Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Buffalo Bills

Today, the Denver Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 48.  Much is being said and written about the Broncos' formidable offense, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, going up against Seattle, which can boast the best defense in the NFL.  Four times before, the finest offense has gone up against the finest defense in the last game of the season, and in three of these games, the defense has prevailed.  That bodes well for the Seahawks.

But Manning has been special throughout this season, playing magnificently in the Broncos' victory against the Patriots in the AFC Conference Championship two weeks ago.  So the story line continues to be about Manning, and whether he will be able to match the two Super Bowl victories already owned by his younger brother, Eli.  Only Richard Williams, father of Serena and Venus, can understand what that would mean for Archie's boys.

But there will be a loser in today's game, and few will remember who that team was.  Of all the Super Bowl bridesmaids, there is one team that will always stand out above the others -- the Buffalo Bills, who made it to the big game four years in row.

I went to the first of those four games, played against the New York Giants in 1991.  We had just entered into the Gulf War, and for the first time, there were snipers waiting for all of us, circled along the top rim of the stadium. Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem, and the recording -- yours truly conducting the Florida Orchestra -- went platinum.

If Scott Norwood's 47-yard field goal in the closing seconds had been a few feet further to the left, the Bills would have won the game.  To their credit, they returned to the Super Bowl the following year . . . and then again the next year . . . . and then again the following season.   That is an extraordinary accomplishment.  A number of teams have made to to the Super Bowl in successive years, and there have been other teams that have gone winless in four of these games, namely the Minnesota Vikings.  (The Broncos have lost four times, but few will remember this, because in the twilight of John Elway's career, they won two in a row.) Still, no team can lay claim to what the Bills did in the early 1990s.

When Vince Lombardi famously said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," he wasn't talking about Marv Levy's Gang from Upstate New York. So today, I tip my hat to the greatest team that never won the Super Bowl, the Buffalo Bills.

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