The 1993 playoff comeback victory by the Buffalo Bills over the Houston Oilers is the greatest local sporting event I witnessed in person. I never expected the Bills to comeback. But I never once thought about leaving after the team fell behind 35-3 early in the third quarter. What happened after that was amazing.
Considering that the Bills midst of a seventeen year playoff drought, reliving this twenty-four years later is a much needed reminder of how great the Super Bowl Bills were.
In the Bills’ locker room, Defensive Coordinator Walt Corey angrily chided the defense. “I was hollering the same things the fans were hollering at me when we left the field”, Corey says. “I can’t repeat the words, but the more I talked, the louder I got. The thing that bothered me was their approach. To me, they looked timid. They looked like they were going to get in the right spots, but they weren’t going to make anything happen afterward. This is an attitude game. Sometimes you start playing and you’re afraid to make things happen or afraid to make a mistake.” Nose Tackle Jeff Wright recalled “With every word that came out of Walt’s mouth, he reached a new temperature level, until he finally just exploded. He had every right to say the things that he said. We were embarrassing him, we were embarrassing ourselves, we were embarrassing Buffalo Bills fans.”
Meanwhile, head coach Marv Levy told his team, “You’ve got thirty more minutes. Maybe it’s the last thirty minutes of your season. When your season’s over, you’re going to have to live with yourselves and look yourselves in the eyes. You’d well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out.”
Apparently, the words of Corey and Levy didn’t have any immediate effect, because 1:41 into the third quarter, Reich threw a pass that bounced off the hands of tight end Keith McKeller and went into the arms of defensive back Bubba McDowell, who returned the interception 58 yards for a touchdown. Houston now had a commanding 32-point lead, 35–3; it was only the second time all season the Oilers had broken 30 points scored in a game. The Bills’ misfortunes were compounded with the loss of Thurman Thomas, who had to leave the game due to a hip injury on the drive, forcing Buffalo to attempt a comeback with a second-string backfield of Reich and Davis.
A Houston radio announcer was immortalized on NFL Films with the statement “The lights are on here at Rich Stadium, they’ve been on since this morning, you could pretty much turn them out on the Bills right now.”
The Bills got a huge assist to start their comeback on the ensuing kickoff. The wind shifted the ball just before it was kicked by Al Del Greco. As a result, it became an unintentional squib kick that the Bills recovered with great field position at midfield. Buffalo then drove 50 yards in 10 plays, including a pass to Pete Metzelaars that went right through the hands of linebacker Eddie Robinson, and scored with a 1-yard touchdown run by Davis, cutting the deficit to 35–10 when the extra point was added. On the drive, Reich completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Metzelaars and a 16-yard strike to Andre Reed, while Davis kept the drive going with a 5-yard run on fourth down and 2 before finishing it off with a touchdown run with 8:52 left in the 3rd quarter.
Christie then recovered his own onside kick and the Bills scored on the fourth play of their ensuing drive with Reich’s 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Don Beebe. One of Beebe’s feet went partially out of bounds during the run before he made the catch, and it should have been ruled by the officials as an illegal touching of the football; this was pointed out on ESPN’s “NFL Primetime” postgame recap as well as by Todd Christensen on the NBC broadcast, but no penalty was called on the play. Then, the extra point made the score 35–17 with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
Houston was then forced to punt for the first time in the game on their next drive, and Greg Montgomery’s 25-yard kick gave Buffalo the ball at their own 41-yard line. Reich started out the ensuing drive with an 18-yard completion to James Lofton. Davis gained 20 yards on a screen pass and then Reich threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Reed, trimming the lead (after making the extra point) to 35–24. In a span of 10 minutes in the third quarter, the Bills had run 18 plays, gained 176 yards, and scored 21 points, while holding the Oilers’ offense to 3 plays for 3 yards.
