1982 Buffalo Bills – Season of Discontent
Buffalo fared no better. First, the team’s #1 overall pick in the draft in 1979, Tom Cousineau, was set to return to the NFL from Canada. The Houston Oilers bid $3.5 Million for five years for the linebacker’s services. Buffalo had the choice of matching, or losing the former All-American from Ohio State. Chuck Knox fought hard to keep him a Buffalo Bill, but lost. Buffalo did match the offer, but immediately traded the pick to the Cleveland Browns for draft picks, including Cleveland’s #1 pick in 1983.
Stars Joe Cribbs and Jerry Butler both were holdouts starting camp. Joe Ferguson was critical of ownership for not paying the players needed for a championship run. The only good news for the Bills was the return of last season’s #1 pick, Booker Moore. He missed his entire rookie campaign as he recovered from a rare form of Gullian-Barre’s disease. Veteran guard Conrad Dobler and 10 year Bill DE Mike Kadish was released during the offseason. Linebacker Shane Conlon, one of the leaders on the Bills defense, continued to struggle through a difficult knee injury.
Buffalo had another disappointing draft. They traded up 2 spots to select WR Perry Tuttle in the first round from the national champion Clemson Tigers. QB Matt Kofler was selected in round 2, and LB Eugene Marve went in round 3. Van Williams came off the board into Buffalo’s hands in round 4, and Gary Anderson, kicker, was selected in round 7.
Rumors and uncertainty followed many teams this offseason, including the Bills. The USFL’s Arizona Wranglers circulated a rumor that they were interested in Knox as their new coach, rumors Knox denied. Despite the holdouts, Buffalo cruised to a 3-1 preseason record. Before many of the preseason games, players from both sides met at midfield to shake hands in a sign of solidarity with their union brethren. Jerry Butler reported 1 week before the opening game. Joe Cribbs came close, but refused to report. Kicker Gary Anderson was one of the last cuts, as Knox Chose to return with Nick Mike-Mayer as his kicker.
Buffalo opened the year at home against the Kansas City Cheifs, coached by Marve Levy. The Buffalo offense got by without Cribbs by splitting carries between Roosevelt Leaks and Curtis Brown. The unspectacular offense managed 2 Joe Ferguson TD passes to Butler and Lewis to provide all the scoring in a 14-9 game. Buffalo’s defense did the rest, keeping the Chiefs out of the end zone the entire day.
Monday Night Football came to town 4 days early. Playing on a Thursday night, the atmosphere was very uneasy. The Players union threatened a walkout after the weekend’s games if negotiations failed to reach an agreement. With the cloud hanging over the game, The visiting Vikings jumped out to a 19-0 lead 22 minutes into the game. Booker Moore was tackled for a Safety at the outset. QB Tommy Kramer followed up with a pair of TD passes to TE Bob Bruer and a Minnesota FG with 2:21 left in the half. Ferguson got the Bills rolling, hitting Frank Lewis with a 6 yard TD with 6 seconds left in the half.
It was all Buffalo in the second half, as they managed a 20 to 10 minute edge in time of possession. Aided by sloppy Minnesota execution and 15 penalties against the Vikes. Ferguson began the 3rd quarter just like he finished the second, with a 4 yard TD pass to Jerry Butler, capping off an 81 yard drive. Buffalo missed the extra point, and Minnesota managed another FG to end the 3rd. The 4th quarter belonged to the Bills, as they strung 2 long, time consuming drives. The first took 7:20 and ate up 71 yards for a FG. The second was an 8 play, 94 yard march eating up another 4:49. It was capped of with Ferguson’s 3rd TD of the night, his second with Butler. The 23-22 victory would have to last Buffalo Bills fans 6 weeks, as the players walked off the job starting Monday.
The Player’s union and NFL owners finally settled the strike in late November. It was decided to play out the remaining schedule, thus having an abbreviated 9 game season, with the top 8 teams in each conference making the playoffs. Joe Cribbs chose to end his hold out, deciding to honor the last year on his $120,000 per year deal and take his chances after the season. Kicker Nick Mike-Mayer was not to return to the team, he was replaced by former Dallas kicker Efren Herrera.
Buffalo found themselves on the short end of a disappointing 9-7 loss to the Dolphins in front of a small home crowd. The Buffalo Defense did another stellar job holding the Dolphins to a mere 3 FG’s, but the Bills offense committed 7 turnovers.
The Buffalo defense continued to dominate the opposition. They held Baltimore to a team record 88 total yards in the game in a 20-0 rout. Roosevelt Leaks added 2 TDs against his former team. The crowds continued to dwindle, as post strike apathy kept attendance to a meager 34,000. Linebacker Jim Haslett was felled with a knee injury that required surgery.
In a sloppy, muddy pit at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field, Buffalo turned the ball over 5 times. The Bills Fumbled away the opening kickoff that led to an easy Green Bay FG . They fumbled twice in their opening drive, losing one to the Packers as they converted that into another easy 3 points. The Comedy of errors continued. Green Bay scored one TD after James Lofton fumbled after a catch, but team mate Del Rogers fell on it for the TD. The Bills botched another FG try that was blocked. Ferguson managed to find TE Mark Brammer for a pair of 4th quarter TDs, but it was not enough in a 33-21 loss.
