|Established October 28, 1959|
First season: 1960
Play in and headquartered in New Era Field
Orchard Park, New York
|Team colors||Royal blue, red, white, navy blue|
|Head coach||Sean McDermott|
|General manager||Brandon Beane|
|League championships (2)|
|Conference championships (4)|
|Division championships (10)|
|Playoff appearances (19)|
The Buffalo Bills are a professional American football team based in the Buffalo–Niagara Falls metropolitan area. The Bills compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) East division. The team plays their home games at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills are the only NFL team that plays its home games in the state of New York. The Bills conduct summer training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, New York, an eastern suburb of Rochester.
The Bills began play as an original franchise of the American Football League (AFL) in 1960. The club joined the NFL as a result of the AFL–NFL merger for the 1970 season. The 1964 and 1965 Bills were the only teams representing Buffalo that won major league professional sports championships ("back-to-back" American Football League Championships). The Bills are the only team to win four consecutive conference championships and are the only NFL team to lose four consecutive Super Bowl games. The team was owned by Ralph Wilson from the team's founding in 1960, until his death in 2014 at the age of 95. After his death, Wilson's estate reached an agreement to sell the team to Terry and Kim Pegula, which was approved by the other NFL team owners on October 8, 2014. The Bills formerly possessed the longest active playoff drought in any of the four major professional sports in North America: they did not qualify to play in the NFL playoffs from 1999 until 2017 and were the last NFL team (and last team in the major North American professional sports leagues overall) to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century. Since then, the Bills have reached the playoffs in two of the past three NFL seasons and also clinched their first 10-win season in two decades in December 2019.
The Bills began competitive play in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League led by head coach Buster Ramsey and joined the NFL as part of the AFL–NFL merger in 1970. The Bills won two consecutive American Football League titles in 1964 and 1965 with quarterback Jack Kemp and coach Lou Saban, but the club has yet to win a league championship since.
Once the AFL–NFL merger took effect, the Bills became the second NFL team to represent the city; they followed the Buffalo All-Americans, a charter member of the league. Buffalo had been left out of the league since the All-Americans (by that point renamed the Bisons) folded in 1929; the Bills were no less than the third professional non-NFL team to compete in the city before the merger, following the Indians/Tigers of the early 1940s and an earlier team named the Bills, originally the Bisons, in the late 1940s in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).
Following the AFL–NFL merger, the Bills were generally mediocre in the 1970s, but featured All-Pro running back O. J. Simpson. After being pushed to the brink of failure in the mid-1980s, the collapse of the United States Football League and a series of highly drafted players such as Jim Kelly (who initially played for the USFL instead of the Bills), Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Darryl Talley allowed the Bills to rebuild into a perennial contender in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, a period in which the team won four consecutive AFC Championships; the team nevertheless lost all four subsequent Super Bowls, records in both categories that still stand.
The rise of the division rival New England Patriots under Tom Brady, along with numerous failed attempts at rebuilding in the 2000s and 2010s, prevented the Bills from reaching the playoffs in seventeen consecutive seasons between 2000 and 2016, a 17-year drought that was the longest active playoff drought in all major professional sports at the time. It was broken when the Bills secured a wild-card berth on December 31, 2017. On October 8, 2014, Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula received unanimous approval to acquire the Bills during the NFL owners' meetings, becoming the second ownership group of the team after team founder Ralph Wilson.
In 1947 a contest was held to rename the AAFC Bisons, which was owned by James Breuil of the Frontier Oil Company. The winning entry suggested "Bills", reflecting on the famous western frontiersman, Buffalo Bill Cody. Carrying the "frontier" theme further, the winning contestant offered the team was being supported by Frontier Oil and was "opening a new frontier in sports in Western New York." When Buffalo joined the new American Football League in 1960, the name of the city's earlier pro football entry was adopted.
The team's original colors were Honolulu blue, silver and white, and the helmets were silver with no striping. There was no logo on the helmet, which displayed the players' numbers on each side.
In 1962, the standing red bison was designated as the logo and took its place on a white helmet. In 1962, the team's colors also changed to red, white, and blue. The team switched to blue jerseys with red and white shoulder stripes similar to those worn by the Buffalo Bisons AHL hockey team of the same era. The helmets were white with a red center stripe. The jerseys again saw a change in 1964 when the shoulder stripes were replaced by a distinctive stripe pattern on the sleeves consisting of four stripes, two thicker inner stripes and two thinner outer stripes all bordered by red piping. By 1965, red and blue center stripes were put on the helmets.
