This year, in honor of the NFL’s 100th season and the Bills’ 60th season, Buffalo will pay tribute to the individuals and moments that have contributed to franchise history. Recently, buffalobills.com caught up with former running back Joe Cribbs, who played for the Bills from 1980-83 and 1985. Find out more about Cribbs’ tenure with the Bills, his current career and his family life.
1. What was it like to be drafted by the Buffalo Bills?
It wasn’t the hoopla that it is today. Actually, I was supposed to have been a higher pick than I actually was and I remember being at Auburn…in my apartment, I had I think three networks, three local networks, that were there waiting for the phone call. That’s how we were notified. We had to wait a long time because I was the 29th pick and everybody thought I’d probably be the second running back taken and it ended up not going that way...Now I look back, [and realize that] the 29th pick is not low. It’s still really good but expectations. At that time, I expected to be higher. So, anyway, I just kind of made of my mind that I was going to make a lot of people regret the fact that they passed on me. So, I did.
2. What was your rookie season like?
I got in and I had a lot of support when I got to Buffalo. Elijah Pitts was my position coach and Chuck Knox was the head coach at the time and they had a philosophy back then of running the football and we got off to a great start. The first year, we had about as much success as you could possibly have. We won the division – we were Eastern Division champs. I made rookie of the year, had 1,000 yards rushing, made the Pro Bowl. We won the division, we were in the playoffs [and] we ended up losing to the Chargers in a game that we should have won, which who knows if we’d won that game we might have been in the Super Bowl. But, [you've] got to take advantage of it when you have those opportunities and we didn’t.
3. What is your favorite memory or moment from playing with the Bills?
Probably, there are two. It’s hard to really separate them. My favorite memory from Buffalo I’m going to say it has to be a 1a and 1b – they’re both really close. My first game…the first regular season game of the year in 1980 was against the Miami Dolphins and I did not realize, I didn’t know anything about this, that Buffalo had lost to Miami 10 years straight. Twice a year. They had lost 20 games straight against the Dolphins and I was on the team my rookie year…that beat them for the first time in 20 games. And, the fans stormed the field, this was the first game of the year now, they stormed the field, they tore the goal posts…I was like, ‘This is insane. This is just the first game of the year. We just won one game.’ You know? I’m like, ‘How can we maintain this kind of spirit?’ And then I realized that once I went into the locker room, hey we just beat them for the first time in 20 straight games. You know, so that was kind of special. I actually had a decent game and it was part of history. So, that was super.
That would have to be my most fun and earliest memory of Buffalo. Then my second most memorable event would be the birth of my first child – my daughter. We made the playoffs my second year and we were actually a Wild Card team and we played the New York Jets in the playoffs and I actually had a really, really good game against them and we won the game and we celebrated. My wife was pregnant we were celebrating and all kinds of stuff and then when we flew back to Buffalo that morning, early that morning before the sun came up, she went into labor and my daughter was born that next day. So, that was kind of a special moment. I felt like I had a great game and then that was icing on the cake to have my child born…
4. Did you have any mentors on the team when you came in?
Oh yeah. One of the guys that I think really helped me a lot was Roland Hooks. Roland was a veteran a couple years ahead of me. Even though we played the same position, he never once, you know you’d expect someone if you’re competing against someone [that’s] the same position, you’d expect their information not to be accurate. You expect them to tell you stuff that’s not going to be good for you, but he was the most genuine guy that I know as far as to compete against for the same position. He helped me as much as he could possibly do, I think. [He] wanted to see me succeed because he knew it would help the team and we’re still friends today. I still see him every now and then. I actually didn’t tell him how much I appreciate everything that he did, until this past year. It was kind of emotional at the time because I was telling him how much I appreciate that he helped me get to that level. He said, ‘Man I never even knew that.’ He was just doing what he does. That kind of says something about him.
