Gun shy about welcoming a new head coach to the Colts? If you want to get the bad taste of the McDaniels debacle out of your mouth, I’ve got an anecdote that will do the trick.
January 3, 1993
Houston Oilers vs. Buffalo Bills
Heading into the Bills’ locker room after the first half would have been like heading into a morgue. Defeat was palpable, with the Oilers holding a 28-3 lead. Head Coach Mark Levy didn’t scream or kick or spit at his players, but told them that win or lose, they’d spend the rest of their lives reliving the next thirty minutes. It needed to be worth it.
Two minutes of the second half went by before the Bills shook off their bad luck. Quarterback Frank Reich’s bumbled pass deflected off the fingers of tight end Keith McKeller, straight into the arms of the Oilers defense, and then promptly returned for a 58-yard touchdown. Now it was 35-3. I imagine every Bills’ fan across the U.S. felt like Casey Jones had just struck out. Even a radio announcer proclaimed the game a “lights out” for the Bills. But…
Maybe that interception had pissed off the Bills just enough. Maybe Coach Levy’s words had truly hit home. Whatever happened, it happened.
First, an accidental squib kick from the Oilers hopped and bounced across the midfield and the Bills scooped it right up, putting them on the 50-yard line. That combination of luck and skill put life into the team and Reich rolled over the Oilers’ defense, including an exquisitely threaded 24-yard pass, to score.
Knowing they were deep in the hole with time ticking, the Bills followed up the drive by recovering an onside kick, then scoring again on a 38-yard pass after only four plays.
Now it was Houston’s turn to sputter. After three botched plays, the Oilers had to punt, and the Bills had possession once again. Reich passes to 18 yards. Then Reich’s screen pass for 20 yards. Then a touchdown pass of 26 yards.
The Oilers flubbed their first play after regaining the field, with the Bills intercepting and returning the ball to within 18 yards of the goal line. Fourth and five on the eighteen yard line would normally be a field goal, but Reich and his crew were either feeling lucky or punch drunk. Reich nailed an 18-yard pass. Touchdown.
A sack and fumble forced the Oilers to punt yet again from deep field, placing the Bills, once again, in a cozy midfield position. Here the Bills lost a little momentum and had to punt themselves, then allowed Houston to crawl, bit by bit, back up the field, getting ever closer to the dreaded field goal. At the 14-yard line, the Oilers attempted but botched the field goal, and the Bills once again snatched it up, planting them at their 26-yard line. Once again, Reich cut through the Oilers defense with quick passes, feints and handoffs, finally plunking a nice 17-yard pass for a touchdown.
With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bills had now pissed off every single bookie in the United States, turning an easy Oilers win into the comeback of the year. But the game wasn’t over yet. Angry, defiant, and (I’m sure) a little ashamed, the Oilers fought the Bills tooth and nail to bring the ball over sixty yards into Bills territory, scoring a 26-yard field goal.
Overtime. Rich Stadium frothed and boiled with the Bills and overtime made them nearly rabid. A coin toss gave the ball to Houston, but what started out as good luck turned to back luck as the Bills intercepted the third pass and after some knock-down, drag-out plays, the Bills landed a 32-yard field goal for the win.
To date, it’s still the greatest comeback in NFL history.
You might be thinking, well this doesn’t show that Frank Reich is such a great leader. The defense holding the Oilers back and snagging some nice sacks and interceptions. Receivers and running backs did their part. What does this prove about Frank Reich?
Normally, I’d agree with you, but this isn’t the first time Reich had a one-in-a-million game. In Reich’s case, it had happened in 1984, when he dug the Maryland Terrapins out of a 31-0 hole at halftime to a 42-40 win against the Miami Hurricanes.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice, ladies and gentlemen.
Welcome to Indy, Coach Reich.