With two weeks to go in the 2011 National Football League regular season Denver Broncos fans are aware that two wins punch the Broncos’ ticket into the playoffs. One win, in the right situation combining with losses by others, can do the same thing.
And the first of our remaining two opponents is Buffalo, in Buffalo.
I always like the idea of the Broncos playing the Buffalo Bills. Certainly, they are a tough opponent, playing before their usual rabid home crowd, so my feeling is not that they are any easier than anyone else.
I just like it anytime the Broncos play against an original American Football League team, one of the franchises that came into pro football at the same time as the Broncos.
But in actuality, Buffalo’s pro football history extends back a lot farther than that.
Buffalo had its first pro football franchise in the very first year of play for the NFL, 1920. They were called the Buffalo All-Americans, and they had a 9-1-1 record good enough for third in the league, even though no official standings were maintained for the 1920 season.
The championship was awarded to the Akron Pros in a league meeting in April of 1921. That first year was very rag-tag in terms of organization, and many of the clubs played games against local athletic clubs, any team they could find, really, so results and schedules were a mishmash.
The Buffalo All-Americans continued play through the 1923 season, then Buffalo was represented by the Bisons from in 1924 and 1925, then they became the Buffalo Rangers in 1926, back to the Bisons in 1927, no team at all in 1928, and then the Bisons had their final year of play in the original NFL in 1929, going 1-7-1.
That was right about the time when pro football was gaining stability, and the weaker franchises were consolidating with others, willingly or by financial force, or just being disbanded and fading away.
So Buffalo faded out of pro football until 1946, when the All America Football Conference was formed.
I realize that sounds like a college organization, with the league called a “conference,” but it was a four-year rival to the NFL.
The Buffalo franchise was the Bills, and one year they even played the Cleveland Browns for the league title. Losing to owner/coach Paul Brown and Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham.
In fact, the Browns completely dominated the AAFC, winning the league championship all four years, before the AAFC folded and the NFL took in three teams, the Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers along with the perennial champion Browns.
The addition of the 49ers gave the NFL a West Coast rival for the Los Angeles Rams, but Buffalo was again left out in the cold.
By the way, the Browns showed that they and the AAFC were no fluke, as Cleveland won their NFL divisional title its first six straight years in the NFL, giving them 10 straight championship seasons spread over two leagues.
Anyway, the Bills were out, and it looked like for good, until Lamar Hunt came along with his desire to create another second pro football league, after having been rebuffed on his request for an NFL expansion team for Dallas on numerous occasions.
So the Bills were born, or reborn, or re-re-born, depending on how you count their previous incarnations, and this time they gave a face to pro football in Western New York.
In 1964 the Bills went 12-2 and won the league title over San Diego, repeating the feat the following year.
Their coach for those tremendous championship teams, Lou Saban, came to Denver on a 10-year contact to rebuild the Broncos—actually, to build from complete scratch—in 1967.
Saban was a very intense, competitive and combative coach and after five years of his project in Denver his frustration led him to resign, but by then he had created a level or respectability for pro football in Denver that had not existed previously.
Of course, all our readers know that Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy and Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly led the Bills to four straight AFC titles and Super Bowl appearances, and many readers will remember farther back to when Lou Saban—in his second Buffalo incarnation—had fine teams with O.J. Simpson and the offensive line known as The Electric Company.
But not many readers will remember all the way back.
And the thing about history is, it goes back all the way.
This was just a very quick look back with the reminder to all that our opponent Sunday has had a noble history with ups, downs, championships and failures.
And through it all—most recently, since the AFL’s beginnings in 1960—one man has owned the Buffalo Bills.
Ralph Wilson has had the team all that time, rejecting every possibility of moving his Bills to a different city, a bigger city. Ralph Wilson stayed the course, eventually watching his team go to four consecutive Super Bowls. He truly earned his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Bills and Buffalo and synonymous, and the Broncos and Bills will forever share a bond as AFL originals.
This is a nice matchup Saturday.
There is no rivalry like one that goes back to the day.