When I did my first blog of cursed sports cities and did Atlanta (where I am near and have been near for 24 years of my life), I had a very nice response from a Buffalo guy saying that Atlanta knows nothing about Buffalo and their horror stories and such. Of course, when I mean nice, I am using sarcasm. If that guy is still reading, I told him I was planning on doing Buffalo as from an outsider perspective, it has been a very rough run for the fans in the Niagara Falls area, which have given fans a lot of Niagara Falls coming down from their eyes over time, and that is just with two current teams. We know about the Bills and Sabres, but the Buffalo Braves were also around in the 70’s for the NBA and have been known as one of the most snakebit franchises, even since they have moved out of Buffalo. But still, the city of Buffalo has endured a run of misery that ranks up there with any sports city.
BUFFALO: BUFFALO BILLS (4 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES, NO CHAMPIONSHIPS), BUFFALO SABRES (2 STANLEY CUP APPEARANCES, NO STANLEY CUPS), BUFFALO BRAVES (1970-1978; MOVED TO SAN DIEGO AND BECAME THE CLIPPERS)
ZERO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
BUFFALO BILLS: We immediately think when of the Bills and their failed Super Bowl runs in the 90’s. But we have to go back a bit when the Bills were still a part of the AFL. They won 2 AFL Championships and made a third appearance all in a 3 year run. However, once the merger hit, the Bills struggled. They were a whopping 8-32-2 in the first three seasons after the merger. And this is when they had a stud running back that went by the name of OJ Simpson. In 1973, Simpson became the first back to rush for over 2,000 yards and Buffalo had their first winning season in the NFL, but failed to make the playoffs. The next year, the Bills made the playoffs only to be bounced by the Steelers, who were at the beginning of the dynasty years. It was the only playoff appearance for Buffalo in the 70’s. In the 80’s Buffalo made a couple of early appearances, including their first playoff win against the rival Jets in 1981, but fell back off. In the 1983 NFL Draft, the Bills selected Jim Kelly. Kelly today is now known as Mr. Buffalo, but he wanted nothing to do with the Bills and in the process of negotiating a contract, Kelly left Buffalo to play for Houston in the USFL.
Due in part because of Kelly not being there, the Bills crashed and burned after. Buffalo went 12-36 in the next 3 seasons including back-to-back 2-14 seasons. After the USFL folded, Kelly returned to Buffalo, where he helped start to right the ship for the Bills. After having some phenomenal drafts of getting Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett (via trade), Shane Conlan, Andre Reed, and Darryl Talley, the Bills became one of the AFC’s top contenders, getting to the AFC Championship in 1988, and started a run of 4 straight division titles from 1987 and 6 of 8 AFC East titles. With it, Buffalo created a no-huddle offense that frustrated opposing defenses as it wasn’t seen at that time. Buffalo by 1990 was just waxing anybody and everybody they saw. They ended the season 13-3, running the Dolphins ragged in the AFC Divisional and blowing out the Raiders in the AFC Championship and were favored to beat the Giants who squeaked by the 49ers in the NFC Championship. The Bills offense had some challenges as they weren’t on the field to keep a rhythm as the Giants played ball-control (which is the norm to slow down a high-powered, up-tempo offense these days) and held the ball for over 40 minutes. Buffalo took a 12-3 lead in the 2nd quarter, but the Giants scored late in the 2nd quarter and continued to keep the ball away from Kelly, Thomas, and Reed and scored in the third quarter on a 9 minute drive by New York to give the Giants a 17-12 lead. Buffalo once again did a quick strike TD and got the lead back at 19-17. However with 7 minutes left, Matt Bahr kicked a chip-shot FG to give the Giants a 20-19 lead. New York continued to hold the ball, but Buffalo made a key stop late to have one more shot. Buffalo drove to the Giants 30 to allow kicker Scott Norwood to kick a 47-yard field goal. Norwood missed less than a yard to the right of the post as the Giants would win their second Super Bowl title. Many feel however brighter times were ahead in Buffalo.
The Bills continued steamrolling opponents in 1991, going 13-3 with the same style of play on offense and still a vicious defense. They won the AFC East, easily handled Kansas City (who had beaten them earlier in the year), and shook off a fiesty Broncos team in the AFC Championship game to play Washington. There was high hopes for the Bills as they thought this was it though Washington was no slouch, going 14-2 and dominating their foes in the regular season and postseason (thumped Atlanta and Detroit in the playoffs). However, Buffalo struggled on offense and the defense scuffled. Many felt like the offense lost some rhythm to start the game when Thurman Thomas misplaced his football helmet during the national anthem. Washington remained in control the entire time of the Super Bowl winning 37-24.
