Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Remembering "The Comeback"
For those who are interested, the 1985 Topps blog is fully functional with its first post. Love the '80s? Then get over there.
One of the best things about the '80s for me was living in a football-crazy city. As you know, I'm not a big football fan anymore, but I used to be totally absorbed in the sport.
You couldn't help it, living in Buffalo. The entire city talked about absolutely nothing but the Bills during the fall. If you didn't like football or sports and lived in the city, then you faked it for four months in order to have something to say to the other people in your neighborhood/class/workplace. The Bills ensured that you would always have something to talk about no matter what the situation. It was so much better than talking about the weather.
As a college student, I had plenty of friends who were Bills fans (fans of other teams in that city were just being jerks). Watching the Bills in a bar and discussing the highlights in a drunken haze was a regular ritual. Later, I landed an internship with a newspaper and was able to cover the team for the paper. The first game I covered was Buffalo against the Packers in October of 1987. I had some very jealous friends.
These were exciting times for Buffalo and the Bills. After years of being labeled a joke by national comedians and a decade of joblessness and depression, the Bills -- thanks to the addition of Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas -- were emerging from some awful years. By the late 1980s, they were a playoff team and the city was beside itself with glee. Before TV newscasts addressed murders and fires, they addressed the Bills.
It was a great time to be alive.
And then I moved away.
The Bills moved on without me. In fact, they got better without me, and started making the Super Bowl year after year. I watched that first Super Bowl against the Giants in 1991 on my brand new 24-inch color television. It was just my wife and I. Newlyweds. In a different town. Far from the Bills. And without any Bills fans to join us.
Fast forward two years later. We had found some Bills fans and invited them over to watch Buffalo play the Houston Oilers in a wild-card playoff game. It was January 3. Nineteen years ago to the day.
The game was blacked out in Buffalo. Not enough tickets were sold. Absolutely scandalous for a city like Buffalo. I knew lots of people in the city who were mortified that they couldn't watch the game.
So we watched for them. And, good god, it was awful.
Warren Moon and the Oilers scored at almost every opportunity. Moon threw four touchdown passes in the first half. At halftime it was 28-3 Oilers. When the game resumed, Bills quarterback Frank Reich threw a pass through the arms of his receiver and an Oilers defensive back grabbed the pass and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. 35-3. Early in the third quarter.
We all wished the game was blacked out where we were, too.
Then came the most amazing second half of a football game that I have ever seen.
Led by Reich, who had replaced an injured Jim Kelly for the playoffs, the Bills began a comeback. Laughable at first. And then, oh, so serious.
1. Buffalo takes advantage of a squib kick and ends a 10-play drive with a 1-yard TD by Kenneth Davis.
Oilers 35, Bills 10
2. Kicker Steve Christie recovers his own onside kick and four plays later, Reich fires a 38-yard TD pass to Don Beebe (who ran partially out of bounds on the play).
Oilers 35, Bills 17
3. An Oilers punt puts Bills on their own 41. Three plays later, Andre Reed is catching a Reich pass for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
Oilers 35, Bills 24
4. Bills safety Henry Jones intercepts a Moon pass on the Oilers' first play from scrimmage. Buffalo, on a fourth-down play three plays later, elects to go for it instead of kick a field goal. Reich connects with Reed for a touchdown (I remember this play distinctly).
Oilers 35, Bills 31
5. With just over three minutes left in the third quarter, after the Oilers flubbed a certain field goal, Reich and Reed connect again for a TD. Absolute bedlam in my apartment.
Bills 38, Oilers 35
6. The Oilers manage to hit a field goal before time expired to tie the game at 38-38 and send it into overtime.
Bills 38, Oilers 38
7. The Oilers win the coin toss, but Moon throws an interception to the Bills' Nate Odomes (by the way, Darryl Talley was an absolute beast in this game). Bills take advantage of a facemask penalty on the return, run two plays, and Christie kicks a 32-yard field goal for the I-can't-believe-what-I-just-saw victory.
Bills 41, Oilers 38
Buffalo would go on to the Super Bowl and get demolished by the Cowboys -- Buffalo's third of four straight Super Bowl losses.
But even that could not diminish the scene in my apartment after the game. The calls back "home" to Buffalo (yes, Buffalo was still "home" then). The "see what you missed?" gloating and discussions.
We were part of an exclusive club, Bills fans from Buffalo who got to see The Comeback, even as an entire city who loved the team (but not enough to sell out the stadium) didn't get to see it at all.
God, football was great back then.