Even though being a Buffalo fan has many...MANY...disappointments/heart breaking losses, I'd rather blame Divine Intervention from the football Gods or just not being good enough, than believe in conspiracy theories.
I've made the walk to a number of different watering holes in Buffalo to hear Rex Carr or the Joe The Plumbers' of the world tell me about how the NFL doesn't want the Bills to win the Super Bowl while sipping on Blues from a broken-down bar stool. "They paid off Norwood to miss a 47-yard field goal and for Ronnie Harmon to drop the ball. The NFL wants the Bills to move to LA," was something a gray headed old fool told me once at Coles when I was 18 21.
Fixed, fixed, fixed...
My dad would always say in a thick Italian accent about American Sports. He probably didn't check out Sports betting sites to place his bets, but you get the hint. "It is the gambling and the politicians are the reasons for the Bills not winning the Super Bowl," he'd say out of breath and with his eyes being somewhat crazed as if the house was being bugged by spies. I would usually roll my eyes in disbelief or just tell him to lay off the homemade red wine.
However, there are moments when you witness enough eye-popping horror shows of disappointment that you just have to go "Hmmmm.....Maybe those crazy drunken fools and my father are right?"
If you were to ask me for a moment of being a Bills fan in which the NFL was against us, I'd have to say the "Just give it to them" game.
With the Pats Trailing 21-17 with less than 12 seconds left and New England facing a 4th and 9 from the Bills 38 yard line, Bledsoe flung a ball down the right sideline for Shawn Jefferson, who made the catch for the apparent first down.
Problem: His feet weren't in bounds and he was about a 1-yard short of a first down.
However, the refs were blind and with no instant replay, they decided to "just give it to them" as Andre Reed said after the game.
Really? Just give it to them the refs said? Are you kidding? What refs say that?
But hey, the Pats had like 6 seconds left and 30 yards to go for a touchdown. They needed a miracle. Next play? A Hail Mary to the endzone.
We all know these plays have like a 1 in 100 chance of working. What happened next is something that would be in the .0000002% of happening...
ON A HAIL MARY??
You'd need about a 53-man roster full of Tim Tebows to have your prayers answered for something like that. Next play, Bledsoe to Ben Coates...touchdown. Ball game.
I couldn't believe it. I was numb. How could this happen to us? There have been some bad losses, but this reeked of the refs/league screwing with us. My father's words were echoing in my head. Politics and gambling lead us to this? I remember he came home from work and had the look of I was right on his face. I couldn't help but shrug.
It was a terrible loss. I remember the locker room was as pissed off as I can remember. "We were robbed! They took it away from us!" The best soundbite came when Ralph Wilson said it was the worst officiating he had ever seen. Wilson got fined for the comments and he actually released a statement in which he took shots at the league for the discipline action.
"People all over the country registered shock at the way the officials, however honorable their purpose, took the game away from us. Even the league has admitted to us that the calls near the conclusion of the game were incorrect. On Monday morning, the commissioner can sermonize on destruction and corrosion, but he has never experienced the pain of blowing a crucial game due to officiating. I have yet to decide whether I will pay or challenge the fine. "But, at 80, I do know I don't need pompous lectures from the commissioner and I feel that the $50,000 is not only unwarranted, but punitive in nature. The next time, he may ask me to sit in the corner." -Ralph Wilson-
Damn! Ralph wasn't playing.
It has been a loss a number of fans would probably put in their top 15 for disappointing and definitely in their top 5 for conspiracy theories. If you google the season, you'll see that the Bills finished with a 10-6 record, made the playoffs under the guidance of Doug Flutie, but were narrowly beaten by Miami (24-17) in the Wildcard game down in Florida.
What if Shawn Jefferson was ruled out of bounds?
The Bills win and they have home field in the wildcard playoff against Miami. I'll say it, no way they lose that game in Buffalo. Miami was lucky to beat the Bills in Florida, as the Bills had over 400 yards in offense, but had 5-turnovers all in Miami territory. This was during the apex of Flutiemania, where if he wasn't going against a Bill Belichick coached defense (Jets DC in '98), he was masterful (19 touchdowns and 8 picks in 11 appearances). Factor in Miami coming to Buffalo in January with the snow and sleet, Dan Marino being in the twilight of his career, and I think you have a win. From 1987-1998, including the playoffs, the Bills were 12-3 against Miami in Buffalo.
Next up: The Denver Broncos.
Eh. This is probably where the season ends. Denver, who eventually won the SB for a 2nd straight season, were monsters in '98. They were on a mission for John Elway's final season and they even started the season 13-0. They pretty much had zero holes on the squad. A great defense, a HOF QB and a RB who went over 2,000 yards. Now the Bills would have given them a better run for their money than Miami did (Dolphins lost, 38-3), but I don't think they beat Denver.
Here's where things can get crazy. At the end of the day, this "What if?" is about instant replay. The Bills and the division champion Jets were only separated by two games in 1998. This just so happen to be the year of the phantom Vinny Testaverde touchdown run against the Seahawks which gave the Jets the win. If you have replay, the Bills are 11-5 and so are the Jets. Now pump your breaks, because the Bills would have still lost out on the division title because the Jets swept them.
However, in the home finale against the Jets with control of division at stake, there was a critical play that should have been reviewed that cost the Bills dearly. Late in the 4th quarter and the Bills driving inside the Jets 20-yard line for the game tying touchdown, Flutie, threw a pass that went off the finger tips of Kevin Williams and into the hands of Victor Green. Int, right? With instant replay..no. The ball hit the ground but the refs just gave it to the Jets. Maybe the Bills would have scored a TD to send the game to OT. Maybe they win the game and the division. If the Bills went 12-4, they would have had a bye and home field advantage in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Bills had a decent offense that year and their defense was ranked in the top 10. What if, indeed.
Yup, replay would have been nice during the '98 season for the Bills. Replay those conspiracy moments like the JKF assassination: Back and to the left, back and to the left, back and to the left as Jefferson was clearly out of bounds.