5. Who did you consider your best friends in the locker room?
Probably the closest guy in the locker room was probably Ervin Parker because we came in together as rookies and we kind of spent a lot of time together. As rookies, you kind of…you’re the foreign guys coming in and you kind of cling together until you figure out who is who and all that. He and I were good friends. We’re still good friends. Actually, he was in my wedding. So, he and I, even though he played on the other side [because] he was a linebacker, he and I were good friends. We roomed together a little while and you we would almost do everything together pretty much.
6 Do you still keep in contact with a lot of your teammates?
Oh yeah. I talked to him, Ervin, yesterday as a matter of fact. But yeah, there’s several guys that I still stay in touch with. Roland I talk to every now and then, Jerry Butler every now and then, Ken Johnson. There are probably 10-12 guys that I kind of, not every day but maybe every other month or every month we have a conversation.
7. Do you have any plays that stand out to you during your time with the Bills? It could be one of your biggest plays or something you’ll never forget.
Ninety halfback option is probably one of the most successful plays for me and we called it the ‘undefendable play.’ There’s no way you could stop this play. It’s like because I had the option to run different routes and it was just a question of whether or not Joe, Joe Ferguson the quarterback, and I read it the same way. If we read it the same way, we’re going to make it every time. There’s just no way to defend it. So, that was probably the one play, and I won’t go into details trying to explain how it works, but ninety halfback option would be that play. Yeah, no question.
8. What was your favorite thing about having played for the Bills?
Probably, the comradery and the relationships that develop over the years. I think they mean more than probably the stats or the records and everything. It’s the locker room, it’s the relationships, it’s the friendships that you develop, and I think that’s probably true with all levels of sports. There’s something special about being in the locker room, being in the fire, being in the huddle with 10 other guys that are trying to achieve something or make something happen and you know, counting on them to do their job and you know that you have to do your job because they’re counting on you. So, I think that’s kind of special. I really do.
9. When you were playing, did you have any game day rituals or superstitions?
I was one of the most superstitious, unsuperstitious guys you’ll ever [meet]. I always said, ‘…Well, you know it doesn’t matter’ but I always did some of the same things. It was like, I know I’m not superstitious but yeah, I better do this anyway to make sure. And there were a few things I always did before every game. There was a special prayer that I would always say at some point – this is besides the regular team prayer and all of that. This was kind of like my personal little prayer and then there were [other] certain things that I would do. Whatever my routine was, I wanted it to be the same. So, I tried to keep the same routine but sometimes I didn’t. So, that’s why I say I’m superstitious, but I’m not superstitious.
10. What do you miss most about playing in the NFL?
I think the thing you miss the most is the, for me…I think it’s the things that I said were special to me. I think I miss the locker room. I miss the fact that for every week, I’m working with guys and we have an objective that we’re trying to achieve, and we’re working hard to try and achieve it. That kind of thing. It’s like, a lot of people don’t realize that playing professional football is a job and it’s a unique kind of job because you really get close to the people…Your job is about interaction with other guys and figuring things out and making them work. So, I think that is probably the thing I miss most.
11. What are you up to now? How do you spend your time?
For the last maybe 20-something years, I’ve been in the financial services industry. Primarily, on the insurance side of setting up supplemental retirement plans for guys, for individuals. I do all types of insurance – business, personal, everything on the insurance side. That’s pretty much what I’ve done since I retired. I did some other things that were not really lasting…
12. What about hobbies? What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to golf. I like to try to golf [at least]. I think it’s one of the last physical activities that I can probably do. I was always athletic and always competitive, so I like that. I do like when I have a chance, I like to play games like cards – any kind of games. Even if I don’t know what they are, tell me the rules and I’ll figure out what it is and then I like to compete.
13. Do you have grandkids?
I do have two grandkids. A two, almost three-year-old, granddaughter and I have a six-month-old grandson. I just left them actually. They met us. They live in Houston and we live in Daphne [Alabama] and we met halfway. We kept the kids for a week and then the day that they were coming in, is the day that I was coming up here. So, they’re going back to Houston now, but we’ll see them again at the end of the month.
