragedy of the grandest type. We’re not talking your garden variety NFL mediocrity (not that the Bills haven’t shown the ability to be mediocre with the best of them at times). We’ll leave that type of existence to franchises like Jacksonville and Houston. You know that type- those teams have never even been to a Super Bowl; there’s no way their fan base understands the drama and pain following a team like the Bills creates.
No, the Bills are like the old Boston red Sox of the NFL. They’ve come so close so many times, only to see the whole thing slip away through their bloodied fingers. They’ve gone high up the football mountaintop and been sent ignominiously tumbling down again just before they could plant their flag. Or they’ve watched their hopes and dreams crumble in a comedy of errors or unrealistic expectations.
So here you have it: the fifteen worst moments in Buffalo Bills history. Just be happy, Bills fans, that we didn’t have room for more.
OK, we know this entry isn’t really a “moment” in the on-field sense. Hell, OJ Simpson hadn’t donned a Bills uniform in years when he became more famous for his supposed criminal exploits than his on-field accomplishments. But we’re talking about the guy who was the face of the Bills franchise for the better part of a decade. The guy who was a Hall of Famer and ran for over 2,000 yards one season (1973). Unfortunately, Simpson is better known nowadays for the slowest car chase in history and a pair of gloves. Not to mention that in his prime he could have outrun that infamous white Bronco.
14 Jim Kelly’s Sad End
The Hall of Fame QB was one of the great gunslingers of his era and led his 90’s Bills’ teammates to four straight Super Bowl appearances. Unfortunately, his last game ever was kind of indicative of a career that never quite got the love it should have. In his final drive against Jacksonville, Jim Kelly was nailed by a blitzing Jaguar safety and never got up, suffering a concussion. The hushed Rich stadium crowd watched as their hero was carted off the field on his back, never to return.
13 The “Bickering Bills”
Alright, we admit it; this one isn’t as bad as some of the others on the list. These Bickering Bills of 1989 did win their division. But considering that exactly the same core group of players had lost in the AFC Championship Game the year before and would then win the AFC Championship for the next four years, we wonder what went wrong. If it seemed like the whole team decided to hold a season-long infight that’s because they did. Bruce Smith fought with management, Jim Kelly fought with his offensive line, Thurman Thomas fought with Jim Kelly, former players attacked the team for being racist and a couple of the coaches even got into a fistfight in the film room. Team unity... this wasn’t.
12 QB Controversy
Leave it to Doug Flutie to be involved in a QB controversy. We’re not blaming the little guy; he seems to be universally admired by ex-teammates. But wherever he’s gone in the NFL (forget the CFL where he’s an actual God) controversy has followed. The Buffalo one was particularly fun as Flutie was rested by head coach Wade Phillips in a meaningless 1999 regular season finale ahead of the playoffs. Then backup Rob Johnson was surprisingly named the starter for the playoffs, supposedly against Phillip’s wishes. Then the Music City Miracle happened (see #6). Flutie was 10-6 the season before and led the Bills to the playoffs. He was 10-5 when the team “rested” him. Bills fans are still scratching their heads at this decision.
11 Spurned For the CFL
We bet you’ve never heard of Tom Cousineau. We hadn’t either. He was the Bills' top draft pick in 1979 AND the #1 overall pick. But… Cousineau thought the Bills were mean to him (or something). So he signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. For a lot less fame but a lot more money. To this day he insists the Bills mistreated him by not showing the proper respect for a top draft pick. Who knows? Maybe he’s right. All we know is that this isn’t John Elway spurning one NFL team for another. This is a guy turning his back on the NFL for Montreal. It could only happen to the Bills. Oh yeah, Cousineau was Grey Cup MVP his rookie season. Go Alouettes.
10 Tom Brady
The future Hall of Fame QB for the New England Patriots (and possible GOAT at that position) owns the Bills. He’s 25-3 all-time against his division rivals. Sorry, Bills fans but it’s hard to compete for a playoff spot when you know you have two losses already scheduled. Every. Single. Year. It’s not like Tom Brady doesn’t do this to other teams too but the Bills seem to hold a special place in Tom Terrific’s punching bag. There are way too many killer Brady performances against the Bills to really single out one so we’ll just say wait for the next entry to see what we mean.
9 Drew Bledsoe
After losing his job to Brady in New England two years after signing a record $103 million contract (and cheering from the sidelines for his only Super Bowl ring), a supposedly still-in-his-prime Drew Bledsoe inked a huge contract with Buffalo. It was going to be the start of a new decade of dominance for the Bills. And then Brady and Bledsoe met for the first time. The result? Patriots 38-7, Brady: 3 TDs, no INTS, 147.6 passer rating. Yeah, things never got a whole lot better for Bledsoe and the Bills. He lasted just three seasons at Ralph Wilson stadium.
