Thirty years is a long time, but many Bills fans are experiencing a sense of deja vu when it comes to this year’s team.
Buffalo is set to face the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium, and for many, this appearance has sparked comparisons to the 1990 team, the first Bills team to reach the Super Bowl.
Howard Simon of Buffalo’s WGR Radio said this feels a little like what the city went through that year for a few reasons, not the least of which was the fact that both teams represent the culmination of a well-crafted team-building approach that finally paid dividends.
“This year, you could feel better about the Bills than in past seasons,” he said. “They finally had a competent coach and GM in place, and Josh Allen took good strides the last year. Then they go out and get their elite No. 1 receiver with [Stefon] Diggs. You could see what they had built.”
In both cases, the Bills were building toward success. In the case of the 1990 team, they had assembled several pieces that had already made them a playoff team, one that had just missed out on a trip to the Super Bowl two years prior with a loss in the AFC Championship game to the Bengals.
“I think there was a realization that we were on the brink of becoming a damn good football team,” former Bills pass rusher Bruce Smith told the Associated Press.
This season, the combination of the ascension of Allen, the addition of Diggs, as well as the foundational pieces put in place by coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane were essential in setting them up for success.
The final piece of the puzzle? The Patriots’ loss of Tom Brady, which helped clear a path for the Bills to win their first AFC East title since 1995.
“When Brady left New England, everybody here thought the Bills would win the division,” Simon said.
But like the 1990 team, things didn’t really start to coalesce until December. Buffalo was 8-3 at the start of the month (the 1990 team was 9-2), and while there was a sense of optimism, there were still skeptics.
“I don’t think people thought there would be this sort of run just yet … until December,” said Simon. “They blew out New England. They blasted San Francisco.
“And then Miami comes in here in a game where the Bills have nothing at stake and Miami needs a win to get into the playoffs, and they destroyed Miami with a lot of backups. All of a sudden, then people thought this sort of run was possible.”
After a win over the Ravens in the divisional round, they are on the cusp of a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time since the end of the 1993 season. It’s a run that has sparked a whole new wave of excitement among one of the NFL’s most rabid fan bases.
“You can see everybody going along for the ride, and the whole thing picking up in intensity and excitement on a week-by-week basis,” said Simon. “The community has become more and more consumed by the Bills.
“The night they clinched the division, a few thousand fans showed up at the airport flying flags. The gear is flying off the shelves. People can’t get enough of the Bills talk. It’s been great.”
Not to look too far down the road — the Chiefs represent a sizable mountain for the Bills to climb — but the hard-won road to redemption could end with them facing their greatest nemesis in Brady.
The former Patriots quarterback gleefully tormented Buffalo for almost 20 years, running up a 32-3 career mark against the Bills. Wins by Buffalo and Tampa Bay on Sunday would set up another showdown between Brady and the Bills in Tampa, the same city that hosted Buffalo’s first Super Bowl appearance.
But in the same way the 2004 Red Sox finally broke through with a win over the Yankees on the way to a long-awaited World Series title, a victory at the expense of their longtime adversary could make a championship all the sweeter.
“People up here are already talking about it — that’s not the guy you want to lose to,” Simon said. “Personally, I couldn’t stomach seeing Tom Brady win the Super Bowl by beating the Bills.”
Christopher Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.