The Buffalo Bills need to take a page out of the Kansas City Chiefs book and are in prime position to take that next step as a franchise.
Kansas City waited abounding years to win their second Super Bowl. Fifty years is a very long time between victories. Considering the Chiefs are usually a very competitive team, if not a top team in the NFL, they had not advanced to the big game since they last were crowned champions. Hank Stram coached that team and Len Dawson was the quarterback leading them to an upset victory over the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings. Heck they rarely appeared in the AFC Championship game since their first Super Bowl.
When the team from the great state of Missouri does regress, it usually results in some level of change at coaching or in the front office and they are quick to return to being relevant. They do not nose dive in to some long drawn out process of rebuilding. They rarely hit rock bottom before they get their act together. They do not turn in to a team of record breaking losing seasons or long playoff droughts.
Many times they make some roster moves and bounce right back in to being a competitive team. As solid of teams they have put on the field in my lifetime, prior to this championship season and recent seasons under Andy Reid, the only time they had made it to the AFC Championship game was when they had Joe Montana finishing out his amazing career. They made a run with him, but were stopped short of going to the big show by the dominating Buffalo Bills who owned the AFC for a record four straight years.
The Bills were very much relevant for two playoff appearances prior to their Super Bowl runs. An AFC championship game loss in 1988 to the Boomer Esiason and Icky Woods lead Cincinnati Bengals followed by the “Bickering Bills” season that still had them in the playoffs. They were a Ronnie Harmon dropped pass from Jim Kelly in Cleveland in 1989 from potentially moving forward to perhaps an AFC Championship game which would have placed them in that contest six straight seasons.
They also re-tooled for a couple playoff appearances after missing the playoffs for one season after the four trips to the show. At the tail end of Kelly and Levy’s legendary careers the Bills capitalized utilizing their franchise attraction to bring in top tier talent via free agency.
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As much as Marv always proclaimed the most important signings in free agency are in your own house already, John Butler’s team spared no expense and effort to reclaim greatness. Bryce Paup, Ted Washington, Quinn Early, Chris Spielman and Jim Jeffcoat are just a sample of the players who were not rental or ticket selling signings. These players took on huge roles on the post Superbowl teams.
Early was drawn in to be a go-to-guy for Kelly.
The many defensive signings had Paup being named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in his first of three seasons with the Bills as he recorded 17.5 sacks. Playing on the same line with Bruce Smith and Ted Washington with Spielman behind him aided Paup becoming an elite signing. That said, he was still relentless in his pursuit to get to the quarterback or cause many disruptions to the other teams signal callers.
It is not like the Almost-A-Dynasty Bills team that went to those four Super Bowls were strictly built through the entry draft. John Davis, a free agent signing, was a key blocker on those teams. James Lofton was a key signing springing one of the most feared offenses at that time in history. Kenny Davis was a great compliment to the “Thurmanator” spelling him an opportunity to catch his breath. More than that was his ability to step right in to that K-gun system for a full game and have success if Thomas was unable to compete. Larry Kinnebrew was very much an impact player on one or two of those dynamic Bills teams.
Keep in mind that the late Pro Bowl center Kent Hull was a free agent find as he came to the NFL from the ashes of the USFL.
The Bills sustained relevancy even after Kelly stepped aside and Levy followed that path a season later. The Bills had a 10-win season and an 11-win season under Wade Phillips during the Doug Flutie/Rob Johnson quarterback controversy. They then dared to drop to 8-8 with Wade Philips refusing to terminate his special teams coach which eventually cost him his job. I would assume that had ownership known that the team would not win 10 games in a season until 2019, a very long 21 year wait, and still has not reached that 11 win accomplishment since 1999, maybe Wade would have been spared his job after one mediocre .500 season. Then again the team had done a lot of winning from the late 80’s to the end of the century. Expectations were very high. That changed for a very long time.
Maybe some lessons can be learned in this copycat league from the Chiefs. You can be very relevant and enjoy success in between your great accomplishments. Disappearing or becoming irrelevant and at times a joke around the league for almost two decades is absolutely not needed to rebuild.
I believe the Bills have found their leadership and will improve this coming season building on their two playoff appearances in three years. They will need to replace some key roles that will be left open by retiring players or those they are unable to resign on the defensive side of the ball. They also need to bring in help in areas that already needed improvement on the offense that held them back even while winning double digit games.
The Bills are building something special I would like to think. With some luck and good decisions maybe they can win big with this current team improving . All teams take steps forward and backwards.
Hopefully Buffalo can resemble the Chiefs and remain relevant when they retool. Or if they must rebuild at some point, minimize the amount of painful seasons and get back to being competitive fast. They are laying the foundation to do so.