Buffalo slipped in 1992, in part to injuries and teams slowly started to figure them out. They failed to win the AFC East and had a Wild Card game against the Houston Oilers, without an injured Jim Kelly for Buffalo. Buffalo, in probably the greatest moment in their history, came back from a 35-3 deficit on the Oilers to win 41-38 in overtime. The momentum continued, smacking Pittsburgh silly in the Divisional playoff 24-3 and looking like the Bills of prior years when Kelly returned in the AFC Championship game agianst Miami, thumping the Dolphins. It was then back to the Super Bowl agianst a young Dallas Cowboys team with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and others. Many thought it would be a learning experience for Dallas against a veteran Bills bunch. Despite a good start of getting Dallas to go 3-and-out and a blocked punt and an early TD for the Bills, Dallas would run Buffalo out of Pasadena that day, winning 52-17, thus creating the new title of teams who constantly get close and fail to be “the Buffalo Bills of…”
In 1993, the Bills, wanting to prove people wrong, again, won the division and had homefield through the AFC in the playoffs, where they did nothing wrong, beating the Raiders and taking down the Chiefs. Again, Buffalo played Dallas in the Super Bowl and while many had the Bills to lose, there was slight hope. Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones had been quarreling in the media of how much control/credit each of them should have. And the Bills held a 13-6 halftime lead on Dallas. But the Cowboys woke up and ran Buffalo out of the Georgia Dome scoring 24 unanswered points as Buffalo’s run ended.
The Bills would make the playoffs four of the next six seasons, but only won once (defeating Miami in 1995), but the last two have been known as controversial and heartbreaking. Down 24-14 late, Doug Flutie threw a pass to Andre Reed as many thought he broke the plane (myself included). Reed argued with the referees that he got in, drew a unsportsmanlike foul and got tossed from the game. Instead of being first and goal at the 1, Buffalo was at the 15, and failed to get the touchdown, but still got the game within a touchdown. Buffalo did recover the onside kick and drove down deep in Miami territory, but Flutie fumbled late and gave the Dolphins the win. Many felt it was another bad break for Buffalo.
The year after would prove that the Miami loss was nothing. Buffalo went 11-5 in 1999, and finished second to a young Colts team led by Peyton Manning. Buffalo may have had their best defense, even better than the ones they had in the early 90’s. But what dumbfounded many people was Wade Phillips benched Flutie, who was having a strong year and won 10 games for them for Rob Johnson in the final game of the regular season and then the first round against the Titans. Many Bills players were unhappy including star receiver Eric Moulds and many people also felt the offense was choppy and struggled against Tennessee (to be fair, the Titans had a great defense in 1999). Many felt despite the fact the Titans defense was good, had Flutie played, the offense would have clicked better. Buffalo came back from a 12-0 deficit at halftime and scored two touchdowns including the go-ahead one. The Bills and Titans swapped field goals to make it 16-15 with 16 seconds left as Buffalo’s players were all hopping excited thinking they were the ones who finally took down Tennessee in their new stadium. On the kickoff, the Bills squibbed it to keep from a big return, and kicked it to Lorenzo Neal. He handed it off to Frank Wycheck, who then tossed it across the field to receiver Kevin Dyson. Catching the Bills off guard as they all ran after Wycheck, nobody on Buffalo could get after Dyson who ran it in for the touchdown as we now know it as the Music City Miracle. Bills fans cried foul as they thought Wycheck threw a forward pass to Dyson (and really it is inconclusive, so whether you think it was a forward pass or a lateral, you are probably right). But it ended Buffalo’s run in the playoffs for the next 18 years until this past season when they got in.
From 2000-2016, Buffalo had been along the lines of mediocrity in the NFL. No playoff appearances and only 2 winning seasons. They haven’t been horrible in that time period (most of the seasons ended at 7-9 or 6-10), but many felt the team has been flat and stale. The quarterback issue is one thing as Buffalo has been a nightmare for signal callers over time (ranging from Drew Bledsoe to JP Losman to Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick to EJ Manuel to Tyrod Taylor) and the offense has been pretty much near the bottom for the longest time. The Bills made their first playoff appearance as I said since the Music City Miracle against Tennessee after a miracle win not for themselves, but a win by Cincinnati to eliminate Baltimore in the final week of the season for the Bills to sneak in. However, Buffalo could not muster a touchdown against the Jags defense and lost 10-3. After the season the Bills drafted Josh Allen from Wyoming, hoping he would end their curse at quarterback. So far in training camp, the Bills Mafia has shuddered with seeing Allen miss open targets five yards away from him.
CURSED MOVE: Benching Flutie for Rob Johnson is still the most dumbfounding move I think in any sport. You don’t bench a guy who was winning games for you to go along with that defense. Flutie wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber guy, but he was doing what he needed to do to win. Phillips messed up badly here and may have altered not just his career (though he had a nice run as head coach in Dallas and is known as one of the greatest defensive coordinators ever) but also Buffalo’s direction with that move. Johnson fizzled out by 2001 for Buffalo underachieving (but got a ring to backing up Brad Johnson in Tampa Bay in 2002-jeesh!)