8 Playoffs? Forget About It
The year was 2004. The team was the Bills, finally in a position to go to the playoffs after a long absence. The opponent? A Pittsburgh Steelers team that had absolutely nothing to play for. The game was at home. The Bills were riding high on a six-game winning streak. The Steelers rested Big Ben and most of their starters… You already know what happened, then, don’t you; how could you not? The Steelers scored 13 points in the 4th quarter, some guy named Willie Parker kept the Bills off the field with a 100-yard rushing game and the Bills went home empty-handed. Again.
7 The 21st Century
If the Bills were one of the NFL’s standard bearers in the 90s, they became one of the league’s doormats in this century. They haven’t been to the playoffs once in the 2000s. Not once in fifteen years of futility. Maybe Rex Ryan will change that for this hapless bunch. Then again maybe not. Ryan was 8-8 in his inaugural season as Bills head coach last year. Since 2000, the Bills have been 7-9, 8-8 or 9-7 eight times. Talk about mediocrity!
6 The Music City Miracle
Maybe the 21st century has just been a hangover for the Bills from their last nightmarish playoff appearance. Who can forget the 1999 wild Card between the Bills and the Titans? It’s one of the most famous playoff games of all time. The Bills were up 16-15 with sixteen seconds left. All that was needed was a short kickoff and then the Titans would be forced to throw up a crazy Hail Mary. Instead, the Titans caught the Bills with a trick play on the kickoff, throwing a lateral that didn’t stop until 75 yards later- in the Bills end zone. The Bills haven’t seen a playoff game since. Except on their TVs.
5 Leon Lett
The worst of the Bills four Super Bowl losses as far as points scored was Super Bowl XXVII, when proto-dynasty Dallas put the hurt on them 52-17. The Bills had nine (nine!) turnovers in the game and looked over matched from start to finish. In fact, the Cowboys had the chance to break the record for most points in Super Bowl history when defensive tackle Leon Lett picked up a fumble and started rumbling toward the end zone. Unfortunately for he and the ‘Boys, he started celebrating a yard too early and Bills receiver Don Beebe stripped the ball. You know you’re having a bad day when that’s your best play of the game, Bills fans.
4 1966 AFL Championship
Back in the days before the AFL-NFL merger, the Bills were top dogs of the AFL. They won the 1964 and 1965 AFL titles while stomping the terra. The team, led by future congressman Jack Kemp at QB, looked primed for a third straight title. Sound familiar, 90s Bills fans? Then they fumbled the opening kickoff of the championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Kemp threw an interception around KC’s goal-line and suddenly one dynasty (the Bills) was done and another in the form of the Chiefs was being born. Just to make it more fun, disgruntled Bills fans hurled rocks and chunks of ice at the Chiefs players as they ran off the field. What, did they think they were in Philadelphia???
3 What Happened in the Second Half?
The Bills last of four straight Super Bowl appearances ended in a 30-13 blowout. But for a while there (as in the whole first half), it looked like the Bills might be able to put past misery behind them and hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Then the second half happened. We guess the defending champion Dallas Cowboys were just a little bit better at halftime adjustments than their opponent as a 13-6 Bills’ halftime lead just evaporated under 24 second-half unanswered points by the ‘Boys. The Bills haven’t been even close to the big game since.
2 Thomas Has No Helmet
Sure, the big storyline in Super Bowl XXVI was the thrashing the Washington Redskins put on the Bills. But Bills fans should have known it was going to be a long, long day for their team when star running back and future Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas couldn’t find his helmet before the game started. Backup Kenneth Davis took the first handoff from Jim Kelly while Thomas and the Bills equipment staff went nuts searching for his helmet on the sidelines. It was finally found... on the defensive side of the bench. Conspiracy or the usual Bills Keystone Kops routine? We’ll never know.
1 Wide Right
Not only are you not a true Bills fan if you don’t still carry the scars from this one; you’re not even an NFL fan. This was the Bills’ best and brightest hope at a Super Bowl trophy in the great Marv Levy Era, not that anyone knew that at the time. In a game they were favored to win and trailing 20-19, the Bills needed a 47-yard field goal from Scott Norwood to finish the game on top. It was not to be. The ball sailed wide right, Super Bowl XXV belonged to the Giants and the Bills would never get that close again.
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