The Bills introduced blue pants worn with the white jerseys in 1973, the last year of the standing buffalo helmet. The blue pants remained through 1985. The face mask on the helmet was blue from 1974 through 1986 before changing to white.
The standing bison logo was replaced by a blue charging one with a red slanting stripe streaming from its horn. The newer emblem, which is still the primary one used by the franchise, was designed by aerospace designer Stevens Wright in 1974.
In 1984, the helmet's shell color was changed from white to red, primarily to help Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson distinguish them more readily from three of their division rivals at that time, the Baltimore Colts, the Miami Dolphins, and the New England Patriots, who all also wore white helmets at that point. Ferguson said "Everyone we played had white helmets at that time. Our new head coach Kay Stephenson just wanted to get more of a contrast on the field that may help spot a receiver down the field." (The Patriots have worn silver helmets since 1993, the Colts have since been realigned to the AFC South, and the New York Jets have since switched back to green-colored helmets after 20 years with white ones in 2019.)
In 2002, under the direction of general manager Tom Donahoe, the Bills' uniforms went through radical changes. A darker shade of blue was introduced as the main jersey color, and nickel gray was introduced as an accent color. Both the blue and white jerseys featured red side panels. The white jerseys included a dark blue shoulder yoke and royal blue numbers. The helmet remained primarily red with one navy blue, two nickel, two royal blue, two white stripes, and white face mask. A new logo, a stylized "B" consisting of two bullets and a more detailed buffalo head on top, was proposed and had been released (it can be seen on a few baseball caps that were released for sale), but fan backlash led to the team retaining the running bison logo. The helmet logo adopted in 1974—a charging royal blue bison, with a red streak, white horn and eyeball—remained unchanged.
In 2005, the Bills revived the standing bison helmet and uniform of the mid-1960s as a throwback uniform.
The Bills usually wore the all-blue combination at home and the all-white combination on the road when not wearing the throwback uniforms. They stopped wearing blue-on-white after 2006, while the white-on-blue was not worn after 2007.
For the 2011 season, the Bills unveiled a new uniform design, an updated rendition of the 1975–83 design. This change includes a return to the white helmets with "charging buffalo" logo, and a return to royal blue instead of navy.
Buffalo sporadically wore white at home in the 1980s, but stopped doing so before their Super Bowl years. On November 6, 2011, against the New York Jets, the Bills wore white at home for the first time since 1986. Since 2011, the Bills have worn white for a home game either with their primary uniform or a throwback set.
On November 12, 2015, the Bills and the New York Jets became the first two teams to participate in the NFL's Color Rush uniform initiative, with Buffalo wearing an all-red combination for the first time in team history.
A notable use of the Bills' uniforms outside of football was in the 2018 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, when the United States men's national junior ice hockey team wore Bills-inspired uniforms in their outdoor game against Team Canada on December 29, 2017.
The Bills have rivalries with their three AFC East opponents, and also have had occasional or historical rivalries with other teams such as the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts (a former divisional rival), Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, and Dallas Cowboys. They also play an annual preseason game against the Detroit Lions.
This is often considered Buffalo's most famous rivalry. Though the Bills and Dolphins both originated in the American Football League, the Dolphins did not start playing until 1966 as an expansion team while the Bills were one of the original eight teams. The rivalry first gained prominence when the Dolphins won every match-up against the Bills in the 1970s for an NFL-record 20 straight wins against a single opponent (the Bills defeated the Dolphins in their first matchup of the 1980s). Fortunes changed in the following decades with the rise of Jim Kelly as Buffalo's franchise quarterback, and though Kelly and Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino shared a competitive rivalry in the 1980s and 1990s, the Bills became dominant in the 1990s. Things have since cooled down after the retirements of Kelly and Marino and the rise of the New England Patriots, but Miami remains a fierce rival of the Bills, coming in second place in a recent poll of Buffalo's primary rival, and the two teams have typically been close to each other in win-loss records. Miami leads the overall series 61–48–1 as of 2018, but Buffalo has the advantage in the playoffs at 3–1, including a win in the 1992 AFC Championship Game.
The rivalry with the New England Patriots first started when both teams were original franchises in the American Football League prior to the NFL-AFL merger. After the rise of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in New England, the Patriots have dominated the AFC East, including the Bills. The Bills-Patriots rivalry in particular has become lopsided as the Patriots are 31–5 against the Bills since Belichick became head coach in 2000. This has led many fans and players in the 2000s and beyond to replace the Dolphins with the Patriots as Buffalo's most hated rival. Overall, the Patriots lead the series 76–43–1 as of 2019.
