The team that represents western New York, and is beloved in parts of Canada, the Buffalo Bills have struggled in recent seasons. They haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, the last season in a decade that brought the franchise many of its greatest moments.
Despite the playoff drought, the Bills have won 2 League Championships (AFL), 4 AFC Championships, 10 Division Championships, and made the playoffs 17 times in their 55 season history. Even without a Super Bowl championship in four consecutive tries, outside of the fan bases of the teams they lost to, those Bills teams may be remembered more because of their perseverance and persistence to continue in pursuit of their goal.
Who ever said “no one remembers who came in second” must’ve said that before the Buffalo Bills of the 1990s. The players on those teams are all-time greats and were even celebrated in a recent documentary. And I’ll do the same, because a few of the key members on those Bills of the 90’s make the cut for my version of the BIlls Mount Rushmore.
- No owners, unless they were also coaches, and their place on this list is based on their contributions as coach. No General Managers or Personnel executives. Just those who directly affected the games on Sunday. I will make a separate list for those contributors soon.
- Key contributors to the team’s history and success, not just fan favorites or box office draws.
- Can you tell the franchise’s story without them? If no, they’re on the list.
Bruce Smith (1985-1999) The 2008 Bills Wall of Fame and 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrine finished his time in western New York with a franchise record 171 sacks and 941 tackles which puts him in 2nd place in team history. Smith was an 11-time Pro Bowler, 9-time 1st-team All-Pro, 2-time 2nd-team All-Pro, 2-time AP Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1996), 4-time UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year (1987,1988,1990,1996), 3-time Pro Football Writers Association Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1993, 1996), 2-time NEA Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1993), and a member of the NFL’s 1980’s and 1990’s All-Decade team. The Team will officially retire his jersey (#78) this season, making him only the second player to receive this honor.
Jim Kelly (1986-1996) is the first player in team history to have his jersey number retired (#12). Kelly was a 5-time Pro Bowler, 1991 1st-team All-Pro, 1992 2nd-team All-Pro, 4-time AFC Champion and the Bills all-time career leader in wins (101), passing yards(35,467), passing touchdowns (237), pass attempts (4,779) and completions (2,874). He’s currently the last QB to lead the franchise to a playoff win. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Bills Wall of Fame in 2001.
Marv Levy (1986-1997;GM 2006-2007) Coached the Bills to 4 consecutive AFC Championship titles. In 1988 and 1993 he was awarded the United Press International NFL Coach of the Year award. His 112 career wins is the most in Bills team history. He’s a member of the NFL’s 1990’s All-Decade team and was inducted into the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame in 1996.
Thurman Thomas (1988-1999) with all due respect to O.J. Simpson–the Bills first ever Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrine (1980)–is the more complete running back and was a key member of their 4-time AFC Championship teams. Thomas was a 2-time 1st-team All-Pro, 3-time 2nd-team All-Pro, and 5-time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in yards from scrimmage from 1989 to 1992. The Bills all-time leader in rushing yards (11,938), rushing touchdowns (65) and rush attempts (2,849) is a member of the NFL’s 1990’s All-Decade team, and a 2005 inductee into the Bills Wall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
So there it is. Let me know what you think Bills Mafia. Should Hall of Famers Andre Reed and O.J. Simpson be on the list? Or did I get it right?