The greatest champion that never was

Winning the Super Bowl means being remembered forever. The statues are erected outside the stadium, the banners rise to the rafters and the Hall of Fame likely swells by a few busts. There are rings and ceremonies, anniversaries and celebrations.

Then there is one of the greatest teams of all-time that never won the big game, playing in western New York in the 1990’s. The Buffalo Bills remain the only team to ever reach four consecutive Super Bowls, only to lose each time. Buffalo fans adore that group, and rightfully so. The Bills have not given their fans much to cheer about in the 50 years since winning the second of two American Football League championships, but that team was special. Despite falling short of its ultimate goal, Buffalo was a juggernaut which changed the way the game was played.

The Bills became famous for their fast-paced offense. Think Chip Kelly’s offense, except with four Hall of Fame players and some tangible postseason success to speak of. Buffalo employed the K-Gun, named for tight end Keith McKeller. It was no-huddle, and it was devastating. Buffalo took the idea from the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals and ran it sublimely, buoyed by quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton.

Buffalo reached Super Bowls XXV-XXVIII, only to be knocked down by a superior NFC East team. The first loss was the most devastating. It was the only contest the Bills were favored in, playing the New York Giants and abckup quarterback, Jim Hostetler. Behind head coach Bill Parcells, the Giants controlled the clock with a punishing ground attack, paced by Super Bowl MVP Ottis Anderson. Buffalo famously had a 46-yard field goal attempt to win as time expired, only to watch Scott Norwood’s kick sail wide right.

The following three trips were miserable. The Bills were easily handled by the Washington Redskins in 1991, before being thrashed 52-17 in 1992 by the young Dallas Cowboys. In its final Super Bowl appearance, Buffalo actually led Dallas 13-6 at halftime before allowing 24 unanswered points in the second half.

The Bills will never get their historical due, and it’s a shame. Buffalo was a truly great team, crafted by general manager Bill Polian. The offense garnered most of the headlines but the defense had plenty of talent too, including all-time sack leader Bruce Smith, linebackers Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett, and others. It was a remarkable collection of players which ranks among the best to ever play.

The Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999, the longest current drought in the NFL. Many young fans don’t remember that Buffalo was once home to an incredible team, long forgotten by the nation because it failed on the biggest stage. It’s a shame the Bills have been down so long, because few venues are more enjoyable to watch on a winter Sunday than Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Here’s to remembering Buffalo, and the greatness that once played there.

About Matt Verderame

Matt Verderame, 26, is a New Yorker who went to school at the frozen tundra of SUNY Oswego. After graduating, Verderame has worked for Gannett and SB Nation among other ventures.