Why is this the worst Bills Sports Moment?
The Terminator, for you young readers was a hit movie that premiered a year before I was born in 1984. In the movie, the year 2029 is a world ravaged by machines, but you don't see that tragic world, the movie is set in 1984. This is because the Terminator is a story about prevention. The Terminator goes back in time to prevent mankind's only hope from being born, and the resistance follows to stop the Terminator.
The story of the 1998 Bills parallels the story in Terminator, except [SPOILER ALERT] there is no happy ending. Kyle Reese dies, Sarah Connor dies, John Connor is never born. The final scene shows the destruction of all humans. Skynet reigns supreme.
It is the worst ending to what was an inspiring story, and it is why the 1999 AFC Wildcard game where the Bills faced the Dolphins in Miami is the worst sports moment in Buffalo history.
After four straight Super Bowl appearances, the 1994 Bills missed the playoffs. The 1995 Bills reclaimed the AFC East and disposed of the Miami Dolphins and Don Shula in his final game. Perhaps he cursed the Bills as it stands as the last playoff victory for the franchise. The following week, the Super Bowl-bound Steelers easily dispatched the Bills who were without an ill Bruce Smith and an injured Jim Kelly.
Then Todd Collins happened. Collins, a Michigan man from just outside of Foxboro Massachusetts, did the impossible, he set the Bills back 20 years in about 2 weeks as a starter. Later, Michigan delivered Tom Brady to the Patriots unleashing 15 years of Patriot rule over the AFC East. Every Bills fan should hate Michigan, forever.
When the team was facing, what we thought at that time to be, it's darkest night, we found hope in the unlikeliest source. Boston College and CFL star Doug Flutie.
The Legend of Flutie
Flutie's first start came against a 5-0 Jacksonville Jaguars team, a team that violated the Bills invincibility in home playoff games by winning the 1996 Wild Card game in Orchard Park; a team from Florida won in Buffalo in late December! Jacksonville also ended the Bills personnel hot streak, as they fleeced the Bills in the Rob Johnson trade which at the time had only produced a 1-3 record as a starter and early signs of boneitis. Again I've lost the young readers but yes, in 1998 a game between the Jaguars and the Bills was an exciting matchup.
Buffalo was down early and down late, but Flutie led the Bills down the field late and took a bootleg into the end zone to defeat the Jaguars. The legend of Flutie Magic began that day, and grew to a size I've never seen before. In Buffalo, Flutie was like Johnny Manziel times 2012 RG3. Huge, everyone, EVERYONE had a box of Flutie Flakes, and everyone knew Doug's favorite Wegmans sub was Turkey.
Flutie was the perfect compliment to Jim Kelly. Kelly was the superstar winner who didn't want to be in Buffalo, but he came to Buffalo and fell in love with the city. Flutie was the gritty underdog who found himself stuck in Buffalo, and decided to forget what the nation had to say, he'd just win anyway. He was the spirit of Buffalo. In comparison, Rob Johnson was the USC kid who looked like he just wanted to be back in Southern California.
The 1998 Playoffs
Lets look at this stacked AFC Playoff field:
#1 Denver - Mike Shanahan 2 Super Bowl Championships
#2 NY Jets - Bill Parcells 2 Super Bowl Championships with a guy by the name of Belichick as Defensive Coordinator who now has 3 Super Bowl Championships as a head coach
#3 Jacksonville - Tom Coughlin 2 Super Bowl Championships
#4 Miami - Jimmy Johnson 2 Super Bowl Championships
#5 Buffalo - Wade Phillips
#6 - New England - Pete Carroll Reigning Super Bowl Champion
The fifth seeded Bills traveled to South Florida to play their rivals in the wild card game. Under Rob Johnson the Bills fell 13-7 to the Dolphins in Miami but behind Doug Flutie, the Bills defeated the Dolphins with typical Flutie dramatics, the Bills overcame a 10 point 4th quarter deficit to win 30-24. Although the Bills and Dolphins were mostly even in their 90's matchups, the Bills had always come out on top against the Dolphins in the playoffs. With Flutie, Bills fans were confident the Bills would again squish the fish and win their first playoff game in years.
