The Comeback

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“The Comeback” refers to an NFL wild card game between the Houston Oilers and the Buffalo Bills on January 3, 1993, in which the Bills mounted a comeback from a deficit of 32 points to eventually beat the Oilers in overtime. The game, played at the Bill’s home ground, the Rich Stadium, remains the biggest comeback victory in the history of the NFL.

Build-up to the Comeback

During the 1992 regular season, the Bills had finished second in the AFC Eastern Division with an 11-5 record, thanks largely to their formidable offense. The Bills had made it to the Super Bowl the previous two seasons but had lost both times. The Oilers had a comparable season, also finishing second in their division, AFC Central, with a 10-6 record. The Oilers Roster was packed with a fearsome lineup, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, wide receivers Curtis Duncan and Ernest Garvis, and running back Lorenzo White.

The two teams had met in Houston in the final game of the regular season, with the Oilers triumphing 27-3. Bills starting quarterback Jim Kelly got an injury during that game, played just a week prior, ruling him out of the wild card game. In Kelly’s absence, backup Frank Reich took his place. Reich had a history of orchestrating comebacks in his career dating back to his college days.

When playing for the Maryland Terrapins in 1984 he had helped the Terrapins recover from a 31-0 deficit in the first half to win 42-40 against the Miami Hurricanes who had been unbeaten the whole season. This record stood for 22 years. The Bills were also missing linebacker Cornelius Bennett and running back Thurman Thomas who were defensive player and offensive player of the year respectively.

The game was played on a cold and windy winter at the Rich Stadium. With the stadium failing to sell out, NFL blackout rules prevented the game from being broadcast live on TV. The Oilers started in dominant fashion, stifling the offensive power of the Bills for most of the first half. On their first drive, Moon made six of seven passes to orchestrate an 80-yard drive that ended in a touchdown from wide receiver Haywood Jeffries. The Bills responded with a field goal from Steve Christie to cut the score to 7-3.

Further Oilers touchdowns from Webster Slaughter, Curtis Duncan and Jeffries before the half saw Houston extend their advantage to 28-3. Despite a halftime reprimanding from the coaches, the Bills continued to seed ground to the Oilers, as a 58-yard touchdown from Bubba McDowell opened a 32-point lead. At this point, the Bills looked dead and buried and the already half-full stadium emptied further as frustrated Bills fans headed for the parking lots.

The Comeback Unfolds

A botched Oilers kickoff, perhaps aided by a shift in wind direction, gave the Bills possession and they set off on a 50-yard scoring drive with cut the score to 35-10. Kicker Steve Christie then connected with Reich who after just four plays threw a pass to Don Beebe to make a 38-yard touchdown. With the Bills having shored their slack defensive setup, they produced further outstanding play to recover possession and Reich found Andre Reed who made a 26-yard touchdown.

The very next drive by the Oilers was also intercepted and Reich once again found Reed for another touchdown the deficit was now just four points. For the first time in the game, the Bills found themselves in the lead after a botched Oilers field goal attempt resulted in Reich and Reed connecting yet again for a 17-yard touchdown. The score now stood at 38-35 in favor of the Bills with under three minutes left in the game. With barely seconds left in regulation, the Oilers managed a field goal to force overtime. In overtime, Christie made a 32-yard field goal after Moons attempted pass was intercepted, ending the game at 41-38.

Aftermath of the Comeback

Upon learning that the Bills were mounting a comeback, many of their fans rushed back to the stadium with some climbing over fences after security denied them reentry. The Bills won the next playoff matchup against the Steelers 24-3 and 29-10 in the AFC Championship game against the Miami Dolphins.

In Super Bowl XXVII the Bills lost 52-17 to the Dallas Cowboys. It was the third straight time they were losing on the Super Bowl, and they would also lose in the 1994 edition to make it four straight losses.