Typically inducting one new member per year, this celebration was described as special, as the organization chose to instead honor all Wall of Fame alumni.
"With our ‘Tribute to the Wall of Fame’ this weekend, we are honoring the best of the best in the history of our organization,” team owner Ralph Wilson Jr. said. “The mere mention of their names conjures up so many great memories while acknowledging their special talents.”
Since O.J. Simpson was first inducted in 1980, the Bills have honored 28 players and valuable executives and contributors to the organization.
Roughly 20 former Bills returned to the stadium for the celebration, including Jim Kelly, accepting the team’s gift of a Wall of Fame blazer and a team ring.
“Every time I walk into the stadium, I look around at all the names and realize how privileged you are not only to be on the Wall, but to be associated with all the other guys that are on there,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the ceremony makes him think about how lucky he was to have the people he had around him, and he drew similarities between his former teammates and the team Buffalo is building today.
“It’s not an overnight thing, it just takes time,” Kelly said. “I just can’t wait (for) the day we turn things around here in Buffalo and get these Bills back to playing football in January.”
That day may not be unattainable, as Kelly compared himself to Buffalo’s rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel.
“Last week I was impressed because it was his first start, he didn’t have much of a training camp, either,” Kelly said. “Everything I think about almost relates to when I got here, I didn’t have hardly any training camp, either. I thought he fared well.”
Buffalo’s victory over Carolina was reminiscent of the first victory of Buffalo’s 1989 season, when a young Kelly engineered a drive late in the fourth quarter after trailing Miami for most of the game. In the last moments of the game, Kelly ran the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, marking a new era for the Bills.
While Manuel’s game-winning drive Sunday didn’t culminate in a running touchdown, he did contribute a crucial run to the drive, running nine yards out of bounds with six seconds on the clock. He finally clinched the 24-23 game over Carolina with a pass to wide receiver
Former Bills head coach Marv Levy, who is also on the Wall of Fame, said the organization is setting itself up for a successful offensive season with their no huddle style.
"It allows rookie quarterbacks the opportunity to more quickly tune in and develop,” Levy said. “This is another good example, I hope, of a rookie quarterback who really blossoms right at the outset.”
Joe Ferguson, the organization’s last rookie quarterback to start after being drafted, was present at the ceremonies. He said he can picture being in Manuel’s shoes.
“It was outstanding, but it was very nerve wracking,” Ferguson said of his 1973 season opener. “This young quarterback seems to have a good head on his shoulders and he seems to be a natural talent for football. So I see a lot of good things for him.”
Kelly said he is excited each year by the day Bills alumni reunite, and he said next year he hopes it will be following a victorious season.
“Even though we didn’t win last week, I hope that is a building block for what’s in store for us and the years that follow,” he said.