When did it begin?
When did Bills fans start getting the impending doom sort of mindset where we didn't think it would all work out in the end? It had to start somewhere. Some may say it started during SB XXV. Maybe when Ronnie Harmon dropped the ball? The Cowboys bloodbaths? Maybe that is just my generations' death knells, but for our dads, maybe it dates back to the end of the 1980 season. If you are a follower of Bills history, you'd probably know that the 1980 team was one of the most popular squads in team history. The Bills had only 1 playoff birth between 1967-1979. Sure they had OJ, but that was about it.
In a way, I could see how if this current Bills squad somehow made the playoffs, maybe there will be some parallels to the 1980 team because of the obscurity of the decade that preceded it. It is not exactly heaven and hell when you compare making the playoffs once to not making them at all in 12 years. More like hell and purgatory. The 1980 season saw the Bills start 5-0 with wins over the Chargers, Raiders (Eventual SB Champions) and Dolphins (The end of the streak), and they were the talk of the NFL world because no one saw them coming. They finished the year 11-5 and were only a win away from having the best record in the league.
1980 was my first name year, so allow most of my knowledge to come off 2nd hand or just a few clever googling tips. Luckily, I was able to the highlights of the game in case you didn't see it.
Not exactly a pretty game for both teams. Six turnovers between them and the Bills gaining less than 250 yards in total offense.
There were a few major "what ifs?" thrown in this game, especially with less than 5-minutes to go.
- The Bills were up 14-13 with less than 5-minutes remaining and driving in Chargers territory. Facing a 3rd and short at the Chargers 30 yard line, Joe Cribbs was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Obviously, if he gets the first down, the time would keep on ticking.
- Since he didn't make the yardage, Chuck Knox would face a major decision, would he let Nick Mike-Mayer attempt a 50-yard field goal, Punt, or just go for it? Mayer wasn't exactly a good kicker, making only 56% of his kicks during the regular season, which ranked 21st in the NFL. Alas, Knox wanted the four point lead in order to make the Chargers go for the touchdown to win rather than the field goal. Knox choose kicking and lost. Mayer's kick was short, giving the Chargers great field position. What if Mayer made the kick?
- Fouts would make the Bills pay after the missed kick, as on a 3rd and 10, he fired a 50-yard strike to Rod Smith, who split the Bills' safeties like the red sea. The Chargers caught a break on the play, because a few plays earlier, the Bills had lost both their starting safeties to injury. Fouts obviously saw that and the Bills inexperienced safeties failed to communicate. What if their starters were in?
In the end, I could have went with the kick, but the Chargers ended up scoring a touchdown anyway. To me, it goes back to Ferguson's ankle. Fergie had injured his ankle 3 weeks earlier, but was able to gut it out and continue to play. However, the injury troubled him for the rest of the season.
What if Joe Ferguson didn't get hurt?
"We taped that ankle up as much as we could," said Ferguson in Legends of the Buffalo Bills . "But it really hurt. I just couldn't get going with it. When I got back home and had it examined a final time, it was discovered that the ankle had been sprained, torn, pulled and stretched. And there was a cracked bone in the back of my ankle to top it off."- Buffalo Rumblings-
If you watch the highlights, you'll see he was a statue back there and couldn't avoid the rush to save his life. He didn't seem like he could plant on his foot when passing and when he came out of the huddle, he looked like he needed a walker to get to the line of scrimmage. I don't want to make it out like Fergie was Jim Kelly to the offense. He had modest numbers for 1980 (20 touchdowns and 18 INTS), but before he got hurt, he was heating up, passing for 9 touchdowns in his previous four games.
His final numbers on the day were awful: 15 of 29, 180 yards for 1 touchdown and 3 INTs. You gotta think his numbers would be better than that if he was healthy. That could have been the difference between 6 points. You could tell by his 3 picks, they were mostly due to him not being able to move or throw the ball well in the face of a rush. Fergie had no pocket presence on the day.
The Bills' defense gave up a bunch of yards (almost 400), but were still able to keep the Chargers to just one touchdown for the first 55 minutes of the game. You also have to consider that with a healthy Ferguson, the Bills were able to beat the Chargers earlier in the season, in SD, by doubling their scoring output from the divisional game (26 points). They also beat the Chargers the following year by a score of 28-27. So in two games with a healthy Ferguson, the Bills scored 54 points and Fergie had two touchdowns and no picks. I don't know, but I think he would have played much better.
So what if the Bills beat the Chargers?
They would have gotten the Raiders, a wild card team, in Buffalo for the AFC Championship game. 80,000 twisted demented f#$ks cheering the team on. Keep in the mind the Bills kicked the Raiders asses earlier in the season by a score of 24-7. The Bills had 25 first downs to the Raiders 12 and outgained them 325 to 179. From 1980-1981, the Bills went 11-3 at home. A warm weather team going into the freezing confines of Rich Stadium in the middle of January? I'm taking the Bills on that one.
You win. You goto the SB to play the Eagles, who ended up getting steamrolled by the Raiders. I'll just stop there cause like I said, I was only a year old. Maybe some of you older folks can fill the blanks...