As the Buffalo Bills' season came to a close on New Year's Day, their faithful fans were left again without the chance to watch a meaningful football game in January. It's been 12 seasons since the Bills last played playoff football and every Bills' fan remembers what happened in that game.
Looking for some perspective, or anything really to make me feel better about how the final two months of the season unfolded (the Bills lost eight of their final nine games), I stumbled across a bit of information that I had not previously known - the Buffalo Bills are not the first professional football team to grace the Queen City's gridiron.
Further research informed me that what I am about to explain to you, the reader, may be seen as the genesis of Buffalo's long-standing sports curse. The city may not have a neat story like its best player being sold to fund a musical or anything having to do with a billy goat on the playing field, but make no mistake about it, if Buffalo sports teams didn't have bad luck, they wouldn't have any luck at all.
Tommy Hughitt, known as Mr. Everything, was the Buffalo All-Americans’ head coach, quarterback, runningback, wide receiver, and defensive player during his time in Buffalo. Hughitt is shown here during his days as an All-American quarterback at the University of Michigan.
On with the story!
Those older than me, as well as those much wiser in the history of professional football in America, undoubtedly know that in 1920 the Buffalo All-Americans were established as one of the inaugural teams in the American Professional Football League.
According to the Historical Society of the Buffalo All-Americans, Bisons and Rangers website, "The All-Americans were a fine team in the early days of pro football."
Indeed they were, as they came within one game of winning the APFA title in their first two seasons, acutally having the 1921 title stripped, losing it to the Chicago Staleys because of an executive decision, known to some as the "Staley Swindle".
That decision seems somewhat fitting, does it not?
There are those four Super Bowl losses, the "Home Run Throwback" and "No Goal" that we have to live with, but how fitting is it that even when a Buffalo sports team wins a title, it is some how taken away?
The scenario sets up as follows.
During the 1921 season, the All-Americans played the Chicago Stayleys (to be known a season later as the Chicago Bears) twice. The All-Americans won the first matchup, 7-6, on Thanksgiving Day, in Chicago. George Halas, none-too-pleased with the outcome, asked Buffalo owner Frank McNeil for a rematch.
McNeil agreed, trusting at the time that the game would have no bearing on the All-Americans' APFA record. McNeil also scheduled a game with the Akron Pros. The only problem was the two games were scheduled for Dec. 3 and Dec. 4. After the All-Americans took care of the Pros, they traveled all-night by train into Chicago, where they lost to the Stayleys, 10-7.
McNeil, who believed that his team was still the rightful champion, had bought gold footballs for his players to commemorate the title. However, Halas had other ideas and appealed to the Powers that Be to give his Stayleys the title, basing his argument on a rule that claimed if two teams played twice, the result of the second contest carried more weight than the outcome of the first.
Historians argue to this day which team was the rightful winner of the 1921 title, but postulating will not get the All-Americans that 1921 championship.
Buffalo had another professional team from 1946-49 which was known again as the Buffalo Bisons in 1946, before changing names to the Bills. These Bills played in the All-American Football Conference, finishing tied for first with the Baltimore Colts in the Eastern Division in 1948 with a 7-7 record.
The Bills beat the Colts for the Eastern Division title, 28-17, before falling to the Cleveland Browns in the AAFC championship, 49-7. Imagine that, a Buffalo football team humiliated in a championship game. Where have we seen that before? Bills' fans born after 1993 have the blessing of not having witnessed the thrashing the Dallas Cowboys gave the Bills in Super Bowl XXVII. Unfortunately, I was born in 1980 and remember that game all too clearly.
After the AAFC disbanded following the 1949 season, the Browns, Colts and San Francisco 49ers merged with the rival National Football League to become the National-American Football League, but Buffalo was left without a professional team until 1960.
Enter Ralph C. Wilson Jr. and the newly formed American Football League. Wilson brought professional football and the Bills back to Buffalo. These Bills were able to do what no other Buffalo team - outside of those 1921 All-Americans - were able to do. They actually won a pair of titles in 1964 and 1965, beating the San Diego Chargers both times, 20-7, 23-0, respectively.
In 1966 the Bills came a win away from playing in Super Bowl I against the Green Bay Packers, the champion of the NFL. However, they fell to the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-7, and didn't get a whiff of the Super Bowl until they left no doubt about where they were going in 1991, as they handled the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3, in the AFC title game.
Heartbreak and disappointment set in shortly there after. The Place Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named missed a field goal attempt wide to the opposite side of left, and the Bills lost Super Bowl XXV, 20-19, to the Big Tuna and the New York Giants.
The rest is Super Bowl history. The Bills lost the next three title games to the Washington Redskins and the aforementioned Cowboys. Those early to mid-1990s Buffalo Bills were exciting and provided their fans with memories - some good and some bad - but left them with no title to celebrate, unfortunately just like those 1921 All-Americans.
As far as cursed sports cities go, Buffalo has disappointingly climbed up the list. Boston is off the list, as the Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2001, the Red Sox have won twice (2004 and 2007), the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in 2007 for their 17th title and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last June.
In Chicago, the White Sox helped lift their cities curse a little with a win over the Houston Astros in the 2005 World Series, but those Loveable Losers across town still haven't won a World Series since 1908.
Even in Philadelphia the curse is not as impressive, as the Phillies beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the 2008 title. So where does all of this leave Buffalo?
An educated guess puts Buffalo at No. 2 behind Cleveland.
The Browns, despite winning all four AAFC titles, have never played in a Super Bowl, getting close but fumbling away their chances. The Indians haven't won a title since beating the Boston Braves in 1948. The Cavaliers had their shot in 2007, but King James couldn't bring home an NBA title and now that Bron Bron has taken his playoff failings to South Beach, who knows when the Cavs will make it back.
All of that places Cleveland squarely above Buffalo, which as we know has done pretty bad when the spotlight shines brightest, just not as bad as its big-city neighbors to the west.
Hopefully the Bills (or Sabres) will stand alone at the top one day before my time on this planet is up, so I, like Grantland.com's Bill Simmons - a longtime Boston sports fan - can also die happy.
Gib Snyder III is an OBSERVER Sports Columnist. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the 1921 Buffalo All-Americans, check out Jeffrey J. Miller's, "Buffalo's Forgotten Champion: The Story of Buffalo's First Professional Football Team and the Lost 1921 Title."
Information from www.angelfire.com/sports/Buffalofootballhist was used in this column.