14. What is your favorite Bills uniform combination?
I think I had more success with the white jerseys and the blue pants.
15. What about the helmets? Do you like the standing buffalo or charging buffalo?
The white – definitely the white… [with the charging buffalo]. That was my [favorite].
16. Do you have a personal motto?
Absolutely. ‘Many roads lead to the same destination.’ Basically, all it is, and my kids, I talk to them about it all the time, what we’re saying is, whatever your destination is, that’s the most important thing. So how you get to that destination, really depends on life. Sometimes it’s easy, [a] straight shot. You know, just like guys [in the NFL]. If your goal is to get to the NFL, I got drafted right away, boom, but there are a lot of guys that don’t get drafted. They have to work out…but they do all this but if that’s your goal, you can still [make it happen]. I don’t really use it as a sports thing. It’s more of a life thing because I’m telling my kids, ‘Look you need to set goals.’ Athletic goals are one thing, but you have to set life goals. If you want to be governor, or like my daughter, if you want to be dean of a school and you know, many roads lead to [that goal]. Just because you get blocked over here, doesn’t mean it ends. Just take a step back and try this side. You may end up going all around the world to get to that same destination that you could’ve went straight to, but it just didn’t work out that way.
17. Did any of your kids play sports?
All three of them played sports. My daughter was a volleyball player…she got a volleyball scholarship. So, she played volleyball in college, but she played all the sports in high school. And then, my oldest son played football and track and he played a little while [at] a Division III school. He played football in college for a little while, but he didn’t like it and it didn’t work out. My youngest son, [is a] great athlete [and is] a lot like me. Anything he wanted to do, he could do it pretty much. But he didn’t like football. Even though he played on two runner-up state football championship teams in high school, he decided to go to college on a track scholarship. So, that’s my kids athletically.
None of them played professionally…They were athletically inclined because of me and expectations that may have been placed on them because of me, but my daughter is a college professor. She’s a math teacher. My oldest son is a restaurant manager in Birmingham and is getting married next year. My youngest son just graduated from UAB with his masters in math and probably at some point in time [is] going to start working on his PhD. He’s really smart, but really athletic. I mean athletics are great, but many roads lead to the same destination…I’m really proud of my kids.
18. If you could go back in time or travel to the future, which would you choose and why?
I would definitely go back in time. I mean, hindsight is 20/20…If I could go back in time, I would correct all the wrong moves that I’ve made. That would be great to do that. I get asked today, I was asked on an interview earlier, well I wasn’t really asked but they were talking about that I played in the USFL, which was kind of in the middle of my NFL career. I left and went to play in the USFL – a start up league. I played over there for a few years and then came back. When that league started, I thought it was going to last forever. I thought it was going to be successful and last forever. If I knew that it wasn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have gone. So, that’s what I’m saying. If I had the ability to go back in time, correct everything that I perceive now to maybe have been a mistake, I would change that.
19. If you could pick anyone throughout history to have dinner with, who would you pick?
That is hard. There would be so many…maybe Moses.
20. Do you have any guilty pleasure TV shows that you watch?
I hate reality TV. I like series. I like comedy series. I think my favorite comedy series of all time is ‘Seinfeld.’ I love it. I still watch re-runs of it. I can probably quote you everything. But yeah, I like that because it’s make-believe. I think that to me is in direct opposition with the reality stuff because reality shows, that’s not reality.
21. What is something nobody knows about you or might be surprised to learn?
I’m pretty diverse when it comes to music. I’m diverse when it comes to just taste in general. I like things that probably a lot of people would not think I like. I mean, I like a nice wine. I’m not a wine connoisseur but I like a nice wine. I like ‘Seinfeld’…I would think that most people would be surprised by my diversity.