The All-Time Buffalo Bills Offense

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The All-Time Buffalo Bills Offense

Recently, I introduced the Bills All Time Non-Player Personnel team, the first in a series of articles regarding the greats in Bills history.

Now it is time to introduce the offense:

Quarterbacks:

Jim Kelly

Despite a rocky beginning as Kelly initially chose the USFL’s Houston Gamblers over the Bills, when the USFL folded, the marriage between Kelly and Buffalo developed rapidly, to the point of Buffalo icon status. 

Jimbo’s no-fear playing mentality embodied the Western New York work ethic and his fast-paced no-huddle offense made even the dreariest Buffalo snowstorms seem exciting.   

Of course, being surround by Hall of Fame talent doesn’t hurt either, but nevertheless, Kelly owns virtually every relevant team career passing record, is an NFL Hall of Famer, is the only player to have his number retired, and remains both a local and national presence even today.  When people talk Buffalo football, it starts with Jim Kelly

 

Jack Kemp

Being born in 1978 is a curse.  It never allowed me to see so much of sports history, and in this case, it didn’t allow me to see Jack Kemp play.  I only know Kemp as a politician, but knowing about his politics probably helps anyone cursed like me get an understanding of Kemp the player. 

Kemp the politician was a Republican, did what he thought was right more often than follow party lines, and was willing to work with both sides of the aisle, making him well respected by his peers. 

His game reads similar.  Intelligence, efficiency, agility and leadership are the words that come to mind whenever I read about his accomplishments.  One of only 20 players to play for all ten AFL seasons (eight as a member of the Bills), his numbers, while very good, don’t seem to fully speak for what the Bills of his era were able to achieve.

Seven AFL All-Star appearances, an AFL MVP and numerous AFL passing records all go to Kemp.  Most importantly, he is the only Bills QB to ever win a league championship, and he did it twice, in 1964 and 1965.

 

Frank Reich

Drafted as a third round insurance policy in 1985 while Joe Ferguson finished his career and Jim Kelly lit up the USFL, Frank Reich remained with the Bills for nine important seasons. 

Reich never was the permanent starter for the Bills, but he had an important impact on the Bills organization.  As the primary backup to Jim Kelly for virtually his entire career, he was as critical to the success and continuity of the K-Gun as Offensive Coordinator Ted Marchibroda and Head Coach Marv Levy.

Reich started six regular season games during the Bills four year Super Bowl run, winning four of those games while throwing for over 1500 yards and 15 td during those seasons. 

Reich is best known in Bills lore for orchestrating the greatest comeback in NFL history, a 41-38 victory over the Houston Oilers which jump started the team’s playoff run to its third straight Super Bowl, which Reich also played in. 

Reich was a gamer and a quiet competitor.  Had the USFL not have folded following the 1985 season and Jim Kelly never had come to the Bills, it is entirely possible Reich would have had had a long and successful career as a starter for the team.

Nevertheless, Reich provided an understanding, presence and leadership the Bills desperately needed during their most successful post-merger era. 

 

Why Joe Ferguson didn’t make it:

12 of Joe Ferguson’s 15 year career were played for the Bills.  Ferguson  was 77-86 with a 52 percent career completion percentage for the team.   Ferguson is a tree in the woods.  Sometimes players end up in a good situation. 

They play a long time for a team, nobody realizes they should be replaced, they don’t get injured, nobody better comes along to replace them and they accumulate statistics which put them in team record books.

Ferguson didn’t do anything great, he accumulated stats.  Average stats.  People shouldn’t be revered for accumulating stats. 

 

His non-losing season’s lines:

1973: 9-5, 939 yards, 4TD, 10 INT, 44.5%

1974: 9-5, 1588 yards, 12 TD, 12 INT, 51.3%

1975: 8-6, 2426 yards, 25TD, 17 INT, 52,6%

1980: 11-5, 2805 yards, 20 TD, 18INT, 57.2%

1981: 10-6, 3652 yards, 24TD, 20INT, 50.6%

1983: 8-8, 2995 yards, 26TD, 25INT, 55.3%

These were the years his teams didn’t lose.