Game 6 saw another dominating performance by the Bills defense. Pittsburgh became the second team in 3 games that Buffalo would hold to under 100 yards total for the game. The Steelers would only manage 96 rushing yards while Terry Bradshaw was limited to a –2 yards passing on the day. Joe Cribbs amassed 143 yards rushing in the game as Buffalo posted a 10-0 halftime lead. A DeWane Woodruff interception of a Joe Ferguson Pass in the end zone prevented the Bills from running away with it. They went into the half with a 190-12 edge in yards, and a 13-1 edge in first downs. Pittsburgh would never cross the 50 yard line the entire game. Buffalo added a FG to finish the Steelers off 13-0. It was the second shutout in 3 games and the 4th time in the six games played in the season that the Bills held the opposition without a touchdown in the game.
The Bills were 4-2, one game out of first in the division, but looking very strong for one of the 8 playoff spots. After the strike schedule allowed the Bills to play 5 of their first 6 games at home, they would find themselves closing out the year with 3 straight road games. The first stop was in Tampa Bay.
Buffalo opened the scoring with a Roosevelt Leaks FG, but the Bills would miss another extra point. The kicking woes had stung the Bills all season, and in this game it would prove to be fatal. Leaks would manage a second TD in the game midway through the 3rd quarter that would give the Bills a 16-10 lead. Doug Williams would lead his team back, with 10 4th quarter points. Joe Ferguson answered with a 9 play drive late into the 4th. He completed 6 of 7 passes for 60 yards. He scrambled twice on the last two plays, covering 20 yards and scoring a TD to pull Buffalo within one, 24-23. There were 4 minutes remaining.
Buffalo’s defense then held the Bucs to a three and out, forcing a punt. Buffalo took over at their on 45 with 2:44 left. The Bills managed to keep the chains and the clock moving with 2 big first downs. Leaks then broke a 16 yard run to the Buccaneer 18 yard line with a minute left. On the very next play, as Knox tried to set up the struggling Herrera for a chip shot field goal by running the ball right up the gut of the Tampa Bay defense. Buccaneer All- Pro linebacker Lee Roy Selmon charged in head first to Leaks who accepted the handoff. Selmon’s tackle led with the helmet, and it made contact with the ball. Leak’s fumble was recovered by the Buccaneers, ending the drive and the game with 36 seconds on the clock.
The loss left the Bills at 4-3 and struggling to make the playoffs. Their task would not get easier with a visit to the Orange Bowl in Miami, a stadium where the Bills remained winless since 1966. Cribbs opened the game with a 62 yard TD on the first snap. Four plays later, LB Isiah Robertson forced a fumble on a Miami ball carrier giving the Bills the Ball again at midfield. Buffalo managed to drive to the Miami 16, and settled for the FG. Buffalo would squander the 10-0 lead as their offense was stymied. 4 turnovers led to 27 straight points for the Dolphins as the Bills would lose their second in a row and drop to 4-4.
In the season finale, Buffalo was tied with New England and Cleveland for the last 2 playoff spots. Buffalo had their destiny in their on hands. Sporting the league’s #1 defense for the second time in 3 seasons, they headed to Foxboro, MA with a season ending showdown with the Patriots. Buffalo’s bread and Butter, the defense, had their worst outing of the season. They allowed 29 first downs and over 400 yards in offense. Again the Bills managed to jump out to an early lead, only to lose momentum. Joe Cribbs and Jerry Butler both scored early in the second quarter to give Buffalo a 13-3 lead, but again the Bills special teams play botched another extra point. New England than reeled off 27 of the next 33 points in the game. Not helping the Bills was cautious play calling. Trailing 23-16 midway through the 4th quarter, Joe Cribbs reeled off a 48 yard run to the New England 17 yard line. Facing a 4th and inches at the 7, Knox chose to kick the FG instead of pushing for the tie. New England would score on their ensuing drive to salt the game away eliminating the Bills from the playoffs. Final score- Patriots 30, Bills 19. The strike, holdouts, and mistakes were to much for the team to overcome.
Despite seeing action in only 7 games, Joe Cribbs led the Bills for the third straight year in rushing yards with 633 yards and 3 TDs. Leaks did an admirable job in relief, garnering 405 yards and 5 TDs. Frank Lewis led the team with 443 yards on 28 receptions for 3 TDs. Jerry Butler was runner up with 26 receptions, 336 yards, and 4 TDs. Joe Ferguson struggled throughout the year. Ferguson completed 54% of his passes for 1597 yards, 7 TDs and 16 interceptions. After opening the season with 5 TD passes in 2 games, he managed just 2 since the strike ended.
On Defense, Bill Simpson led the team with 4 interceptions followed by Steve Freeman with 3. Sherm White and Ben Williams each had 4 sacks, with Fred Smerlas third with 2. Ben Williams and Fred Smerlas were the only two Bills to represent the team in the Pro Bowl.