After a wait of 18 years, the Buffalo Bills are finally back in the post season. For those of a certain vintage, the sight of the Bills playing in the post season was a regular occurrence as the Buffalo Bills were not only regulars in the post season but also, famously, lost four successive Super Bowls at the beginning of the 1990’s. Miraculously, the Bills are probably best remembered not for losing the big game four times but for playing the part of victors in the biggest comeback in NFL history almost 25 years to the day.
January the 3rd 1993, is a date etched in NFL history as the then twice Super Bowl runner-ups completed the greatest comeback of all time as they overcame a 32 point deficit against the then high-flying Houston Oilers in the AFC Wildcard match-up in Buffalo. The Bills only found themselves in one of the Wild Card position due to a final week loss against the Oilers in Houston’s fantastic Astrodome. Not only did Buffalo lose the AFC Central title to Miami that day in Houston but also starting Quarterback Jim Kelly to strained knee ligaments as back-up QB Frank Reich finished the game under centre for the Bills.
The Houston Oilers had the number one Offense that season which was led by the sublime Warren Moon. The Oilers weren’t just all about the offensive side of the all as their Defence was ranked 3rd overall. With the Oilers buoyed by the previous weeks victory and against an opponent with a back-up Quarterback, the Offense was virtually unstoppable in the first half as Moon completed 19 out of 22 passes for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns as the Bills were blown away in their own backyard and went into the half-time interval down 28-3. As if being down by 25 points wasn’t enough to send the locals home prematurely, a Frank Reich pass less than two minutes into the second half was intercepted by Houston and returned to the house for what should have been an insurmountable 32 point lead.
On the following Buffalo drive, Hall of Fame Running Back Thurman Thomas left the game due to a hip injury leaving Buffalo with a second string Quarterback and Running Back. Despite the injuries, Buffalo scored a touchdown on the drive converting a key 4th down and then after a recovering the onside kick, the Bills proceeded to score on the next drive although replays confirmed that Buffalo Wide Receiver Don Beebe should have been flagged for stepping out of bounds on the catch but was missed by the officials. With the deficit reduced to 18 points, the Bills then held Houston to a three and out and Buffalo again scored a touchdown on their next possession to complete a 21 point turnaround in the space of ten crazy third quarter minutes as they limited their opponents to just three plays for a grand total of three yards during the 3rd quarter scoring frenzy. With Houston self destructing, despite still holding a 11 point lead, Moon was intercepted on the next drive which in turn was converted to another Bills touchdown with another conversion of a key 4th down to end the 3rd quarter with the Bills only down 4 points as the game entered the final quarter.
For the first time since the 2nd quarter, the Oilers Offense began to move the ball downfield, however, a botched snap on a field goal attempt resulted in the score remaining the same. With the ball back in the hands of Frank Reich, Buffalo again went the length of the field and scored a go ahead touchdown with just over three minutes left in the game to miraculously take the lead for the first time that day. Somehow, Houston managed to dig deep and courtesy of a big 4th down conversion from Warren Moon to Wide Receiver Webster Slaughter resulted in a game tying field goal to take the most remarkable of NFL games into overtime.
Houston won the toss and elected to receive. An attempted pass on the first 3rd down of overtime by Moon was intercepted by the Bills deep in Oilers territory and three plays later, Buffalo sealed the greatest comeback of all time as a chip shot field goal on 3rd down completed the unlikeliest comebacks and ultimately condemned the sublimely talented, and gloriously uniformed, Houston Oilers to the confines of the NFL notoriety.
As a footnote, Buffalo’s last ever post season appearance was an epic loss in Tennessee as the Titans scored the Music City Miracle touchdown with seconds remaining to knock the Bills out of the play-offs. Why is this a footnote? Well, when the Oilers left Houston four years after the above collapse, they moved to Tennessee and became the Titans………
So here’s to this weekends Wild Card games and if any of the four games can bring even half as much drama as events in Buffalo a quarter of a century ago then NFL fans will be in for a treat.
Image courtesy buffalo bills.com