by John Furgele (The 228, Accept No Imitations)
The Buffalo Bills have not made the playoffs for 17 seasons. For those who struggle with math, the last playoff appearance occurred in 1999 in a game that was played in January, 2000. To further depress Bills fans that game ended with the “Home Run Throwback or as others call it, “The Music City Miracle,” when the Tennessee Titans’ Lorenzo Neal fielded the kickoff, pitched to Frank Wychek who then threw a lateral across the field to Kevin Dyson who ran down the left sideline unscathed for the winning score.
Imagine that. That’s a fan’s last playoff memory. I hate to do this, but that was also the year that Doug Flutie started 15 games, went 10-5 and then sat out the meaningless finale. In the finale, backup Rob Johnson shredded the Indianapolis Colts so impressively, that owner Ralph Wilson told head coach Wade Phillips to start Johnson in the playoff game. Johnson didn’t play well in the AFC Wild Card Game, but he had the Bills up 16-15 before the Bills’ special teams broke down and that miraculous play occurred.
This offseason will be a tumultuous one for the team I call the Buffaloes (the Fighting Buffaloes after a win). From 2000-2016, the Bills have never been 2-14 pitiful, but they have been 7-9, 8-8 and 9-7 mediocre. In the NFL, this is called spinning your wheels; never bad enough to tear it down, never good enough to get over the hump to 10 or 11 wins that, in the NFL, will get you into the playoffs.
The fans have been loyal and for the most part, patient. Teams that are 8-8 give fans false hope each and every year. You know the fan’s mantra. “If we can find a way to win that Raiders game and that Ravens game, we’re 10-6 and we’re in.” Others might say, “If we can keep Sammy Watkins on the field for 16 games, that’s the two to three wins we need to get in.”
The Bills have tinkered and tinkered for 16 seasons. Different coaches, different GMs, different QBs. Marv Levy retired, came back to help, and then retired again. At age 91, I think it is safe to say that he will stay retired. Owner Ralph Wilson retired permanently when he left to meet his maker. Doug Marrone coached the Bills to a 9-7 record in 2014, but because he couldn’t play nice with GM Doug Whaley exercised an opt-out clause in his contract and took an assistant coaches job at Jacksonville. Think about that head scratcher. He demoted himself!
Jim Kelly retired in 1996 and the Bills have been searching for his true successor ever since. Again, for those with math deficiencies, that’s 20 seasons. The Bills have been in the AFL and NFL since 1960 and its list of franchise quarterbacks is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. How many “good” quarterbacks have they had? Personally, I would label it at three. There was Jack Kemp and statistically he was average at best, but he was a leader of men (as we saw later when he ran for Vice President) and led the Bills to back-to-back AFL championships in 1964 and 1965 under legendary coach Lou Saban.
There was Joe Ferguson from 1973-1984. Fergy was tough as nails and was adored by most Bills fans. In the early days, his main job was to hand the ball off to O.J. Simpson and that worked well. The Bills went 9-5 in 1973 and 1974. They made the playoffs in ’74, losing 32-14 to a team that was preparing to start its dynasty, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 1975 team went 8-6 and after two bad seasons in 1977 and 1978 and a 7-9 record (they were 7-6 after 13 games) in 1979, the team made back-to-back playoff appearances in 1980 and 1981. Fergy gets credit for longevity (12 seasons) and of course toughness. He played the 1980 AFC Divisional Playoff Game with a broken ankle (a 20-14 loss).
Kelly (1986-1996) would be the third franchise QB as he led the Bills through the glory years, an era that saw Buffalo play in five AFC Championship Games (don’t forget 1988 and then 1990-1993), four Super Bowls and eight playoff appearances in those 11 seasons. Many of us thought that the good times would be here for years to come as the Bills had become an organization that just re-tooled and reloaded rather than rebuilt every year.
After missing the playoffs in 1997, the Bills came back for two appearances in 1998 and 1999 with Doug Flutie working his magic. Some may want to call Flutie the fourth franchise quarterback, but I will refrain for two reasons. One, it was too small of a sample size; two, the Bills did everything in their wake to discredit him and not play him, always wanting someone else to be the guy. But, if you want to count him, that’s fine. The main point, three or four in 57 seasons of play is not very good.
The Bills have tons of decisions to make this winter. They have to pick a coach, decide if Tyrod Taylor is worth $90 million as well as determine the hierarchy in the front office. Do they tear it down and start from scratch and suffer a 4-12 season or two? Or do they subtly tinker hoping that they can get that 10-win season and start making some playoff appearances?
Here’s what they should do? Change their name for the 2017 season in the hopes that this record of futility ends. The name: Rochester Jeffersons. Rochester is part of Bills Nation. A good percentage of Bills fans come from the Rochester area. The Rochester media covers the team full-time. The Bills are as much as Rochester’s team as they are Buffalo’s, so changing the team name would be fine. The Buffalo area fans might be hurt by this, but it would only be temporary, a year, maybe two; or until they make the playoffs. And, the Bills hold their training camp at Saint John Fisher College, right outside the Flower City (Rochester).
Changing the name to Rochester Jeffersons would also evoke history. The Jeffersons played in the NFL from 1922-1925. In those four seasons, they never won a game, going 0-21-2, but in fairness they played most of their games on the road. So, things can only go up when they go back in time and become the Rochester Jeffersons.
The only fly in the ointment would be if the Jeffersons enjoy immediate success. What if they go 11-5 and win the Super Bowl because of the name change? The tides would be turned, so if they go back to the Buffalo Bills, things could revert to this current period of futility. Would those in Greater Buffalo want their name back and run the risk of returning to their current mediocre ways?
The sooner this change is made, the better. Let the success run rampant!