The situation did not get any better for Houston. On the first play of the Oilers’ ensuing possession, Moon’s pass was tipped off the hands of Slaughter; Bills’ safety Henry Jones intercepted the pass from Moon and returned it 15 yards to the Houston 23-yard line. Three plays later, Buffalo faced fourth down and five on the 18-yard line. Rather than attempt a field goal, Reich connected with Reed for the touchdown. With the score (including the extra point), the Bills had cut their deficit from 32 points to four in a span of just 6:52. On the Oilers’ next drive, linebacker Darryl Talley forced a fumble from Moon while sacking him. Houston recovered the fumble, but they were forced to punt, and Montgomery’s 24-yard kick gave Buffalo the ball at its 48-yard line. In the third quarter, Buffalo had outscored Houston 28–7 while holding Moon to 2 of 7 completions for 19 yards.
This time, the Bills could not take advantage of their excellent starting field position and had to punt. Moon’s run and shoot offense began to move the ball effectively again, aided by a roughing the passer penalty on Bruce Smith that negated linebacker Carlton Bailey’s interception. Despite two sacks by Wright on the drive, Houston reached the Buffalo 14-yard line. Al Del Greco attempted a field goal to increase the Oilers’ lead, but Montgomery fumbled the snap. Talley recovered the ball and returned it 70 yards, but officials ruled him down by contact when he made the initial recovery, giving Buffalo the ball on their own 26-yard line. After two plays, the Bills faced third down and four. With Houston’s defense dropping back and expecting a pass, Reich handed the ball off to Davis, who stormed through the line and took off for a 35-yard gain. Only a diving tackle from defensive back Steve Jackson prevented Davis from taking it all the way for a touchdown. Then Reich went back to passing the ball, completing a short pass to Reed at the Oilers’ 17-yard line on third down and two for the first down. With just 3:08 left in the fourth quarter, Reich threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Reed, giving Buffalo its first lead of the game 38–35 (after the extra point); for the first time all season, the Houston defense (ninth in fewest points allowed that season) had allowed over 29 points. But Moon led Houston downfield on a 63-yard drive to score the tying 26-yard field goal from Del Greco to send the game into overtime. A key play on the drive was an 18-yard completion to Slaughter on fourth down and four from the Bills’ 34-yard line.
Houston won the coin toss and got the ball at its 20-yard line. Moon started out the drive with two completions for 7 yards, but his 50th pass attempt of the day turned out to be his last. On third down and three, Moon threw a pass intended for Ernest Givens five yards downfield, overthrew it right into the arms of defensive back Nate Odomes for an interception. After a 2-yard return, Jeffires committed a 15-yard facemask penalty while making the tackle, giving the Bills a first down on Houston’s 20-yard line. After two runs by Davis, Christie kicked a 32-yard field goal to give Buffalo the win, 41–38. Buffalo won the following two AFC playoff games to advance to the 3rd of their four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Reich finished the game with 21 of 34 pass completions for 289 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 1 interception. Reed had 8 catches for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns. Davis rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown, while also catching 2 passes for 25 yards and returning a kickoff for 33. Moon recorded 36 of 50 completions for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 2 interceptions. His 36 completions set a playoff record that would stand until broken by Drew Brees’s 39 completions in 2010 (Brees’s New Orleans Saints also lost that game). Givens caught 9 passes for 117 yards. Jeffires recorded 8 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Many left the stadium while the Oilers had the large lead; Reich saw “a big wave of people leaving”, which Buffalo News reporter Vic Carucci described as “they’re pouring out of the gates, getting in their cars, driving home”. They returned when they heard on the radio of the Bills’ comeback; tickets did not permit reentry, so people climbed fences until the stadium reopened the gates. Team general manager Bill Polian recalled how the same fans who had left in disgust after denouncing to him the Bills’ inability to beat the Oilers, ran back to their seats praising the team. Kelly said, “the old saying was, ‘Did you know that 150,000 people went to the Buffalo Bills football game?'”, Levy said “70,000 people were at that game. I’ve already met 400,000 of them”, and Steve Tasker joked “I’ve met 1.2 million people who say they were in the stadium.”
Audio and Video
The internet is amazing. It makes access to historic moments easy. Incredible.
Here is Van Miller’s call of the entire game…it’s really great to listen to it from beginning to end.
Here are highlights from Chris Berman on ESPN…