Anytime a documentary comes out covering a subject that the viewer knows something of or cares about, that viewer hopes that the documentary is true to the facts, and is fair to the subject and the people that took part in it. The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary The Four Falls of Buffalo perfectly captures the mood of the team, the fanbase, and the media surrounding the four consecutive Super Bowl appearances of the Buffalo Bills.
I was in elementary and middle school when the Bills made their unprecedented and unmatched run. I am a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, but I did not grow up in Buffalo or Western New York. Like most kids and many adults, I caught crap every time my team lost a game. Those Super Bowl losses magnified the amount of crap I received with every game lost during the season. It dawned on me one day that the people that were giving me crap for the team that I lived and died with losing a game were all Bears and Colts fans.
The Bears and Colts, for Christ sake. They both were hideously awful during the early nineties. The Bills took the Colts behind the woodshed repeatedly during their Super Bowl runs. The Bills beat the Bears handily during their second Super Bowl run. Who the hell were they to say the Bills suck?
Steve Tasker summed up that feeling perfectly in Four Falls: “If you don’t want us here, THEN BEAT US.”
Not many did during that period. The Bills went 13-3 twice, 11-5, and 12-4 in the four regular seasons of their Super Bowl seasons. They won the AFC East five out of six years (1988-91, 93). They beat four Hall of Fame Quarterbacks in the playoffs (Dan Marino twice, John Elway, Warren Moon, and Joe Montana), and they avenged regular season losses in the playoffs all four years (Miami in 1990, Kansas City in ’91, Houston in ’92, and Kansas City and the LA Raiders in ’93).
One more fun fact for the sake of comparison: The Bills went to four Super Bowls in four years. The 2000’s New England Patriots, as dominant as they have been in the last decade and a half, went to six in fourteen years.
If this team were from any other city than Buffalo but had the same body of work, they wouldn’t have had to deal with the whiny and arrogant Mike Lupica calling them out as losers on national TV. Buffalo is not a glamorous city. What Lupica and others really had a problem with was that Buffalo is a small media market, and their name and image doesn’t sound nearly as good as New York, Boston, Miami, San Francisco or other sexier locales.
All throughout the Bills run, the country was begging Buffalo not to get back to The Show. A ever-present lie that was told throughout by media and fans of other teams in that time was that they would rather their team never had a chance than to keep going to the Super Bowl and losing year after year. That rationale is a batch of crap. Suffer through a decade and a half of 6-10 mediocrity, then we’ll talk. They would be begging for a Super Bowl loss after that kind of run.
The best thing about The Four Falls of Buffalo is their treatment of Scott Norwood. History has, over time, seen Wide Right for what it was: a difficult task under impossible circumstances that no other kicker in the 49 years of the Super Bowl has had to face. As great as Adam Vinatieri was with his two Super Bowl-winning kicks, he never had to face a Scott Norwood-situation. Vinatieri always had the safety net of the score being tied at the time of his kicks, whereas Norwood was given make-it-you-win/miss-it-you-lose circumstances. Forty-seven yards on grass is no chip-shot, and he missed. Only mouth-breathing Neanderthals who can’t talk without drooling all over themselves think of Norwood as a choke-artist or a loser.
I find it ironic that the advertisement for the next 30 for 30 that popped up on the screen throughout the broadcast was for the ’85 Bears. I have always thought of the Bears of the 80’s to be one of the finest ensembles of talent ever assembled, but also as some of the worst underachievers ever in NFL history. The Bills stubbornly muscled their way to playoff wins in the nineties while not accepting the concept of defeat. Those Bears teams welcomed playoff collapse as their roommate.
The Bills had a damn good team in the 90’s, and time and history have given them the legacy they deserve.