As we count down to June 24th for the unveiling of new 2011 uniforms for the Buffalo Bills we take a look back at the franchise’s uniform history with anecdotes, stories and recollections from those that experienced the history first hand. Our latest installment features Pro Football Hall of Fame broadcaster and the quintessential voice of the Bills Van Miller. Though the Dunkirk, New York native has been witness to each and every one of Buffalo’s uniform changes until his retirement from the booth in after the 2003 season, he doesn’t have a favorite. However, he does have one uniform change that he believes was the most significant in the team’s 51-year history.
Van Miller was a man born to describe sports on the radio. Broadcasting on his back stoop into spoons as a kid, calling play-by-play came naturally and Bills fans were among the biggest beneficiaries. For Miller the history of the games and what happened always trumped what Buffalo was wearing.
The Bills’ broadcaster remembers those original uniforms, but feels that the fan base on the whole was just happy to have a team that played for them.
“I remember those silver helmets with the blue numbers on the side, but those didn’t last long,” Miller said. “In general fans were so glad that they had a professional football team that I don’t believe there was a ton of fuss about those first uniforms even if they did look like the Lions a bit. The NFL had come in much earlier and played some games at the old Civic stadium and so they were happy to have a team of their own.”
Miller, much like some of his colleagues of the day, concurs that the mid-60’s uniforms with the blue home jersey still resonate with fans the most, even those that weren’t around to see those teams on the field.
“I would say that’s the all time look of the Bills,” he said. “I think that’s partly why the throwback blue uniforms the past few years have been so popular.”
Some might tie the success of that look to the fact that the club won back-to-back AFL titles, but the uniforms of the early 90’s, the most successful era in team annals, doesn’t get the same attention for the uniforms of that period.
Miller believes it has more to do with the performance by the team on the field than anything.
“I think the fact that they played in four Super Bowls, the Bills could have gone out there in their nightgowns and the fans could’ve cared less,” he said. “So to me that’s why I don’t think the fans pine for the 90’s uniforms. Instead they wish for a return to that kind of dominance.”
What Miller finds most interesting in Buffalo’s uniform history is how a color blind quarterback led to one of the most significant changes to the team’s helmet in its 51 seasons.
“They went from white to the red helmets to help out Fergie. He had a little problem with color blindness,” said Miller. “That said a lot to me that one player could affect that kind of change for an NFL team.”
But what Miller sees as the most groundbreaking change in the history of the Bills look is the move to the charging Buffalo.
“It was well received,” said Miller of the change in 1973. “You don’t want a buffalo standing there grazing as it had been, so I think that was certainly the way to go and unquestionably one of their best uniform decisions. It is a look that has stood the test of the time and you don’t see that much anymore.”
Always focused on the who and the where, Miller rarely focused on the look the team carried onto the field from year to year, but that doesn’t have him any less excited for what’s to come tonight at 7:30 pm.
“I am looking forward to it,” he said. “I hope to see the players in those new uniforms soon because that will mean we have football again.”