Worth Your Time
Highs And Lows Of Bills’ Franchise Captured In New Book
My first in-person NFL game came on Oct. 10, 1971 when my dad took me to War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo. That Sunday afternoon spent on Dodge and Best streets and Jefferson Avenue featured the Bills, who would finish the season with a 1-13 record, vs. the Baltimore Colts, the defending Super Bowl champions.
The final score was predictable.
Colts 43, Bills 0.
An online search revealed Baltimore rushed for five touchdowns, Jim O’Brien booted a pair of field goals and the Colts were credited with a safety when Buffalo was flagged for holding in the end zone.
Highlights for the Bills?
A guy by the name of O.J. Simpson rushed seven times for minus-10 yards, and caught two passes for 14 yards; and quarterbacks James Harris and Dennis Shaw combined to complete 10 of 21 passes for 131 yards and four interceptions. Oh, and they were sacked nine times.
Fittingly, in their recently released book, The Buffalo Bills: An Illustrated Timeline of a Storied Team (Reedy Press), Greg Tranter and Budd Bailey called 1971 “the worst season ever.”
Fortunately, the talented and accomplished Buffalo sports historians have plenty of good stories to tell, too.
Bailey and I first crossed paths when we both covered the Bills during their Super Bowl years. In addition to spending 23 years at The Buffalo News, he has also written 15 books on a variety of subjects, including histories of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Braves.
Tranter, meanwhile, is a sports historian, who — according to a press release — has amassed the largest and most comprehensive Buffalo Bills football memorabilia collection in the world, which he has donated to the Buffalo History Museum.
With that as background, the men are certainly more than qualified to delve into the fan base’s deep-rooted love for their football team. Priced at $42, the coffee-table book describes the “amazing highs and discouraging lows” of the franchise, beginning with their first season in the AFL in 1960 and concluding with the 2022 campaign. Accompanied by high-resolution color photographs, Tranter and Bailey cover it all in a well-written and concise style, featuring two or three short stories from each season.
“We are pleased to present this exciting and thoughtful view of the Buffalo Bills’ 63-year history,” they write in the acknowledgments in the book’s early pages. “With a new stadium on the way and the team’s future apparently secure, this book comes with the belief that there will be many more such stories about the team to write in the decades to come.”
Below are a few of the gridiron nuggets — from O.J. to Josh — found in the 176 pages:
¯ Two Bills players organized and led the boycott of the AFL All-Star game in 1965 because of the mistreatment of Black players in New Orleans.
¯ Bills Mafia, as the team’s fan base has become known, set an NFL attendance record in 1988 and led the league for six consecutive years in attendance.
¯ After losing to Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game in 1966, the Bills traded quarterback Daryle Lamonica to Oakland for quarterback Tom Flores and wide receiver Art Powell. While Lamonica led the Raiders to a 13-1 record and a trip to the Super Bowl in 1968, and was 62-16-6 during his six seasons on the West Coast, Flores and Powell never panned out with the Bills. Tranter and Bailey suggest it could very well be the worst trade in Buffalo franchise history.
¯ Marv Levy, who became the Bills’ head coach during the 1986 season, was ultimately inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, four years after he retired. His presenter that summer day was Bill Polian, the architect of the Bills’ teams that reached four straight Super Bowls. Quoting sportswriter Jerry Magee, Polian said: “Mary Levy ennobled the coaching profession. Marv Levy ennobled the game of football.”
¯ Upon purchasing the Bills’ franchise in 2014, Terry Pegula (who also owned the Sabres and the Buffalo Bandits) said: “Buying the Sabres was a big deal in Buffalo; buying the Bills was a tsunami.”
¯ The Bills have been involved in many “named games” — contests that need a few words to be remembered, including “The Hit Heard ‘Round The World,” “Fandemonium,” “Wide Right,” “Home Run Throwback,” “Snovertime,” and “13 Seconds.” How many other teams can say that?
¯ After the Bills completed the greatest comeback in NFL history to stun Houston 41-38 in overtime on Jan. 3, 1993, Levy was asked if he thought they still had a chance when they fell behind 35-3 minutes into the second half.
“Well, there was a lot of time left, so there was a glimmer of hope. But it was about the same chance as you have of winning the New York Lottery.”
Buffalo’s 2022 season ended with a disappointing home playoff loss to Cincinnati, capping a year in which it had to deal with a mass shooting in the city in May, record blizzards in November and December, and the cardiac arrest suffered by safety Damar Hamlin in early January.
Wrote Tranter and Bailey: “At least the arrival of the offseason will give everyone a chance to take a deep breath. When training camp opens in the summer, it will be time to show everyone again that when Western New York and its favorite team get knocked down, they simply get up and go back to work.”
Tranter and Bailey sure did their work in making this book a reality.
Any Bills’ fan will enjoy it.
The Buffalo Bills: An Illustrated Timeline of a Storied Team is available wherever books are sold.