 

Running Backs

Thurman Thomas

Thurman Thomas would be known as the best player to ever play football if fantasy football was as heavily played during his era as it is today. 

Always somewhat overlooked in the question of best running backs of his era he is consistently listed third behind Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders, in the Bills no-huddle offense, along with Jim Kelly and Andre Reed, he was seen as just one of the parts which makes the K-Gun go.

But Thurman was so much more.  Thurman’s draft stock fell due to questions about his knees.  The Bills didn’t have a first round pick in the 1988 draft, so Thurman was their first pick in the draft.  Thurman used to say he played every game to avenge his selection.  Some players would say that, with Thurman it was believeable. 

Thurman didn’t set records, he created them.   He had four consecutive seasons of over 50 catches, which helped him lead the league in total yards from scrimmage in those years as well. 

If Kelly was the brains of K-Gun, calling the plays, dissecting defenses and distributing passes to the right players, Thurman was the heart, pumping the blood to all the right places and making sure everything kept going at the right pace. 

He was the multi-dimensional halfback before it became en vogue.  Marshall Faulk and Ladainian Tomlinson owe their reputations to the Thurmanator.

 

­OJ Simpson

Before he became infamous for his small indiscretions, the Juice was a legend in Buffalo.  Powerful, graceful, exciting, and engaging, OJ wasn’t just a horse, he was a workhorse like none before him and few after him.

In an elite club—one of few to reach 2000 yards in a season, the only to do it in 14 games, he led the league in rushing four times.  Over 11,000 rushing yards and 76 touchdowns make up his Hall of Fame career.  No Bills list is complete without OJ.

 

Fullback:

Cookie Gilchrist

A key player in the Bills first Championship in 1964, Gilchrist is known as both a superstar and an enigma.  Though only with the Bills for three season, he still sits among the top five in almost all rushing categories, and was the first AFL player to rush for 1000 yards.  But Gilchrist’s biggest contributions may have been in the blocking game. 

Known as one of the best blocking backs to ever play the game, his devastating hits and willingness to block helped keep Jack Kemp’s offense moving.  While his feuding with Head Coach Lou Saban over his number of touches eventually ended his Bills tenure, Cookie’s three years in Buffalo were too memorable and noteworthy to not be discussed.  

 

Wide Receivers:

Andre Reed

Many good receivers have played for the team, but Andre Reed played on a different level than everyone else.  Reed is simply one of the best receivers to ever play the game.  If a person were to build the perfect receiver, Andre Reed might fit the mold.

Powerful, fearless, incredible vision and ridiculously soft hands all were part of Reed’s packaging.  Reed’s willingness to sacrifice himself over the middle changed the game and helped elevate a great K-Gun scheme to heights unfathomable.

Reed consistently led the league in yards after the catch, and his breathtaking jukes, dekes and spins made every time he touched the ball a chance for something exciting to happen. 

And touch the ball he did—at the time of his retirement, his 951 career receptions ranked him second all-time behind only Jerry Rice, and still places him sixth all-time today, and his over 13,000 receiving yards places him 10th all-time. 

Reed and Kelly held the all-time QB to WR touchdown record until they were surpassed by Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in 2006.  Reed’s playoff numbers are also phenomenal and place him near the top of the playoff record books as well. 

Reed is second all time with 13 seasons of 50 receptions or more.  Nary did a game pass when Reed wouldn’t leave a defender in the dust and fans in awe.

 

Eric Moulds

Moulds played ten seasons with the Bills, and is second all-time on the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns.  Moulds’ career started at the beginning end of the most recent wave of big, physical receivers, and he fit the mold. 

His large frame and unique athleticism made him a good kick returner and a player other teams had to game plan for. 

 

Lee Evans

Thought of as a risky pick for the Bills when he was drafted, Evans is already all over the team’s record books despite not even being in the prime of his career yet.  If Evans were to retire today, he would be fifth all time on the team in receptions, fourth in yards and fifth

in touchdowns.  Luckily for the Bills, Evans is locked up for four more years and will only increase his impact and value to the organization.

