It's a day that will mark the end of the season for the 2009 Bills, and the beginning of the second season for the Indianapolis Colts, but Jan. 3 also holds a special place in Bills history. Today marks the 17th anniversary of the 'Comeback Game' when the Buffalo Bills overcame a 35-3 third quarter deficit in the AFC Wild Card game against the Houston Oilers to win 41-38 in overtime.
Two former Bills who played in that game and are now coaching for the Colts will be spending pre-game warm-ups on the same field where they were instrumental in orchestrating the greatest comeback in NFL history.
Indianapolis quarterbacks coach Frank Reich and assistant offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars admit it is a bit unique that they return as coaches on the 17th anniversary of a game that typified the resilience of the early 90's Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls.
"It's just fun to be coming into town on the anniversary of the 'Comeback Game' no question about that," said Reich.
"It will be special remembering that and to be out there on the same day it happened," said Metzelaars. "It's one of the most memorable games of my career and one of the most memorable games in Bills history I think."
Both Reich and Metzelaars are up in the coach's booth during games, but as prepared as they'll be for their game against the Bills Sunday they don't deny that the old memories will get stirred up walking around Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"I had the catch that started the whole comeback," chuckled Metzelaars, who finished the game with three catches for 43 yards. "I ran a corner route and Frank threw it to me and a linebacker dropped underneath me and the ball went right through his hands.
"At that time we were down 35-3 and if he intercepted that pass I don't think we ever would've come back. But it went through his hands, and I caught it and ran down the field a little bit and we went down and scored the first touchdown. And things kind of rolled from there."
Metzelaars catch led to a one-yard touchdown run by Kenny Davis to make the score 35-10 with eight minutes left in the third quarter, but it never should have happened. Oilers LB Eddie Robinson should have been running the other way with the football.
"You look at that pass and whenever I see the highlight of that pass I think that things were going our way at that time because there's no way that ball should have been completed," said Reich, who was a primary architect of the comeback with 289 yards passing and four touchdowns. "Pete was a huge part of that team and that's why it's fun that we're coaching on the same team and will be able to go back together."
Reich and Metzelaars had parallel careers with the Bills spending all 10 of their seasons in Buffalo together (1985-1994). And as proud as they might be of the resilience they displayed in the 'Comeback Game' it's not the only part of their Buffalo careers that they'll be recalling on the anniversary of that historic contest.
"When I first walk out there I'll think about some good times, not just the 'Comeback Game,'" said Reich. "Truthfully when I go in the stadium what I think of is more of the everyday things, like being at practice and the things I did in the community there and the teammates and friends and fans. There is a little bit of remembering this game or that play, but for me it's more about remembering the whole experience than just one game."
Nevertheless Jan. 3, 1993 is a hard memory to top especially when one is fortunate enough to return to very field where it all happened on the very same day. And arguably no game better demonstrated the resilience of those Buffalo teams of the early 90's than the Wild Card victory over Houston.
"It kind of is that defining game," said Metzelaars. "That no matter what, even in the darkest hours if you keep battling and keep fighting you don't know what can happen. We faced adversity and ups and downs and persevered most times, and unfortunately there were a few times that we didn't."
Metzelaars and Reich have a chance to make good as coaches what they could not achieve as players as they help to prepare a Colts team looking to return to the Super Bowl for the second time in five years.
"I'm thankful for those memories and those opportunities and I'm not going to try to push them out of my mind," said Reich of his playing days. "So it's just a balance of learning from and appreciating the past, and moving on and exciting times are ahead for me right now. We're going to the playoffs as a number one seed with a great football team and I have an opportunity to win a Super Bowl, which would exceed the 'Comeback Game.'"
Whether another Super Bowl awaits the two former Bills players is a mystery at this point. What is certain is Jan. 3, 1993 is going to be a memory that remains vivid even when the time that has passed since that day becomes far longer than 17 years.
"In some ways it feels like it was yesterday," Reich said. "In other ways it feels like it was 100 years ago. It's kind of funny how you can feel both of those things. The sound of the stadium and the volume of the stadium and the crazy fans, I can almost feel it as I speak. Then in other ways like it was so long ago that it almost wasn't real. It's hard to believe it's been that many years."