ORCHARD PARK, N.J. — Buffalo Bill’s fans have waited 25 years for a season like this.
It had been a long time since the Bills had won the AFC East before they did so impressively 13-3 this season. The 1995 season was one of the last games of the biggest era of the franchise, when it reached four Super Bowls in a row (1990-93) and won the last play-off game.
As this year’s version is ready for the Indianapolis Colts wild-card race on Saturday (13:05 p.m. ET, CBS), the Accounts will write their own chapter in the team’s history book.
The Buffalo Bills have a great history, but the team that we have now – we have nothing to do with what happened [in the past], said cornerback Tre’Davious White. Let’s face our own destiny… write our own history. Let’s make up our own stories. Let’s be the next team to hit four Super Bowls in a row – win one.
Beating the sales record of the early nineties would be an impressive achievement, given the talent these teams had on the field, on the touchline and in the front office.
During coach Marv Levy’s tenure, Buffalo had eight future members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, including Levy himself, quarterback Jim Kelly, receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton, defender Thurman Thomas, fullback Bruce Smith, general manager Bill Polian and owner Ralph Wilson.
Cornelius Bennett (1987-95), a former defender of Bills and 2021 Hall of Fame finalist, said Buffalo fans are approaching the team’s division championship title this season with cautious optimism after such a long drought.
He’s glad AFC East looks just like he did when he played – with Buffalo at the top.
I think it’s our time, he said. I hope we get to the big dance this time, and that we old-timers get a chance to really let go or something like celebrate the old school dance with the new one.
Like today’s team, the Bennett’s Bills were a source of income before the new management arrived.
Hearing the Levy, former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and others talk about what it means to win a divisional championship in Western New York offers a unique perspective on what coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane have achieved this season.
He treated them like humans.
The biggest moment in the history of Bills began with Levy’s speech in the middle of a lost season – at least in the spirit of Ted Cottrell.
Cotrell was coach of the Bills’ line of defense in 1986 and recalls that Levy replaced Hank Bullough in the middle of a 4-12 season, which in turn followed two 2-14 seasons in 1985 and 1984. In the decade before the arrival of Levy, Buffalo had fewer winning seasons (two) than double-digit losing seasons (five).
Fault! The file name is not specified. During Coach Marv Levy’s tenure, Buffalo had eight future members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, including Levy himself and quarterback Jim Kelly, AP Photo/Bill Sikes.
But Cottrell said something clicked when Levy first spoke to the team.
His first speech to the team – after the speech, they all applauded him, Cottrell said. From that moment on it was like a welcome relief with the air he brought with him and his personality. From the first session the team started paying the price. They were so happy that this guy is now getting up to talk to them… they’re much more united.
I think that was the beginning of the move at that moment, that very first meeting Coach Levy had with the team.
Cottrell said Levy treated them like humans and he didn’t have 5,000 periods when he took them away. Instead, he told the players that he expected them to be professional and work hard.
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His simple message echoed. Buffalo defeated Pittsburgh in the first game and won 7-8 in Levy’s first full season in 1987 before winning six division titles in the next eight seasons. It took a signature from Polian and some guarantees from Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt to convince Wilson to hire Levy.
Polian knew Levy from his time with the Montreal Alouettes and CFL Chiefs and put pressure on Wilson to bring him on board when he became General Manager of the Bills after the 1985 season.
It was Polian who begged Ralph Wilson to hire me, Levy said. Ralph was a little reluctant…. I was fired by the Kansas City Chiefs. He called Lamar Hunt, and Ralph told me years later, Lamar told him: I made a big mistake sending him away.
Levy spoke to a team that included Kelly, Reed and linebacker Darryl Talley. One of the leaders of the NFL was Smith, who became one of the best defensive lines of the league in his second season in 1986.
A year after the arrival of Levy, Pole traded with Bennett and hired Thomas in 1988. The Bills reached four Super Bowls in a row in 1990 and missed the playoffs in 1994, paving the way for a rebound season in 1995.
This is a great team.
Cottrell was fired after the 1989 season and spent the next five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before returning to Buffalo in 1995.
Even after their team’s first defeat season in 94, fans of Bills Cottrell quickly recalled why the return was an easy decision.
Many cities and teams don’t have what Buffalo and the surrounding area have, he says. In Buffalo people kiss the team, the city kisses the team, the neighborhood kisses the team. … It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted. When Coach [Levy] reinstated me, I jumped at the chance.
Billing fans have not changed since Cottrell left, nor have their expectations.
Four consecutive AFC championships have set the bar high for Western New York football.
The fans expected a lot, but I think it helps the teams, said Wade Phillips, who was defensive coordinator for the Bills from 1995 to 1997. When the fans expect a lot, [the players] try to make it happen.
– Matches, X-factors and others for each team
– Experts predict surprises, QB under pressure
– Myths for 14 teams in the playoffs
– Schedule, brackets, TV time and others
– What went wrong for teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
Phillips’ defense met those expectations, especially when it comes to pushing the passers-by. Buffalo led the league with 49 sacks in 1995 after a great performance by Smith, Phil Hansen and NFL defenceman Bryce Pope, who was named defensive player of the year.
Phil Hansen had 10 bags, Bruce had 10.5 and Bryce Pope had 17.5, said Cottrell, who was increasingly impressed with the runner totals as time went on. They have 38 bags under three players…. What do you think of that? This 1995 team… It’s a great team.
The Bills ended the season 10-6, winning a league game against the Colts and the Miami Dolphins and beating the latter in the 1995 play-offs.
Phillips remembers the game well, from the 26-degree temperature in Buffalo to the excitement of watching Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino attempt 64 passes in response to the Bills’ 27-0 opening shot.
If you’re a defensive coach, it’s just crazy, Phillips said. Trying to stop him from throwing the ball every time was insane – of course people then did not throw so much, and 64 times in a game it was incredible.
The Bills beat Miami 37-22, but lost in Pittsburgh the next week.
What they didn’t know then was that after this loss it would take 25 years to return to first place in the AFC East.
It is difficult to be mediocre.
Buffalo went back to 10-6 in 1996 and finished second in the division, but fell back to 6-10 in 1997. Kelly retired in low season, as did the All-Pro Kent Hull Centre, and the team was a shadow of what it used to be.
The team has changed a lot, said Steve Tasker, 2021 Hall of Fame semifinalist and special teams ace in all four Super Bowl rounds. It was hard to believe the team would still be good when the Hall of Fame quarterback retired.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Game
Ryan Clark explains why he thinks that if a team is going to beat Kansas City, it will be Buffalo.
Tasker said the 1997 season was tough on the stomach. Players like Tasker, Thomas, Reed and Smith were still around, but the magic of the early ’90s is gone.
The environment in the locker room, for the guys who have been part of the success of this team, the victories this season have never made up for the pain we have felt because of the losses, he said. That eventually contributed to my decision to stop playing after the 1997 season, I couldn’t stand the lack of success anymore.
It was a crush, emotionally. … I remember sitting in front of my locker and thinking I couldn’t play well enough to win.
It’s hard to be mediocre.
Levy also retired after the 97 season. Thomas, Reed and Smith were sidelined after the 1999 season, and the Bills had two winning seasons after the turn of the millennium until they hired coach McDermott in 2017. Since then, Tasker has lived in Buffalo and has witnessed every aspect of franchise history for the past 35 years.
According to Tasker, the support of the fans remains strong despite the malfunctions.
The fans have always supported us – they love this team and always hope for a victory, he said. It was then that they began to realize that they were encouraging people as much as the team at ……. The fans didn’t hesitate… it’s their team.
Some things never change.