Too often, when reflecting back on the Buffalo Bills of the early 90s, the negatives all too prominently swim about at the surface.
Wide right, four straight losses, cursed; those are the phrases that most hear or remember. A litany of losing that stood as a jumping off point for almost two decades of ineptitude.
For fans outside of Western New York, the derision cast down upon you by those who discover your NFL allegiance is almost comical. Such overblown, incredulous expressions, such sincere, yet insulting condolences; I mean, how many of you Buffalo-born haven’t had someone say, “Oh, I’m so sorry” when they find out where you’re from and who you root for… season after agonizing season?
Fathers will force it on their unwilling sons, mothers on uncaring daughters, regaling them ad nauseum about those near touches with the divine, yet always lamenting their “cursed” fate throughout. For those who lived during that time in Buffalo, there is no greater symbol for their plight and their hometown than their Bills; a team so close to greatness, yet somehow denied it in the end and then mocked for it to boot, as if they were silly to even think they could.
“Almost a Dynasty: A Fan Story” (buffalobillsmovie.com) serves, then, as a reminder to those who have forgotten how great their city is and how amazing that team was (and still is) for its loyal fans.
A soon to be released 68-minute documentary that mixes old footage with new interviews concerning the Bills’ improbable and likely unrepeatable four year run to the Super Bowl, this short film takes a look at what was truly happening in Buffalo during that short blip in time.
1derful Films takes a decidedly fan-centric look at “The Run” using a patchwork, tatterdemalion of interviews ranging from players (Kelly to Tasker) to locals (Dave Shatzel, owner of local favorite Coles). Whether it be a casual fan or a broadcasting pro (Chris Berman, or course, is featured), this is a surprising and refreshing take on the often unjustly spat on Buffalo Bills and, more importantly, the inhabitants of the Queen City themselves.
In the trailer, Steve Tasker, former Special Teams monster for the Bills, is quoted as saying, “When it happens there in Buffalo, it’s not even about football, it’s about Buffalo, and it’s amazing”, and that seems to be the directors’ approach to the material. NFL Films can give you better footage of the story on the field and the cold, hard stats of their regular season dominance can be found anywhere on the Internet, but Gangi and Tasca are giving you a different take here. They’re telling a little known story about a time and place in sports history (yes, history), utilizing an oral tradition older than football, and letting the voices of those who watched it unfold stand right alongside the usual players and coaches soundbites, resulting in something much fuller, more rich.
It’s a modern fairy tale in their hands, with an ending not quite so dark and hopeless as many (even fans) seem to recall. “Almost a Dynasty” tries to shine the light on the hope and joy of a city whose previous claims to fame were really only a presidential assassination and a blizzard (that largely hit south, as the snow always does), looking, perhaps, to find them a piece of the respect they’ve so long deserved (but rarely asked for).
They ask, “Would you trade the glory of The Run, for one?” reminding fans of the excitement (and dumb luck) in bringing such a tremendous amount of talent to Buffalo at one time. For you sports nuts, think the Montreal Expos in 1994, as the list of talented players was just a who’s who of future Hall of Famers. There was the consistently spectacular Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Andre Reed (along with Metzellars and Hull and Davis and Beebe) keeping their offense continuously in the top 5 (if not first place) in the league, outscoring at will it seemed. Meanwhile, their defense brought in names like Bruce Smith (a nightmare squeezed into an NFL uniform), Cornelius Bennett (“Biscuit”, described in the film as Mickey Mantle in a football uniform), and Darryl Talley (the ugliest man in football and the driving soul of the team), leading a domination that matched the pace set by the offense.
In 1990, their first run to the big one, this was the team that scored more points than any other team in the league (428), while also maintaining the largest point differential (165 points, winning by an average of 10+ points per game), and it wasn’t even their acknowledged “best season” (that would be 1991: 458 points scored, 6,525 yards of total offense, scoring at least 34 points in nine different games, with a defense ranked sixth in the league). However, the Bills have been in such a rut since that span, that too many have forgotten how good they really were, recalling the recent and stretching it to fit over the past.
In a strictly sports sense, this film is the slap-in-the-face, head-dunk-in-ice-water Bills fans need right now, as their team stands seemingly ready to attempt another climb over the next few seasons. Even if they do find some way to get back to the playoffs, though, or to the Super Bowl, or manage to find the heart needed to get that one victory so denied their predecessors, “Almost a Dynasty” reminds that they still won’t be what the Bills of the early 90s were; no one will be.
Hell, the Patriots of today aren’t quite what the Bills were the and the NFL as a whole won’t likely ever see another team to repeat the magic Buffalo managed to conjure up over two decades ago. It was four straight Super Bowls, four straight seasons with a minimum of 11 wins (with that one low of 11 more than being made up for with the Comeback in the first round of the playoffs), and four straight seasons of an emotional high that no other sports city will ever equal.
Yes, the Patriots won three in four years, which is impressive, but they were 9-7 in 2002 and didn’t even make the playoffs, so can you say you’d trade for their run (they have 48 regular season wins during that four years, Buffalo has 49, but New England does have three pretty important post-season wins the Bills don’t)? The Steelers have won it all seven times, but thought they’ve won back-to-back twice (1974&1975, 1978&1979), even they haven’t gone to four straight.
In the end, though, this isn’t entirely about sports, and what the filmmakers are doing here is admirable; taking the spotlight off the blowouts and mistakes, instead choosing to focus on what that run did for the people of a small snow/rust-belt town by remembering what it was that got them all stirred into a frenzy to begin with. It’s a trip down memory lane that doesn’t seem to gloss over the failures, but chooses not to ignore the good (and great) that came from that period either.
Bill Polian summed up that time in a quote about getting to Tampa for their first Super Bowl, saying he saw “people holding signs saying ‘our dreams came true, we’re in the Super Bowl” and it was that simple joy that too many have lost in the time since. The fandemonium that exploded in the city was there well before the rings went to the Giants, lasted well past loss number two to Washington, continued independently of the back-to-back losses to Dallas. Yes, it would have been nice to win one (Ron Jaworski still says that “if the Bills had won that first one, they would have won four”), but does that really mean that you can’t look back on that ride and enjoy what was happening in a little town of blue collar workers and sports fans, who never got any of the respect they so richly deserv
This is Buffalo, folks. There’s more culture, art, and history here than in most cities in the world, married to a sense of community you just don’t find in major markets. Frank Lloyd Wright built houses here, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has been playing here since 1935, Mark Twain once called it home, and we have not one, but four pretty good colleges within 20 minutes of each other (University at Buffalo, Buffalo State, Niagara, Canisius), in addition to the Albright Knox Art Museum, Forrest Lawn Cemetary, and a festival season over the summer that is second to none (I’m leaving out a few hundred other things, I know).
What this film looks to be doing is to take a four year period in sports, a decidedly minor thing in the grand run of things, and using it to showcase what it truly means to be a citizen of Buffalo. They’re reminding us and showing the world that even in our supposed “dark and cursed” time, fans were simply happy to be riding on the crest of that giant wave, uncaring about either the crash that would eventually occur, or the severity of it. It was a singular moment in not just sports history, but in the history of Western New York; a time when we were a family under one banner labeled not “the Bills”, but “Buffalo”.
Sure, “Almost a Dynasty” is a good looking sports movie, yet what it really does is remind the people of the Queen City of who they truly are, where they live, and how wonderful that is.
That alone makes it worth watching.
The film will premier in Buffalo on September 28, 2012 at the Market Arcade Theater at 7:00 pm.