I’ve written this column (the Rockpile Review) for about 15 years. It varies from week to week, sometimes about the stadium experience, sometimes about an important play, sometimes about what players or coaches did or didn’t do. I write about trends, prospects, shortcomings and needs. Sometimes it might be funny, sometimes quirky, and certainly sometimes boring or pedestrian. When I start writing, I don’t always have a plan – the essay just seems to go where it needs to go.
Last night in Kansas City, in the second round of the playoffs, the Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills in overtime, 42-36. This morning, I sit before my keyboard, numb.
I’ve got nuthin’.
If you watched the game, you understand. If you didn’t, I cannot go all Grantland Rice on you to explain. I’m not Shirley Povich. Where is Frank Deford when we really need him?
I’ve been a fan of the Buffalo Bills since 1960. There were several years when work and family and geography left me less involved with the team, not going to games or being able to see them on television. Still, fan-wise, I’ve had a pretty good run. I can say figuratively, if not literally, I’ve seen it all.
The only way to describe what happened last night is that it was Wide Right, 31 years later. (If you don’t know what Wide Right was, look it up. It has its own Wikipedia article.) I was in Tampa that night, I sat in the stadium stunned as the winning field goal sailed past the right upright. (I was in Buffalo on the Monday night when the Cowboys beat the Bills with a long field goal on the final play – that game gets honorable mention, but wide right and Chiefs-Bills stand together on top of the “OMG -what-just-happened?” list.) The day after Super Bowl XXV, I walked aimlessly through Epcot Center, and it seemed every third person was wearing a Giants sweatshirt. This morning, everything is Chiefs red.
When your team loses a game like that, and my team has done it twice, I’m here to tell you that everything in your life goes numb for a day or two. It’s not a tragedy, it’s not life changing; after all, it’s just football, but when you’re emotionally invested and a game like that happens, it’s stunning. It’s as though you’ve seen and heard a large explosion, so large that for a few seconds or minutes or even hours, your eyes are recovering from the flash and your ears are ringing. “OMG! What just happened?”
A week before the game, I thought that this game might be the real Super Bowl, that these were the two best teams playing for all the marbles. No, that couldn’t really be true, because the King was back leading the Titans, there was the G.O.A.T., trying for another repeat, and if it wasn’t going to be Brady in the Super Bowl, it was going to be Rodgers.
Then, one by one, Derrick Henry lost, Rodgers lost, Brady lost, and the surviving teams lacked the key ingredient – the star quarterback. Burrows may be a star on the rise, Stafford may be a star postponed, and Tannehill may be, well, a nice guy, but nobody is crowning any of them as a legendary signal caller, at least not yet.
So, by Sunday night, the game between the Bills and the Chiefs actually was looking like the Super Bowl, without the halftime show. These were the two hottest teams in the playoffs, each coming off blistering blowout wins the previous week, each having overcome early season inconsistencies to look now like powerhouse winners. Each with an already certifiable superstar quarterback. Before the opening kickoff, people knew it was a big game. I got my pizza and sat before the TV.
What happened was epic.
There have been a lot of great football games with spectacular plays and dramatic finishes. I can’t sit here this morning and say that Chiefs-Bills was the greatest, but it has to be in the discussion. This was two great teams with two great quarterbacks playing their best games. Two teams and two guys refusing to lose in a game where ultimately someone would win.
A couple of days before the Bills-Chiefs game, I looked up the playoff passer rating records. If you’re not a fan boy like me, know that the passer rating is a number that is calculated using a formula and some of the more important statistics that demonstrate passing effectiveness. The passer rating isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty good measure of who’s the best. After last week’s games, Patrick Mahomes (did I mention that he is the Chiefs quarterback?) was number 1 on the all-time playoff passer rating list. Josh Allen, the Bills quarterback, was fourth. Now, that data is skewed by a variety of factors, so it isn’t necessarily the definitive measure of greatness, but it isn’t bad. Bart Starr and Kurt Warner, two legendary QBs who are in the Hall of Fame, were number 2 and number 3 on the list. Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Troy Aikman are in the top 20, along with future Hall of Famers Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
This morning, Patrick Mahomes is still number 1. Josh Allen is number 2.
The game was a display of modern quarterbacking excellence that rarely has been seen in the NFL, dual excellence that probably never has been seen in a playoff game. Mahomes and Allen performed superbly from the very beginning of the game, passing and running, confounding the opposing defenses. But their excellence through three quarters was simply prelude.
When Harrison Butker kicked a field goal to give the Chiefs a five-point lead with less than nine minutes remaining in the game, there seemed to be only one question: could Josh Allen and the Bills mount one more drive for one more touchdown and win the game? That, as it turned out, was merely the first question. Allen and the Bills went on an excruciating 17-play, seven-minute drive for the touchdown and, with the two-point conversion, a three-point lead. Mahomes answered with a touchdown in five plays, dashing the Bills’ hopes for a victory. Incredibly, truly incredibly, Allen returned the favor in six plays to retake the lead. And yet, in the 13 seconds remaining, Mahomes managed to get the Chiefs in position for the tying field goal. The Chiefs won the coin toss at the beginning of overtime, and Mahomes continued the scoring onslaught, hitting Travis Kelce with another touchdown pass. The overtime rules didn’t afford Allen and the Bills the opportunity to respond, and the Chiefs won.
Undoubtedly, this morning thousands of Chiefs fans are talking about how great their team is and how this decision or that play won the game. Thousands of Bills fans are talking about how that decision or this play lost the game. I can’t do that, not now.
My only consolation after Super Bowl XXV was that for fifteen or twenty years, sportswriters and fans everywhere said it was the greatest Super Bowl ever. I could be proud that my team was part of it, but it hurt to think about it. Eventually, memories dimmed and other games awed the fans. Eventually, I didn’t have to respond politely to people who thought they were making me feel good when they said, “You’re a Bills fan? That was the greatest Super Bowl of all time!”
“You’re a Bills fan? Bills-Chiefs was the best playoff game I’ve ever seen!”
Yeah, right. Thanks.