The rivalry is also notable as numerous players, including Drew Bledsoe, Doug Flutie, Lawyer Milloy, Brandon Spikes, Scott Chandler, Chris Hogan, Mike Gillislee and Stephon Gilmore have played for both teams at some point in their careers.
The Bills and Jets were both original AFL teams, and both represent the state of New York, though the Jets (since 1984) actually play their games in East Rutherford, New Jersey. While the rivalry represents the differences between New York City and Western New York, it has historically not been as intense as the Bills' rivalries with the Dolphins and Patriots, and the teams' fanbases either have grudging respect or low-key annoyance for each other when the teams are not playing one another. Oftentimes the Bills-Jets rivalry has become characterized by ugly games and shared mediocrity, but it has had a handful of competitive moments. The series heated up recently when former Jets head coach Rex Ryan became the Bills' head coach for two seasons, and has become notable again as Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, both drafted in the same year, maintain a friendly rivalry with one another. Buffalo leads the series 62–55 as of 2018, including a playoff win in 1981.
The Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) share an extended history with the Bills, both teams being original AFL clubs in 1960 and rivals in that league's East Division before the AFL-NFL merger. Matchups were intense in the 1990s with quarterback Warren Moon leading the Oilers against Jim Kelly's Bills. Memorable playoff moments between the teams include The Comeback, in which the Frank Reich-led Bills overcame a 35–3 deficit to stun the Oilers 41–38 in 1992, and the Music City Miracle, in which the now-Titans scored on a near-last-minute kickoff return with a controversial lateral pass to stun the Bills 22–16 in 1999. The Music City Miracle was notable for being Buffalo's last playoff appearance until 2017. The Titans currently lead the series 28–19.
Though the Bills and Cleveland Browns are in different divisions and did not start playing each other until after 1972, match-ups between the two teams occasionally get heated up due to the proximity and similarity between the cities of Buffalo and Cleveland, though the teams' fanbases otherwise share a mutual respect. As with the Bills–Jets rivalry, the Bills and Browns often share bad luck and have seen their share of ugly games, including a 6–3 Browns win in which the winning quarterback only completed 2 of 17 passes. However, there have been other occasions when both teams have been competitive such as in the 1980s and most recently in 2007 and 2014. The rivalry also gained heat when former Bills safety Donte Whitner was with the Browns. The Browns currently lead the series 13–9, including a playoff win in 1990, though the Bills have outscored the Browns in the series.
The Browns shared a rivalry with the Bills' predecessors in the All-America Football Conference, playing them twice in the AAFC playoffs before becoming one of three AAFC teams to join the NFL. The Bills were not selected to join the NFL and folded with the rest of the AAFC, leaving Buffalo without professional football until the current Bills were formed in 1959.
The Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs were also original teams in the AFL and have had a long history against each other, despite never being in the same division. This rivalry heated up recently as the Bills and Chiefs met in consecutive years from 2008 to 2015, and again in 2017. The teams have played three playoff games against each other, including the AFL Championship game that determined the AFL's (later AFC) representative in the first Super Bowl, with Kansas City winning and going on to face the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl. However, Buffalo defeated Kansas City in the 1993 AFC championship game to advance to its fourth straight Super Bowl appearance. Buffalo currently leads the series 26-21-1.
In recent years, bitterness has emerged between the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had handed Buffalo its first playoff loss in New Era Field in 1996. Both teams occupy two of the smallest media markets in the NFL. After years of concurrent bottom feeding in the late 2000s and early 2010s, this rivalry has emerged after former Bills head coach Doug Marrone, who had quit on the team after the 2014 season, was hired as a coaching assistant for Jacksonville and rose to become the Jaguars' head coach. Since then, the series has featured a Bills loss to the Jaguars in London, an ugly, low-scoring playoff game in 2017, trash talk from Jaguars players such as Jalen Ramsey and a brawl between the teams in 2018.
