The year was 1987, and what a year it was for this Bills fan. Everything in life was turned upside down. I quit my job, eloped, became a step-parent, and moved a thousand miles from Oregon to Montana. Personal computers were still a few years away, so following the Bills from a distance was certainly not as easy as opening an app on a smartphone.
It didn’t matter how crazy my life was at that time. The world always stopped when the Buffalo Bills play football. It was November 8th that year, and the Bills were playing their eighth game against the Denver Broncos at what was then Rich Stadium.
Despite all the upheaval in my personal life and the limits of technology, I always kept myself glued to every word written or spoken about the Bills during that era. The Bills finally had competence in the front office and were ridding the place of the stench of chronic losing for years. Does this seem familiar?
The Bills were 3-4 at that point during November of 1987, after a players strike forced the cancellation of the third game of the season against the Cowboys. And yes, that was the year of the legendary trade for Cornelius Bennett. The Bills were being rebuilt under Marv Levy and Bill Polian, and despite their losing record and agony since the early ‘80s, they were scrappy and winning games people did not expect them to win.
The Broncos game that year was at Rich Stadium, unlike the meeting on Sunday at Mile High at Invesco Field in Denver. That game in 1987 was the exact point at which I realized something extraordinary was happening with this team.
The Broncos were on a roll that year and were expected to pummel the Bills on their way to the AFC Championship. However, the Broncos eventually lost the Super Bowl to Washington 42-10 (in spectacular fashion).
Their passing game was prolific during that season, and RB Sammy Winder served as the guy who kept their opponent honest by running the ball once in awhile. The lack of productivity in their running game was a result of the productivity of their quarterback in the passing game. Does this seem familiar?
The Broncos that year had a running back by committee that also included Steve Sewell, Gene Lang, and Gerald Willhite. They came to Buffalo to roll right through the team on their way to the post season on the arm of John Elway. A Hall of Fame quarterback playing for the Broncos facing an upstart Bills team. Does that seem familiar?
The 1987 Buffalo Bills team finished that strike-filled season 7-8 and missed the playoffs. This was in large part because after beating the Broncos, they went on to lose two very big conference and divisional match ups against the Browns and the Dolphins that knocked them out of playoff contention.
After the Bills were knocked out of playoff contention, I vividly remember thinking that even though they weren’t going to the playoffs, they had turned a corner. You could sense that something was starting to shift in the locker room. There was an air of anticipation that better days were coming sooner rather than later. Does that seem familiar?
These are some of the interesting similarities between the 1987 squad and today’s Buffalo Bills (and Denver Broncos). That Bills team in ‘87 was walking out of a fog just like the team is today. They were trying to change of chronic culture of losing, just like today. They were young and full of talent, just like today.
So, can we infer from these similarities that the Bills of today are on the brink of greatness? Of course not, but one certainly can see why it is important to have faith that no matter how dismal things may seem, there are signs of progress and hope for the near future.
Like the 1987 season, there is good reason to believe that these Buffalo Bills are capable of shaking loose the chains of misery that have bound us all up for the last 15 years as fans. Will the Bills make the playoffs this year?
Though it is still possible, it can only happen if the Bills can score more points on offense than they normally do, as well as beat down Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady on defense. No small task. However, like ’87, this season is far from a complete loss if they don’t make the playoffs.
We all know this Bills team is top shelf on defense. The offense struggles to be consistent, mostly because the offensive line is downright putrid at times. With the right tweaking to get the offensive line more productive, the Bills will be a force to contend with next season. That alone should brighten the spirits of those despondent about making it 15 years and counting without sniffing the post season.
There is massive culture shift happening at One Bills Drive. With new ownership comes a complete shift in emphasis from profitability to winning championships. The legacy of this team is now rolling into a completely different paradigm, one that makes the future for Bills fans look very bright at this time.
If you have any doubt about the way this team is beginning to bond, look no further than guys like Boobie Dixon, Mario Williams, and Marcell Dareus. They provide ample evidence during interviews that suggests the worst days may be finally behind us (at least for awhile) as Bills fans.
There is a twinkle in Boobie’s eyes when he talks about what it takes to win football games. Mario Williams is no longer the large broody guy with personal problems. He tore through Buffalo during the recent snowstorm with the enthusiasm of a kid. You can tell he is bonding with the people in the WNY community, something we haven’t seen from many Bills players since the Super Bowl years.
Marcell Dareus is a guy whose development and enthusiasm for the game has emerged from a lot of sadness that enveloped his life for far too long. He lights up the world when he smiles now. He spoke with passion this week in an interview with reporters about how much he loves his teammates. You can see this team is becoming very close to one another.
They also seem to be having fun and enjoying playing the game in a way we have not seen for a couple of decades at One Bills Drive. It’s hard to disguise one’s true feelings over the course of an entire season. Sooner or later if there is a cancer in the locker room, it will show up in the expressions on the face of players and their actions toward one another during games.
Like the 1987 Buffalo Bills, this team may not make the playoffs or even finish the season with a winning record. However, like their predecessors, this team is putting out a vibe that the best from them is yet to come.