Maroons, Copperheads, Oilers and Bills

“You see that Bills game,” my dad asked back on Jan. 3, 1993.

“Yeah, the Oilers killed ’em,” I said.

“No,” my dad said. “The Bills came back and won it.”

“Wow,” I said. “I am going to KILL grandpa.”

I was a senior in high school, and my grandpa Bill called me for some help that day. Even though it was really cold outside, my grandpa picked than NFL playoff Sunday to rebuild the steps on my aunt’s deck.

The steps were too steep and kind of dangerous. I agreed they needed to be fixed, but the job certainly could have waited until spring.

While the rest of America was watching the Bills turn a 35-3 deficit into a 41-38 overtime win, I was holding boards with hands nearing frostbitten status.

Backup Bills quarterback Frank Reich directed the best comeback ever. It might have been the best game ever, and I left to help my grandpa when the Bills trailed by 32 points.

Watching SportsCenter that night didn’t do the game justice. That was back before ESPNews and 24/7 highlights, too. There was no TiVo. No DVR. If you missed a game, you missed the game.

I always relished the times I spent with my grandpa. I still do. Over the years I would always hear great stores — sometimes over and over — and I’d learn a lot of life’s lessons, whether it was on the golf course, sitting at his table or helping him with one of his many projects.

On this day, though, I wanted to strangle him.

For pretty much my whole life I have always felt a strange obligation to watch as many NFL games as possible. It’s not that I like watching games that don’t involve my team so much. I have just always feared missing something big.

It doesn’t get any bigger than the Bills’ comeback over the Oilers. The win propelled the Bills to another Super Bowl. The loss was basically a franchise killer for the Houston Oilers, who moved to Tennessee a few years later.

The loss also changed the image of the Oilers franchise forever. Instead of being remembered for Bum Phillips, Earl Campbell and all those great games with the Steelers, the Oilers will forever be known as the team that collapsed in Buffalo.

Seeing Fritz Daily leave the Butte Central-Anaconda football game early Friday night made me think of my grandpa, those cold hands and those magical Buffalo Bills.

“I think you guys can handle it from here,” Fritz said as he stood up to leave a game that seemed to drag on long after it was over. The Maroons were up 27-6 with about 5 minutes left in the game when Fritz decided to call it a night.

I assume Fritz caught Pat Kearney call the rest of the game on the radio as he drove home, so he wasn’t left in the dark. If someone asked him if he caught the Central game later that night he didn’t answer, “Yeah, the Maroons killed them.”

What Fritz missed though, might have even been bigger than that Bills game back in 1993.

The game was, to most people in the crowd at Bulldog Memorial Stadium, over. The cat was in the bag, the bag was in the river.

The lights were turned out. The bus was fired up. The Maroons thumped the Copperheads once again.

Then, depending on your colors, something completely awful or totally amazing happened. The Copperheads pulled off a comeback for the ages. It was a comeback a Buffalo Bills fan wouldn’t even believe.

The general consensus from fans on both sides was the same. “Wow.”

Quarterback Eric Boyd turned into Frank Reich. Receivers Kelly Krumm and Cory Stanberry turned into Andre Reed and Don Beebe.

Somehow, the Copperheads turned into the Bills, scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter to turn a 27-0 deficit into a 28-27 win.

However, the Copperheads one upped the Bills by scoring their final 22 points in the final 3 minutes, 39 seconds of the game.

For the Copperheads, it is the kind of win that can give a team the confidence it needs to secure a playoff spot.

For the Maroons, it will be a loss they will never forget. Only a state title could erase the sting.

Of course, there’s no way the loss will have as lasting effect on the team as the collapse in Buffalo did for the Oilers. For one thing, the Maroons won’t be moving to Tennessee. At least we can only hope not.

The game wasn’t a playoff game, and the Maroons get to get back on the field a week later. They play at Stevensville on Friday.

Also, Don Peoples Jr. is probably a better coach than Jack Pardee. Actually, I’d take Peoples over Pardee any day.

I have no doubt that BC will bounce back from that loss and learn from it, even though it won’t be easy. The Maroons have always been a resilient bunch.

Finally, unlike the Oilers the Maroons can be grateful that NFL Films didn’t document the game from every angle like it did the Bills-Oilers game.

Sure, Optimum Cable will show the replay of the game at 7 p.m. Wednesday. With all due respect, the local cable company doesn’t have the magic of Steve Sabol and the folks at NFL Films.

(By the way, rest in peace Mr. Sabol. I can’t imagine what life would have been like as a child if I didn’t have NFL Films on ESPN every Sunday and Monday night.)

As it turned out, I didn’t really miss that Bills-Oilers game after all.

Tough it was many years after that cold January day, NFL Films finally allowed me to watch that Bills-Oilers game as if I was standing on the sideline the whole time.

Thanks to Steve Sabol, I’m glad I went to help my grandpa that day after all.

— Sportswriter Bill Foley, who still doesn’t have TiVo or a DVR, writes a column that will appear in every Tuesday.