“It was over,” said former Bills special teamer Steve Tasker, on the Bills 28-3 deficit at halftime.
He even asked wide receiver Don Beebe when he’d be heading out of town for the offseason as they ran to the locker room at the half.
“Marv (Levy) said, ‘Whatever happens, just don’t let them say you quit.’ He didn’t say, ‘We can come back and win this,’ because I don’t think he believed it would happen either,” he recalled.
Beebe and Tasker reunited with former Bills running back Kenny Davis, wide receiver Andre Reed, and quarterback Frank Reich, for a panel discussion last Sunday honoring the 20th Anniversary of the game that then seemed so far from won, but would prove to be a remarkable day in NFL history. In a candid narration of the ups-and-downs of that day, moderated by Bills play-by-play host John Murphy, these architects of the Greatest Comeback shared memories and stories of what was really going on that day.
Improbable, yes. Impossible, no. But no team had ever done what these Bills and their teammates would do on January 3, 1993, and they sure didn’t think that they, themselves, would be the ones to pull it off.
“Frank (Reich) was on the sidelines saying, ‘Hey let’s just keep making plays.’ It was to the point where the rest of the players on the sidelines were like shut up Frank, just sit down,” said Tasker laughing.
When asked if he thought there was a comeback in the works when the team went down by 32 points after starting the half with a Reich interception for a Houston touchdown, Reed simply said, “No.”
But Davis, filling in for the injured Thurman Thomas, ignited the second half scoring efforts for Buffalo. They were down and out, but it wasn’t their style to go without a fight.
“The fans stood on their feet from that time on in the ball game,” Davis said of the energy after his touchdown. “I didn’t feel the cold air in the stands anymore. I felt the warm air from the fans.”
And so it began some 20 years ago – the Greatest Comeback in NFL history. Though these five played long, prolific careers, to hear them vividly recall the mood, the images, and the electricity they remember that day, you might believe it was the only game they'd ever played in.
In fact, their memories of the go-ahead touchdown pass from Reich to Reed might make you think it happened last week.
“The place had kind of emptied,” said Beebe. “I’d say a third of people in the stadium left. And then we started the comeback and it was building to the crescendo of that touchdown. The ground was actually shaking.”
“I had great seats for the games. I was running the sidelines,” Tasker remembers. “And I turned around and looked at the fans because it was such an unbelievable moment. The scene in the stands was like none I have ever seen. None of the fans were looking at the field anymore. They were looking at each other.”
“The place was absolutely electric,” he continued. “The country was electric. Nobody watching that game could believe it. It was like somebody kicked an ant pile. Everybody in the stands was moving and jumping and hugging and high fiving and talking to people. Everybody was hugging somebody. It was the most unbelievable scene in that stadium I’ve ever been a part of.”
As Van Miller famously said, it was ‘fandemonium,’ inside the Ralph. It wasn’t over yet, as the Oilers would bring it into overtime, but as Steve Christie put the winning field goal through the uprights, the Bills completed their unimaginable comeback for the ages.
“The emotion of that game will never be forgotten by anyone involved,” said Beebe.
“It was incredible. I was speechless,” said Reich. “The key was that we all enjoyed it together and that’s what made it so special. I remember after the kick Don (Beebe) was the first one out to me. He sprinted out to the sidelines. That was indicative of the kind of relationships and camaraderie that was on that team.”
Reich and his teammates harped that this game, as is often the case, was not only an important metaphor for life, but a moment of clarity on what was, and still is, truly important.
“We never quit,” Reed said. “And that epitomized what our team was all about. There’s a life lesson in not giving up. I have two older kids and I tell them all the time that not every day is going to be a great day and things aren’t going to go your way all the time but if you keep plugging away at it, you never know what’s going to happen. In anything in life. Really that’s the lesson in that game. If we would have lost the game there’s still a lesson we would have learned from it.”
“It taught me that it doesn’t really matter how good or bad the day goes, but to have someone you love to share it with is what it’s all about,” said Tasker. “We’re just five guys of the 53 and we still share stuff like that and we have for a lot of years.”
“In the nine years I played in the NFL, this game probably means more to me than those 9 years,” said Davis. “Having the opportunity to step out and play on a stage like that and be here 20 years later talking about how great that ball game was, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that.”
Twenty years later, the Greatest Comeback game lives on in so powerfully in these five players, and undoubtedly in the minds of countless fans who still remember where they were and how they shared that legendary day in Bills and NFL history.