The Buffalo Bills have retired three numbers in franchise history: No. 12 for Jim Kelly, No. 34 for Thurman Thomas and No. 78 for Bruce Smith. Despite the fact that the Bills have only retired three jersey numbers in franchise history, the team has other numbers no longer issued to any player or in reduced circulation.
|Buffalo Bills retired numbers|
|12||Jim Kelly||QB||1986–1996||November 19, 2001|
|34||Thurman Thomas||RB||1988–1999||October 30, 2018|
|78||Bruce Smith||DE||1985–1999||September 15, 2016|
Since the earliest days of the team, the number 31 was not supposed to be issued to any other player. The Bills had stationery and various other team merchandise showing a running player wearing that number, and it was not supposed to represent any specific person, but the 'spirit of the team.' In the first three decades of the team's existence, the number 31 was only seen once: in 1969, when reserve running back Preston Ridlehuber damaged his number 36 jersey during a game, equipment manager Tony Marchitte gave him the number 31 jersey to wear while repairing the number 36. The number 31 was not issued again until 1990 when first round draft choice James (J.D.) Williams wore it for his first two seasons; it has since been returned to general circulation, with safety Dean Marlowe wearing the number in 2019.
Number 32 had been withdrawn from circulation, but not retired, after O. J. Simpson. Former owner Ralph Wilson insisted on not reissuing the number, even after Simpson's highly publicized murder case and later robbery conviction. The number was placed back into circulation in 2019 with Senorise Perry wearing the number that year.
Number 1 has also only rarely been used, for reasons never explained. Kicker Mike Hollis, who played one season for the Bills in 2002, was the most recent to wear the number in the regular season; it went 17 years without being reissued before David Sills was assigned it during the 2019 preseason.
|Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame|
|Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame|
|1980||32||O. J. Simpson||RB||1969–1977|
|1989||–||Ralph C. Wilson Jr.||Owner||1959–2014|
|1992||12||The 12th Man||Fans||1960–present|
|Buffalo Bills Hall of Famers|
|32||O. J. Simpson||RB||1969–1977||1985|
|Coaches and Executives|
The Buffalo Bills Radio Network is flagshipped at WGR, AM 550 in Buffalo, owned by Entercom. John Murphy is the team's current play-by-play announcer; he was a color commentator alongside, and eventually succeeded, longtime voice Van Miller after Miller's retirement at the end of the 2003 NFL season. Mark Kelso serves as the color analyst. The Bills radio network has approximately seventeen affiliates in upstate New York and one affiliate, CJCL 590AM (The Fan) in Toronto. As of early 2012, it is composed mostly of WGR, Entercom's sister stations WCMF (96.5 FM) and WROC-AM 950 in Rochester, and a fleet of independent AM and FM stations across upstate New York from Jamestown east to Albany. Previous flagship Citadel Broadcasting was purchased by Cumulus Media, who in turn ceased carrying Bills games at the end of the 2011 season, leaving the network without affiliates in Syracuse, Binghamton, and Erie. (The Syracuse affiliations were later picked up by Galaxy Communications.)
In 2018, the team signed an agreement with Nexstar Media Group to carry Bills preseason games across its network of stations in the region. As of 2020, WIVB-TV serves as the flagship station of the network, which includes WJET-TV in Erie, WROC-TV in Rochester, WSYR-TV in Syracuse, WUTR in Utica, WETM-TV in Elmira and WIVT in Binghamton. Steve Tasker does color commentary on these games; the play-by-play position is rotated between Andrew Catalon and Rob Stone. WROC-TV reporter Thad Brown is the sideline reporter. Since 2008, preseason games have been broadcast in high definition.
Beginning in the 2016 season, as per a new rights deal which covers rights to the team as well as its sister NHL franchise, the Buffalo Sabres, most team-related programming, including studio programming and the coach's show, was re-located to MSG Western New York—a joint venture of MSG and the team ownership. Preseason games will continue to air in simulcast on WKBW.
In the event regular season games are broadcast by ESPN, in accordance with the league's television policies, a local Buffalo station simulcasts the game. From 2014 to 2017, WKBW-TV held the broadcast rights to that contest, with the station having won back the rights to cable games after WBBZ-TV held the rights for 2012 and 2013.
The Bills currently do not have cheerleaders. The Bills operated a cheerleading squad named the Buffalo Jills from 1967 to 1985; from 1986 to 2013, the Jills operated as an independent organization sponsored by various companies, most recently by Citadel Broadcasting. The Jills suspended operations prior to the 2014 season due to legal actions. The Bills and Jills are currently involved in a legal battle, in which the Jills allege they were employees, not independent contractors, and are seeking back pay. Complicating matters is that Citadel's buyer, Cumulus Media, declared bankruptcy and sought to discharge its remaining Bills-related debts in January 2018.
The Bills are one of six teams in the NFL to designate an official marching band or drumline (the others being the Baltimore Ravens, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks). Since the last game of the 2013 season, this position has been served by the Stampede Drumline, known outside of Buffalo as Downbeat Percussion. The Bills have also used the full marching bands from Attica High School, the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University at home games in recent years.