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: You can make a huge debate on the “Wide Right” by Norwood in the Super Bowl, the missed TD call against Miami in 1998 or the Music City Miracle, but I have to go with the Music City Miracle. That just doesn’t happen to any team.
CURSED RATING: 5/5 (SUPER CURSED)-Many will go, “well, if they were that cursed, they wouldn’t have come down from 35-3 on Houston or Andy Dalton doesn’t become a cult hero in Buffalo despite being on the Bengals with that TD pass to propel them in the playoffs.” The losses have been as stinging as you can get. And oh yeah, one of Buffalo’s legendary players is now known for being in jail for robbery and despite being acquitted for murder to his ex-wife, the evidence still points to him as a killer.
BUFFALO SABRES: The Sabres were one of the early expansion squads in the NHL, coming in the league in 1970. Much like other expansion teams, it took Buffalo a few years to be a contender. They failed 3 of their first 4 seasons to get to the playoffs, but seeds were in place, notably Gilbert Perrault, Rick Martin, and Rene Robert as they started to terrorize teams with their goal scoring. The line was nicknamed the French Connection as the three of them were Quebec natives. In 1975, the Sabres, thanks to the Connection, made it to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Broad Street Bully Flyers. The Sabres hung tough with Philadelphia, but lost in 6. Buffalo had another player who could light the lamp in Danny Gare as the Sabres were a tough cookie in the NHL all throughout the 70’s and in the mid-80’s even after the French Connection moved on.
The Sabres started slipping in the late 80’s all the way through the early 90’s. They got the likes of Pat LaFontaine, Alexander Mogilny and others, but from 83-92, the Sabres either were a first round casualty in the competitive Adams Division, mostly losing to the Bruins or Canadiens or failing to make the playoffs.
However, things turned for the better as the Sabres traded for Dominik Hasek. Hasek started becoming an elite goaltender and in his first year in Buffalo the Sabres escaped out of the first round by sweeping Boston but then being swept by eventual Cup champion Canadiens. Buffalo would get back to the playoffs the next few seasons and Hasek having a memorable duel with another elite goaltender in Martin Brodeur. Hasek showed his worth but the Sabres still lost in the first round.
After a failing to make the playoffs in the lockout season, Buffalo returned in 1996-1997 with a new logo, colors, and attitude. Buffalo was not a group of elite goal scorers, but had some quality players from top to bottom like Miroslav Satan, Michael Peca, Donald Audette, Brian Holzinger, and Derek Plante, Darryl Shannon, and enforcer Rob Ray. With Hasek winning the Hart Trophy, they were a team to watch. They won the Northeast Division and made it past the first round in a classic series vs. Ottawa, but would be bounced by Philadelphia in the second round. Many believed that Hasek’s issues with head coach Ted Nolan also stung the Sabres in 97. After the Sabres let Nolan go after the season, Hasek continued his MVP ways, winning it again in 98 and pretty much his play took the Sabres to the Eastern Conference Finals against Washington where he was outdueled by a strong goaltender in Olaf Kolzig.
Buffalo broke out in 1999, getting to the Stanley Cup Finals on a year where Hasek didn’t win the Hart. But he still played at a high level, taking down Philadelphia, Montreal, and Toronto with relative ease. They faced a heavily favored Dallas Stars team and had gone back and forth with them in the Finals. However, Game 6 occurred as Dallas was a win away from their first Stanley Cup. Buffalo and Dallas went to triple overtime where Brett Hull scored on Hasek to win. However, the goal many viewed as an illegal goal according by rules in 1999. No player was allowed to be in the crease. Hull’s skate was in the crease when he shot the puck in. It SHOULD have been waved off, but the celebration began and nothing more was said about it, at least in Dallas. But it went down in Buffalo lore as “No Goal Game”
Buffalo started to fall apart in 2000. Hasek was injured and the veterans were getting discouraged. They were eliminated by the Flyers in the first round. The next season, Buffalo returned to form somewhat in 2002 despite issues of ownership at the time and Michael Peca sitting out the whole season because of a contract dispute. They gained a measure of revenge on Philadelphia, winning in 6 in the first round, but then going against the re-born Penguins where Mario Lemieux returned alongside Jaromir Jagr. Buffalo held a 3-2 series lead on Pittsburgh, but couldn’t win Game 6 as it went to overtime and then again in Game 7 as Darius Kasparitis ripped one past Hasek in overtime as he dove a la Bobby Orr. It would be Hasek’s last game in Buffalo as he was traded to Detroit for Slava Kozlov. Of course, Buffalo fell while Hasek won a Stanley Cup in Detroit…with Hull as his teammate. How’s that for a gut-punch?
