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'Once a Bill, always a Bill' | Legends express their support ahead of the AFC championship game

Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) and Thurman Thomas Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens at New Era Field, December 8, 2019. Photo by Sara Schmidle
Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) and Thurman Thomas Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens at New Era Field, December 8, 2019. Photo by Sara Schmidle

When you play for the Buffalo Bills, you are more than just a part of a football team – you become a part of a family. 

Throughout this historic season for the Buffalo Bills, former franchise greats have been reaching out to the players offering their congratulations for their success and well-wishes for the future.

"Once a Bill, always a Bill," Thurman Thomas said while he was a guest on the latest episode of the Bills Pod Squad. The Hall of Fame running back who has made Buffalo his home, loves talking with the current players because it makes him feel more connected to the team. 

"Those guys have been tremendous, they asked me questions about how it was back in the day and we appreciate that," Thomas said. "I've always said that, yes, you can talk about the Bills of the '90s and going to four-straight Super Bowls but also being on the other end of that of not winning one. And I tell the players all the time, enjoy this get the memories because let me tell you something, you win a Super Bowl, and you will be the greatest team in Buffalo Bills history."

The last time the Bills played in an AFC Championship game was back on Jan. 23, 1994, and it was also against the Chiefs. In that game, Thomas ran for 186 yards and three touchdowns to help the Bills get to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl. Fellow teammate Steve Tasker, who is one of the best special teams players in NFL history, knows how hard it was to accomplish what they did in the '90s. 

It's been almost three decades since the Bills have made it this far in the postseason. People forget that you don't make it to the AFC Championship game on a fluke – it has to be earned. On the Around the NFL podcast earlier this week, Tasker spoke about what it takes for a team to make it this far in the season. 

"You forget that to get to the AFC Championship game, your team's really good," Tasker stated. "You forget that your team's really gotta be good to get there. Not only do they have to be talented, but they also got to be deep, and they got to be well-coached. You don't get to the championship game on a fluke. This is a really good football team and they're playing really well, they got some great players. … And when you get to this point, you've got to be thinking that you're good enough to win the Super Bowl and I think a lot of people here in Western New York are thinking that."

It's been a while since Buffalo has tasted this level of success. The players on this roster understand that they need to savor these special moments in the postseason. There are so many players who played for Buffalo during the 17-year playoff drought that would have loved to play on this big stage. One of the best players for the Bills during that time period was running back Fred Jackson. 

Jackson played in Buffalo from 2006-2014 and had 8,643 total yards and a combined 39 touchdowns. He is currently third on the Bills all-time rushing list behind only O.J. Simpson and Thurman Thomas. The former Bills running back was on the Lights Out podcast hosted by former Bill Shawne Merriman and Jackson praised this Bills team for how they are built. 

"When you look at what the whole front office top-down from Brandon Beane to McDermott to Daboll to Frazier, all those guys and the position coaches, they scheme for whoever it is that they play really, really well. …I think the coaching and staff just does a tremendous job putting those guys in the right situations and scheming up ways to stop people on defense and make all their playmakers, whoever it is, involved on offense. When you have a team like that, that's built the way that this team is built, it allows you to make a lot of plays."

The Bills fans support for the organization has never wavered. Whether the Bills were in or out of the playoff hunt or whether it was raining or snowing, they showed up and continued to support their team – even when it was tough. 

Bills Mafia has endured a different challenge this season. With Buffalo having one of the most successful seasons in its history, fans weren't able to show their support at home games during the regular season. But they made up for it during the postseason, turning a crowd of around 6,700 into what sounded like 67,000 for back-to-back weeks. 

One player who fed off of the loud crowds back in the '90s was Bills Hall of Fame pass rusher and the NFL's all-time sack leader Bruce Smith. The two-time defensive player of the year racked up 14.5 postseason sacks in his 15-year career with the Bills, which ranks second in NFL history. Smith was a guest on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin podcast on Thursday and praised this Bills team for their accomplishments this season.

"I can feel the enthusiasm and hear the excitement," Smith said. "The disappointment is that the fans, all of the fans, can't enjoy this moment in person. What a remarkable journey this has been through the leadership of Sean McDermott, Leslie Frazier, Brian Daboll, management obviously, Kim and Terry Pegula, and the Buffalo fans. This is just incredible to watch this maturation process of this team unfold right before our very eyes."

One of the few players that was on the Bills roster before McDermott was hired but then stayed with the team was Lorenzo Alexander. He fit the culture, became a leader on this football team and played some of his best ball late in his career here in Buffalo. 

The former linebacker racked up 24 sacks throughout four years as a Bill and was an inspirational leader to young linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. Alexander was on One Bills Live on Friday and talked about what he has seen from Milano this season. 

"Matt Milano is probably one of the more underrated guys you have from a national perspective," Alexander stated. "I think people that are in that organization understands the versatility that he brings as far as run-stopping, being able to blitz, and then most importantly, which we're talking about for this game, is going to be able to cover and be able to cover tight ends. … Matt Milano gives you the confidence because he's shown it, to be able to match up with a tight end break up the ball or even to deter the quarterback from going at it."

Another former Bills linebacker London Fletcher is also proud of this team for making it to the AFC Championship game. Fletcher played five seasons in Buffalo from 2002-2006 and had a total of 14.5 sacks and five interceptions with the team. Before he came to Buffalo, Fletcher won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in 1999, and his advice to the Bills players before the championship game this weekend is to not overthink things and try to do too much.

"Just continue to understand, hey, we've done these things to get to this point, and we're a great football team, Fletcher said on WGR 550. "There's gonna be two great teams on the field on Sunday but what we've done is enough. Go about your normal routine in terms of preparation, whether it be taking care of your body, also just the preparation in the film and in the meeting rooms All those things that you've done in prior ballgames, the other ballgame leading up to that game so don't feel like you need to do something beyond what you've already done."

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