The Bills have several theme songs associated with them. The most popular is a variation of the Isley Brothers hit "Shout", recorded by Scott Kemper, which served as the Bills' official promotional song from 1987 through 1990s. It was officially replaced circa 2000 with "The Power of the Bills", although "Shout" remains in usage today. It can be heard at every Bills home game following a field goal or touchdown and at the end of the game if the Bills win. The Bills' unofficial fight song, "Go Bills", was penned by Bills head coach Marv Levy in the mid-1990s on a friendly wager with his players that he will write the song if the team won a particular game.
The Bills Backers are the official fan organization of the Buffalo Bills. It has over 200 chapters across North America, Europe and Oceania. Also notable is the Bills Mafia, a collection of Bills fans organized via Twitter beginning in 2010; the phrase "Bills Mafia" had by 2017 grown to unofficially represent the broad community surrounding and encompassing the team as a whole, and players who join the Bills often speak of joining the Bills Mafia. Outsiders often treat the Bills' fan base in derogatory terms, especially since the 2010s, in part because of negative press coverage of select fans' wilder antics. Bills fans have been noted as much for their boisterous behavior as they have for their generosity; after the Bills received help in breaking their 17-year playoff drought on a last-minute Cincinnati Bengals victory, Bills fans crowdfunded the charities of Bengals players Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd with hundreds of thousands of dollars as a gesture of thanks.
The Bills are one of the favorite teams of ESPN announcer Chris Berman, who picked the Bills to reach the Super Bowl nearly every year in the 1990s. Berman often uses the catchphrase "No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills!" Berman gave the induction speech for Bills owner Ralph Wilson when Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
The Bills were also the favorite team of late NBC political commentator Tim Russert, a South Buffalo native, who often referred to the Bills on his Sunday morning talk show, Meet the Press. (His son, Luke, is also a notable fan of the team.) CNN's Wolf Blitzer, also a Buffalo native, has proclaimed he is also a fan, as has CBS Evening News lead anchor and Tonawanda native Jeff Glor and DNC Chairman Tom Perez.
ESPN anchor Kevin Connors is also a noted Bills fan, dating to his time attending Ithaca College. Actor Nick Bakay, a Buffalo native, is also a well-known Bills fan; he has discussed the team in segments of NFL Top 10. Character actor William Fichtner, raised in Cheektowaga, is a fan, and did a commercial for the team in 2014. In 2015, Fichtner also narrated the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Bills' four Super Bowl appearances, "Four Falls of Buffalo". Former Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders (an in-law to former Bills kicker Todd Schlopy) has professed her fandom of the team. Actor Christopher McDonald, who was raised in Romulus, New York, is a fan of the team.
Bills fans are particularly well known for their wearing of Zubaz zebra-printed sportswear; so much is the association between Bills fans and Zubaz that when a revival of the company opened their first brick-and-mortar storefront, it chose Western New York as its first location.
Persons notable almost entirely for their Bills fandom include Ken "Pinto Ron" Johnson, whose antics while appearing at every Bills home and away game since 1994 earned enough scrutiny that his tailgate parties were banned from stadium property on order of the league; John Lang, an Elvis impersonator who carries a large guitar that he uses as a billboard; Marc Miller, whose professional wrestling promo-style interview with WGRZ prior to Super Bowl XXVII (distinguished by the line "Dallas is going down, Gary!" and picked up at the time by The George Michael Sports Machine) was rediscovered in 2019; and Ezra Castro, also known as "Pancho Billa," a resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex who wore a large sombrero and lucha mask in Bills colors. Castro was diagnosed with a spinal tumor that had metastasized in 2017; he was invited on stage during the 2018 NFL Draft to read one of the Bills' selections. Castro died May 14, 2019.
Several former Buffalo Bills players have earned a name in politics after their playing careers had ended, almost always as members of the Republican Party. The most famous of these was quarterback Jack Kemp, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Western New York in 1971—two years after his playing career ended and remained there for nearly two decades, serving as the Republican Party nominee for Vice President of the United States under Bob Dole in 1996. Kemp's backup, Ed Rutkowski, served as county executive of Erie County from 1979 to 1987. Former tight end Jay Riemersma, defensive tackle Fred Smerlas and defensive end Phil Hansen have all run for Congress, though all three either lost or withdrew from their respective races. Quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas have also both been mentioned as potential candidates for political office, although both have declined all requests to date.
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