(WIVB) – This Bills season has been an absolute joy for Buffalo fans, who waited a quarter-century for a true championship contender, one that would stir memories of the team’s long playoff run during the Jim Kelly years.
Do you know who else is cherishing this team? The guys who played on those teams in the Nineties. Steve Tasker is on a text loop with players from the old days, including the likes of Kelly and Thurman Thomas, Will Wolford and Chris Mohr, Darryl Talley and Andre Reed.
“The old cynics might think those guys root against this team, so they can be the best team in history,” said Tasker, a star on those great Bills teams and the game analyst on WGR this season.
“Nothing could be further from the truth, man,” Tasker said. Those guys are standing on tables for this team, and they love it. They hope they blow through everything and win four Super Bowls in a row.”
Tasker said the tough part for many former players is not being able to experience this run in person. He said Bruce Smith wanted to come to town for Saturday’s wild-card game against the Colts, but it would have been too much trouble because of the various COVID-19 protocols.
So they root from afar, marveling at Josh Allen’s emergence into an MVP candidate, the record-setting performance of wideout Stefon Diggs, and the defense’s cool, inexorable rise back to being one of the finest in the NFL.
The Bills will finally get to play before fans Saturday in the first home playoff game in 24 years — albeit a reduced crowd of 6,700. It’ll be nice. But the old guys know it can’t compare to having a full house at the stadium, where the Bills won their first nine postseason games before losing to the Jaguars in the last home playoff game in 1996.
“That’s what I hate with the pandemic,” said Darryl Talley, the tireless inside linebacker and emotional leader of the Super Bowl teams. “These guys would have gotten a chance to see some of the love we received from the City of Buffalo. I want them to see it, and to feel it.
“I want them to have the feeling we had,” Talley said from his home in Florida. “It’s different when you’re standing on the field and you’ve got 80,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs, and you can’t hear anybody except your guys on the field.
“You start to draw energy and emotion from the fans. You feel it. It’s like riding on a cushion of air, like your feet are five inches off the ground.”
If you remember Talley with his Spiderman sleeves, roaming sideline to sideline and “plugging in” to the home crowd, you can surely relate. No one had a better sense of what it was like to play football in Buffalo.
Watching this year’s Bills team, Talley and the other former players recognized something familiar. It was the unmistakable camaraderie of a team that was bonded together and having the time of its life.
“Oh, definitely,” said Cornelius Bennett, the former star outside linebacker. “One thing I’ve noticed, from seeing the guys, is the closeness seems similar to ours. Everything is kind of similar.”
“The coach (Sean McDermott) is a true student of the game,” Bennett said. “Not a screamer, but a guy who has the players rally around him. It’s eerie, but awesome to see. I truly believe it’s like a family. You want to be able to come home and be with your brothers and sisters, knowing that any time you call in them, they’ll be there to help you.”
Tasker, who embraced the role of special teams ace as a player to help the Bills win, sees that bond in this team, too.
“I do,” he said. “They really like each other. They’re genuinely happy for other guys on the team’s success. It’s cool to watch guys play hard and be happy for their teammates’ success. I think it’s important to their continued success to work to make each other better.”
“So yeah, that really does remind me of the old days.”
Like Bennett, he also gives McDermott and his coaches a lot of credit for building a team that takes nothing for granted and strives to play its best game every week, respecting every opponent as a worthy obstacle.
“I think Sean’s got them in the right spot,” Tasker said. “You really see the happiness come out when this team comes out against a team they know they need to play well against, and they lump them up. That’s a lot of fun.”
Talley suffered mightily during the playoff drought, like the fans. He was notorious for his exasperated comments on Twitter, his disdain for Buffalo teams he felt lacked the competitive soul of past squads. He’s been pleased with the unity of this team, the way guys play for each other.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s not just one side of the ball. They’re playing as a complete unit — offense, defense and special teams as well. They don’t have a dominant pass rusher like Bruce or Cornelius. But they have a bunch of guys that I like to call a pack of crazed dogs.
“They play really well on the back, too. There’s some communication going on back there. Sean has ‘em talking to each other. Just watching from a distance, it’s a joy. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Ruben Brown, who made eight Pro Bowls with the Bills as a left guard, said it’s been a long time coming. Brown was a rookie when the Bills won the last playoff game in 1995. They haven’t won one since. He’s spent a lot of frustrating years waiting for them to win big again.
“Finally, they’re successful and I can brag that I was a Buffalo Bill,” said Brown, retired in New York City and awaiting his next media venture. He’s been interviewing former teammates for a possible podcast.
“I’m proud of my time up there,” Brown said. “People would be disgruntled about the ups and downs of the Bills. I’d say, ‘I’ve been a 76er fan all my life. Don’t come crying to me’. I’d tell them, ‘Be thankful that there’s a team in your back yard. They’re not going anywhere’. Ride the wave.”
It’s hard to say how far this wave will go, though it’s likely to be an extended run of success if Allen continues to play this way. The former Bills all feel this team has a good chance to win the Super Bowl.
Tasker said it would be an incredible experience if this team was able to play home playoff games before a packed home crowd. At least there will be fans Saturday. He described is as a “lifeline.”
“I always spin it positive,” Tasker said. “Think about this: Everything runs its course and this COVID thing is completely gone by the autumn. If this team runs the table and actually wins the Lombardi Trophy, how unbelievable is Opening Day going to be in 2021?
“Everybody on the planet will want to be in the stadium that day.”