It was not just an accident. The Buffalo Bills didn't wind up in four straight Super Bowls via happenstance, or luck.
Someone had to have the vision to identify the talent, to work the draft to get the talent. Someone had to find the right man to coach the team. And someone had to sign the players, manage the egos, keep the owner happy and run the organization.
That someone was Bill Polian. That's why he's going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday night.
When he does, Polian will stand alongside seven former Bills who were all a part of his nine year legacy in Buffalo. Owner Ralph Wilson hired him in 1984. He helped sign Bruce Smith after Buffalo made him the first pick overall in 1985, and he was on the personnel staff that picked Andre Reed in the 4th round that year. He went toe to toe with the agents for Jim Kelly in 1986 before getting him to sign. He drafted Thurman Thomas in 1988, signed free agent James Lofton in 1989, and hired Marv Levy as Head Coach in 1986.
"I'm so glad and so proud of Bill for putting it together; to start it off," Hall of Fame Running Back Thurman Thomas says. "He and John Butler and Marv, and all those guys. Without Bill, we wouldn't be where we were."
Polian got to where he is by seizing the opportunities presented to him. He was the Pro Personnel Director for the Bills in 1984, but took over as GM the following year. And he assembled an unprecedented collection of talent that dominated the AFC for four years. They were heady times for a franchise that stumbled through years of frustration before the Super Bowl run started.
Once the winning started, Polian says he had a sense he was surrounded by greatness. He knew there were at least a few Hall of Famers on the roster.
"I thought Bruce, really when he hit his prime would make it," Polian said. "And then Thurman as time went on had a really good chance. And Andre, as the numbers mounted up, you could see it. And Jim, of course. There was little doubt about that, once we began that great run. "
Thomas says he and his teammates didn't think about the Hall of Fame when he was racking up rushing yardage in the early 1990s. But eventually, the depth of talent began to sink in.
"At that point, you're trying to win a Super Bowl," Thomas says. "You're not trying to look at who's a Hall of Famer—who's not a Hall of Famer. You just want to be surrounded by good football players and great people. That's what we had in that locker room at the time."
"As we got later in our career, a lot of people started bringing it up, and that's when you actually kind of think about it. To be in that locker room and see the players that came out of that locker room and know the number of Hall of Famers we have now in Canton is something special," Thomas says.
Several Bills have experienced that special feeling in recent years, looking out at the sellout crowd at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. When Polian steps to the podium and his bust is revealed, he'll know exactly what they all went through.
We asked Kelly if he had any advice for Polian for his Hall of Fame speech.
"To speak from the heart," Kelly answered. "That's what I did, and you want to make sure you don't forget people and that's what it's about. There's so many people who help you get to that point. And that you have that moment and you try to make sure you just don't forget anybody."
The Super Bowl Bills who have entered the doors of the Hall before him welcome Polian with open arms this weekend. They can't wait for his turn to hear the applause.
"I can't think of a person who's more deserving to be in the Hall than Bill," Bruce Smith says. 'What he did for the Buffalo Bills, the city of Buffalo, putting this team together, is just incredible. And his knowledge about the game is unprecedented. I'm happy to be associated with him. "
Andre Reed agrees.
"To see Bill up there to take his rightful place as one of the best GMs of his era, now of all time, is special for him and every Bills fan," he says.