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December 28, 2013
Kenneth Lashay, Contributing Columnist

Is there ever glory in losing? If there is, no team epitomes that glory
better than the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

Few teams in the National Football League enjoy success at a frequency
that could be described as regular, and no teams are always successful
– competition is just too fierce at this level, and there is no way to
guarantee a continuous influx of the great players necessary for
success. Still, some franchises manage to sustain prolonged periods of
success, as gauged by the consistency of their appearances in the
playoffs --think the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the Los
Angeles Lakers. The Buffalo Bills are not one of those teams – for this
team, life in the NFL has been characterized by spectacular bursts of
supernova prominence, offset by agonizingly long periods of black hole


   The first of their starburst successes came during the years 1963-
1966, when they were the only team in the American Football League
to ever make the playoffs in four consecutive years. They won the AFL
Championship in 1964 and 1965 with a punishing defense and an
offense that included future presidential candidate Jack Kemp at
quarterback. Kemp was not physically gifted, nor did he have a
powerful throwing arm, but he personified the scrappy, workmanlike
attitude of the city and was embraced accordingly.

   After the last of their successful playoff years, the Buffalo Bills along
with the other AFL teams were incorporated into the National Football
League, and in 1967 the first Super Bowl was staged - as the Bills
skidded toward becoming a black hole. Throughout the entire decade
of the 70’s and for most of the 80’s, the former AFL champion
languished in the lower echelon of the bigger league, frequent owners
of its worst won-lost record.


And then, in the new decade of the 90’s, the mother of all supernovas
exploded in the Buffalo Bills’ autumn sky. Using an innovative ‘no-
huddle’ offense, they confounded NFL defenses with their rapid-fire
ability to score points and earned their first trip to the Super Bowl in
1990. It was an unbelievable time to be a Bills fan; I remember walking
through a local mall and counting 7 out of every 10 people wearing
some kind of Bills clothing to support their team. I don’t really
understand the psychology of a crowd needing to embrace a winner,
but I can tell you it is a fact – those 1990 Bills were adored by a city
starved for heroes.

As most people know, the Bills didn’t win that 1990 Super Bowl – they
lost by a single point when they missed a winning field goal by about a
foot from 47 yards away as time ran out. In Buffalo, there was
disappointment of course, but in a sense it almost didn’t matter – the
Buffalo Bills had finally been recognized, and by default the city itself,
as one of the best in the National Football League.

Even better, the Bills proved in 1991 that it wasn’t a fluke and repeated
the accomplishment, again advancing through the playoffs to earn a
spot in the coveted Super Bowl game. Unhappily they were thwarted
again, but the wave of euphoria in Buffalo persisted – the Bills
remained champions of the American Conference of the league, and
they still had the core of their dynamic team intact.

Late in the season of 1992, hope faded when the swashbuckling
quarterback of the Bills, Jim Kelly, came down with an injury right
before their playoff game with the Houston Oilers. Sure enough, by
halftime of that game, the Bills were losing 35-3 and staring at abject
humiliation to end their glorious run of winning football. But there was
something magical about those Buffalo Bills – even without their most
important player, they made a comeback that has never been equaled
and won that game 41-38, and eventually advanced to their third
consecutive Super Bowl.

Again in the following year, they steam-rolled through the American
Conference and earned the right to face the National Conference
champions in the Super Bowl. This fourth consecutive Super Bowl also
ended in frustration, but even so the Buffalo Bills achieved something
that is not likely to ever be repeated in the National Football League.
Since the Bills’ 4-year run of excellence, no team has appeared in more
than 2 consecutive Super Bowls.


Then came the new century. By the year 2001, all the players from the
Super Bowl glory years were gone, and a string of mostly forgettable
players, coaches, and administrators paraded through the revolving
door of the Buffalo Bills franchise. Young Buffalo football fans now
endure the seemingly endless string of seasons where the Bills miss the
playoffs, while listening to wistful recollections of their elders about
‘the Super Bowl years’ when the Bills mowed through competitors like
they were part of the front lawn.

Maybe even more than every other city in America, Buffalo realizes how
special those Super Bowl years were, because the team has achieved so
little success in all the years since then. But the people of Buffalo are
hopeful people; every Sunday in the fall they flock to fill the stadium
and cheer themselves hoarse in support of their beloved Bills.

Perhaps it is because the city itself will never again enjoy the once
prominent position it held among America’s great cities that Buffalo
Bills fans need to cheer so loudly and hope so fervently for the success
of their hometown heroes. Even if there can be no greatness in the city’
s future, fans will always have hope for the next Buffalo Bills supernova
explosion to football greatness.   


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