 

Elbert Dubenion and Bob Chandler

I don’t know a ton about either player, but they rank near the top of the Bills record books in nearly every receiving statistic.  Dubenion was a member of the original 1960 Bills team and played until 1967.

He played 99 over his eight year career, averaged 18 yards per reception, and is third all time on the team in touchdown receptions and yards receiving.  In 1964, Dubenion had one of the most sensational seasons of any receiver in pro football history, with 10 touchdowns, 42 receptions and 1,139 yards, averaging  27.1 yards per catch. 

 

Chandler played in 113 games in nine seasons with the Bills, had one more reception, significantly less yardage, and one less touchdown than Dubenion.  Chandler led the NFL in receptions from 1975 to 1977 with 176.

 

Jerry Butler didn't make the cut.  Sorry.

 

Tight End:

Pete Metzelaars

Metzelaars played with the Bills from’85-‘94 the Bills and for most fans, he will probably best be remembered for his exceptional pass and run blocking skills above all else. 

Having Metzelaars on the field was like having another offensive limeman on the field with his ability to open holes for Thurman Thomas and Kenny Davis, and his ability to contain edge rushers one on one allowed the Bills to run much more dynamic sets than a lot of other teams could have (it also helped that the best edge rusher in the NFL, Bruce Smith, was going against him every day in practice).

Metzelaars was all guts and no glory, though, as he also got his touches in the fast-paced K-Gun offense,  despite splitting time with the more athletic Keith McKeller, and sharing the field with hall of famers Thomas and James Lofton, and eventual Hall of Famer Andre Reed.  In fact, Metzelaars currently ranks fourth all-time on the Bills in receptions.   

 

If there is another TE who has ever made a significant impact on the Bills, I can’t find him.

 

Offensive line:

Billy Shaw and Joe DeLamielleure

How do offensive linemen get into the NFL Hall of Fame?  By being substantially better than their peers to the point that in a position lost in anonymity and subjectivity, their greatness cannot be disputed.  Billy Shaw and Joe DeLamielleure are both in the NFL’s hall of fame.

 

Drafted in round two of the 1961 draft,  Shaw was one of the earliest great Bills.  He was considered small for a guard known for his agility and sound technique, which allowed him to dominate players much larger than him. 

He was a leader on the two Bills AFL championship teams, he played his entire nine pro seasons for the Bills, and is the only player in the Hall of Fame to never play in the NFL. 

 

DeLammelliure was the ring leader for the Bills famed “electric company” offensive line, which paved the way for OJ Simpson’s 2003 yards in 14 games in 1973, a feat which has not been accomplished since.  Joe D wasn’t just a player for the Bills on the field, he was a face for the team off the field as well. 

As he represented the team in numerous off–field NFL events, and was the team representative to the players union.  Joe has stayed in the news and is a critical voice in the crusade to better retired NFL player’s pensions.

 

Jim Ritcher and Kent Hull

Ritcher and Hull were stalwarst for the Bills from the 80s through the mid-'90s.  Blocking for the powerful and fast paced no huddle K-Gun offense was not an easy task but Ritcher and Hull were consistent, smart, reliable bulldogs during the Bills heyday.    

 

Ritcher played 14 seasons with the Bills, made two pro bowls, and started for all four of the Bills Super Bowl teams.  Hull played 11 seasons, made three pro bowls, and like Ritcher, started for all four Super Bowl teams.

 

Ruben Brown

Brown is the last of the great Bills offensive linemen.  Drafted in 1995, Brown was named to eight consecutive Pro Bowls between 1996 and 2003.  Brown played nine seasons for the team, starting every game with the team except his last. 

Brown, always outspoken and by 2003 a weathered veteran, had a falling out with Buffalo management and was egregiously let go by the team after the season.  Still, Brown was a warrior who should be recognized for his excellence on the field and dedication to the Bills.

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