The game had an ominous start when a 65-yard pass to Eric Moulds looked destined to be a touchdown until Moulds was hit from behind at the 12-yard line, and he fumbled the ball away to the Dolphins. The defense held the Dolphins to two Olindo Mare field goals and Thurman Thomas ran in a TD to give Buffalo the 7-6 halftime lead, however an interception from the 6-yard line at the end of the half meant Buffalo had committed two turnovers in the red zone and left at least 6 points off the scoreboard.
Two more turnovers left the Bills down 24-14 in the fourth quarter. Andre Reed made in my opinion, his final impression as the Bills star receiver, he caught a pass and was ruled down at the 1-yard line. Reed didn't like the call, he thought he had scored, and he bumped the referee, earning an ejection and a 15-yard penalty that forced Buffalo to kick a field goal cutting the lead to 24-17. Though not a turnover, it was 4 more points left off the scoreboard.
Down 7, late, Buffalo needed special teams magic and they got it, a recovered onside kick. It was Flutie magic time. Buffalo drove down to the 5-yard line when the magic ran out.
As Flutie attempted to throw a game tying touchdown, he was hit by Trace Armstrong. The worst kind of hit, where the roles are reversed: the god-like players are human, yet the human spectators are omnispective. We all saw the hit coming 4 or 5 seconds before it occurred. Bills fans screamed for Flutie to get rid of the ball, or RUN!!, but we all knew Flutie couldn't hear us, and he doesn't see or hear the defender coming...
Flutie is not only sacked, but he fumbled. The ball teased Bills fans as it trickled past the unaware Bills linemen into the waiting bellys of the Miami defenders. The game was over, lost on Buffalo's fifth turnover of the game, the third in the red zone.
The Bills threw away 13-25 points in this game, and still only lost by 7. They were the better team, yet they were the ones going home.
This game was painful as it was the last meaningful game of the Dolphins-Bills Rivalry.
It was painful as we let Jimmy Johnson beat us one more time.
It was painful for Doug Flutie, 14 years after his miracle in Miami over Johnson's Hurricanes, Flutie failed to deliver against Johnson's Dolphins.
But it was most painful because it kept the door open for Rob Johnson. A comeback win would have shut the door on Johnson and ended the controversy. The loss, and the sloppy play left some to wonder if Flutie had what it takes to deliver Buffalo to the Promised Land. The controversy raged throughout the offseason and the 1999 regular season. After every Flutie loss in 1999, people wondered if Johnson would have done better.
It took 17 weeks, but the door was blown open, the Bills started Rob Johnson in their next playoff game. Johnson didn't play particularly well, and Tennessee needed a miracle to win, leaving many Bills fans wondering what would have happened had Flutie started the game.
The 1998-99 playoffs would have been tough to win, after escaping Miami; Buffalo would have had to travel to Denver to face the juggernaut Broncos. However, had Flutie defeated the Dolphins in 1998, I believe there is no way Flutie is benched against Tennessee on that fateful day, January 8, 2000. Many believe Flutie Magic would have led the Bills past the Titans, through the weak post-Elway 1999-2000 AFC playoff field and to the glory of another Super Bowl.
Instead of that glorious future: no loss to Miami, no Music City Miracle, maybe a fifth Super Bowl, and possibly a Super Bowl Victory, we were left with two losses. The loss against the Dolphins and the chain reaction that caused the loss in Tennessee. In the wake of those final two playoff years wasted, Bills fans are left to suffer through a harsh playoff drought in the machine ruled future, (Belichick amirite?) clinging to life and hoping to find a leader of the Bills resistance.
It could have all been different. It should have been different. The good guys should have won, it should have been like the movie. But as the great Jay-Z once said: "This ain't a movie dog"
It's just the worst moment in Buffalo Sports History.
The Bills Toronto Series edged out "The Crash at the Ralph" but it now goes up against a Bills playoff loss. Which moment was worse? Vote below, poll closes at 1am.
Up next: As Austin Powers once said, "not a great time to lose one's head"