The veterans in Buffalo started to make their exodus after Hasek and the Sabres failed to make the playoffs for 3 straight years after. After the lockout occurred, Buffalo became a threat once more thanks to the likes of Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik, Teppo Numminen, Dmitri Kalinin, and another strong goalie in Ryan Miller. Buffalo made the conference finals again taking down Ottawa and Philadelphia, but losing in 7 to the eventual Cup champion Hurricanes.
The 2006-2007 Sabres team rolled. While they brought back the old blue and yellow colors, the logo was ridiculed by hockey fans and Sabres fans alike with the “Buffa-Slug” where it looked more like a banana slug than a buffalo. However, the Buffa-Slug Sabres won the President’s Cup for the first time in their history. And after blowing past their in-state foes of the Islanders and Rangers, Buffalo struggled tremendously against Ottawa, losing in 5 games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Then the exodus of the Sabres began again. Drury was gone. Briere was gone. The exodus wasn’t as rough as the prior one, but losing their two top stars in Drury and Briere stung. Buffalo failed to get back to the postseason in 08 and 09 (it would be the third time a team in NHL history would win the Presidents Cup one season and then fail to make the playoffs the next season), but the Sabres won the Northeast in 2010 but were bounced by Boston in the first round. In 2011, Buffalo made it back to the playoffs with a win on the final day of the season, but were bounced in 7 by their friends in Philadelphia.
Since then, the Sabres have been one of the NHL’s doormat franchises despite having the likes of Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly (who was traded later on to St. Louis) as many also feel the Sabres have tanked to get the top picks in the NHL Entry Draft.
CURSED MOVE: Trading Hasek for Kozlov and a 2nd rounder was pretty brutal. Kozlov was a good forward for the Wings, but was oft injured in Buffalo and he seemed very unhappy there. Buffalo would trade that pick to Columbus, and then the Jackets traded it to Atlanta for Jim Slater, who was a quality checking guy. Hasek as I mentioned won a Cup with the Wings (two actually-2008) with Hull as his teammate in 2002. Ouch.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: The “No Goal Game” is still probably at the top of the list. Goal should have been waved off as Buffalo got screwed.
CURSED RATING: 5/5 (SUPER CURSED)-Buffalo when they’ve been good have come so close so many times and just come up short in heartbreaking manners.
BUFFALO BRAVES: The Braves, much like others before them struggled in their first three years. But the Braves got Bob McAdoo, who was a beast, averaging 30 points three consecutive times after his rookie year. And it was also the three years where the Braves made the postseason. What could have been a franchise changer was the Braves got Moses Malone from Portland, which would have netted a nice duo of McAdoo & Malone. Instead, Malone wanted more playing time in Buffalo and shipped to Houston after two games. The Braves in the final post-season run won their first round series agianst Philadelphia but lost to the Celtics in 6 (which was the 2nd time in 3 years the Braves lost to the Celtics). McAdoo was traded midway through the 1977 season to the Knicks for Tom Gianelli. And the Braves fell apart…thus knocking attendance down bad. And given that the owner Paul Snyder was pressured to sell and/or relocate the team because the Braves were a third option to the Sabres and Canisius at the Auditorium, it pretty much was over for the Braves. Snyder sold the team to John Y. Brown
A owner swap took place as the then owner John Y. Brown agreed to take the Celtics and Irv Levin to take the Braves. Levin had no desire to keep the team in Buffalo and moved it to his home state of California in San Diego, to which they were changed to the Clippers. And well, they didn’t fare much better.
CURSED MOVE: Trading Malone after 2 games to Houston. They really messed up. Malone became a great player. Adding him with McAdoo could have changed how things were with basketball in Buffalo. It was a huge mistake.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: I can’t be fair here because there really isn’t much about the Buffalo Braves I know, but I guess when you are playing second fiddle to Canisius in basketball, something is wrong. But maybe playing 16 games a season in Toronto is probably the thing that stands out, even with a young team like Buffalo was.
CURSED RATING: 4/5 (VERY CURSED)-Buffalo, could have had a good basketball town had the right moves were made. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Overall, you have to think Buffalo is one of the most cursed sports cities in America or even the most cursed. While the MLB never came to Buffalo, the city had already built a stadium in hopes of landing one of the expansion teams for the 1993 season. Instead they came runners-up to Miami and Denver. So that is a gut-punch in its own right and honestly, looking back on it, while Miami sounded like a good idea at the time, maybe Buffalo was a better bet. They would have been far more supportive. But then again, how much more heartbreak would Buffalo fans have to endure if there was an MLB team there? Buffalo, you deserve better results in the sports world.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat