OLD SCHOOL: The Bills, Baltimore, and the Rookie Signal Caller.

Street Talk OLD SCHOOL: The Bills, Baltimore, and the Rookie Signal Caller.

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The Ravens and Bills have played each other three times since 1996. All three games have been played in Baltimore and every game was defined by one big play.
 
The first was 1999, the Bills came into Baltimore on Halloween with a 4-3 record, the Ravens due to their bye had played one fewer game and were 2 and 4. The Ravens took an early 10-0 lead on a Tony Banks to Justin Armour 7 yard touchdown pass and a Matt Stover field goal. The defining moment of the game came with less than a minute to play when the Bills had cut the Ravens’ lead to 10-6 on 2 Steve Christie field goals. 
 
With minutes to play quarterback Doug Flutie led the Bills down the field and in the waning moments of the game threw a 5 yard touchdown pass to running back Jonathan Linton and the Bills won 13-10. This win helped the Bills to an 11-5 record. They made the playoffs as a wild card that year losing to the Titans in a game now known as the Music City Miracle.  The Bills lost that game 22-16, victimized by a 75 yard kick return with 17 seconds remaining.  The Bills haven’t been to the post season since.
 
In 2004, both the Ravens and Bills missed the playoffs with 9-7 records. Again meeting in Baltimore the Ravens won 20-6, capped by a Deion Sanders interception return for a touchdown of a Drew Bledsoe pass.  It was Sanders’ ninth career touchdown.
 
The Bills visited again last year in week seventeen on New Years Eve. The Bills came in with a record of 7-8, the Ravens 12-3. A win for the Ravens would secure a first round home playoff game. The Ravens allowed just 39 rushing yards in a 19-7 victory which was highlighted by Chris McAllister’s 31 yard interception return for a touchdown of a JP Losman pass in the third quarter. This for the Ravens unfortunately was the last touchdown they would score for the season as two weeks later they were held to just 2 Matt Stover field goals in the playoff loss to the Colts.
 
Which brings us to this weeks’ game…
 
The 4-2 Ravens visit Buffalo for the first time to face the 1-4 Bills. The Bills have scored just 4 offensive touchdowns and have a quarterback controversy on their hands. Fourth year quarterback JP Losman has not played well and was injured in week three at New England. Stanford rookie Trent Edwards stepped in and led them to their only win of the season in week 4 at home against the Jets. Last week Edwards again started, he played well but the Bills did not score an offensive touchdown in their 25-24 loss to the Cowboys. Losman is healthy again. Edwards led them to their only win – add it up and  head coach Dick Jauron has a quarterback controversy on his hands.
 
Jauron has officially named Edwards the starter supporting an online poll on a Bills fan website www.billsdaily.com,  Sixty-two percent of pollsters prefer Edwards.
 
On paper this seems to favor the Ravens who always seem to dominate rookie quarterbacks. As I gaze back into Buffalo Bill- Baltimore football history I have to throw in a little bit of caution. The last time a Baltimore team faced a Buffalo team that was starting a rookie quarterback was 1970.  The Baltimore Colts had one of if not the best defense in football that year and were heavily favored in the game but the results of that game were a little surprising. We will get to that game but first some background. 
 
The Bills began playing in 1960 when they were part of the new American Football League (AFL), created to compete with the NFL. While the AFL was best known for high scoring games the Bills were the first team inn the new league to focus on defense.
 
After posting 2 losing seasons and a third place finish in  1962 the Bills made their first playoff appearance in 1963, they lost but came back to win the AFL Championship in 1964 and 1965. The were led by quarterback and future vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and running back Cookie Gilchrist, considered then to be the Jim Brown of the AFL.
 
While the Bills were good on offense their defense was their strength and the AFL’s best during those years. They were led by defensive lineman Ron McDole and Jim Dunaway and a group of linebackers that included future broadcaster Paul McGuire.
 
In 1965 the Bills were joined by rookie linebacker and future head coach Marty Schottenheimer. They allowed the least amount of points those championship years.
 
After making another championship game appearance in 1966, losing to the Chiefs, the Bills began a rapid decline. They bottomed out at 1-12-1 in 1968. This led them to the first overall pick in the 1969 draft which they used to select Heisman trophy winner OJ Simpson. Simpson had little impact on the team in 1969 as the Bills won just 4 games and Simpson gained just 697 yards.
 
With Jack Kemp retiring the Bills needed a quarterback and the selected San Diego State’s Dennis Shaw in the second round of the NFL draft. Shaw did not win the starting job in camp. After the Bills were shut out by the Rams 19-0 in week 2, Shaw got the call the next week against the Jets. Shaw threw 2 touchdown passes to Marlin Briscoe and the Bills won their first game of the season 34-31. Shaw working behind a patchwork line was able to help the Bills win 2 of their next 5 games, throwing 4 more touchdown passes.  The Bills were a surprising 3-5 as they prepared to visit Baltimore and play the veteran Colts.
 
With the NFL- AFL merger, the leagues had to re-align. The Colts, Browns, and Steelers left the NFL and joined with the AFL teams to form the AFC. The Colts, Super Bowl participants 2 years before were favorites to win the newly formed AFC.
 
Coming into their week nine meeting with the Bills the Colts were 7-1 and in first place in the AFC East., the 3-5 Bills were in third. The Colts had won 8 games but were not dominating with just one blow out win to their credit, a 35-0 victory over former head coach Don Shula and the fast rising Dolphins.
 
The Colts had beaten the Packers by three points, the Chargers by 2 points, and the Oilers by 4 points, all games in which they were heavily favored. Head coach Don McCafferty had alternated his veteran quarterbacks John Unitas and Earl Morrall but neither could generate a consistent offense.
 
The defense led by Mike Curtis and Bubba Smith were the reason the Colts were 8-1 and they eagerly anticipated their meeting with the Buffalo rookie quarterback that afternoon.
 
Sunday November 15, 1970 brought rain, a light wind, and temperatures in the high 40’s to Baltimore. Shaw who had had lost the week before to the Bengals 43-14 where he was sacked 5 times came out throwing. Throwing short passes to frustrate the vaunted Colts pass rush he led the Bills on 2 long touchdown drives in the first half.
 
In the first quarter he connected with wide receiver Haven Moses for a 4 yard touchdown pass. His second long drive of the day in second quarter culminated with a Shaw to Briscoe 20 yard scoring pass. Not only were the Colts and the fans on 33rd Street in disbelief but the scoreboard had an electrical malfunction and began blinking on and off, Buffalo 14 Colts 0.
 
Unitas, who would complete fifteen of 29 passes that day brought the Colts back late in the first half with 25 yard touchdown pass to John Mackey. The half ended Bills 14 Colts 7.
 
In the second half Colt rookie running back Norm Bulaich began picking up yardage. He led them down the field in the third quarter and finished with 86 yards on 22 carries.  That drive ended with wide receiver Eddie Hinton’s 16 yard touchdown run on an end around. The key to the play was a block by Unitas on linebacker Edgar Chandler. Jim O’Brien tied the game with his extra point and later in the fourth quarter added an eighteen yard field goal to give the Colts their first lead at 17-14.
 
Shaw brought the Bills back. His running game had been taken away by the Colts and Simpson missed the game with a knee injury. Forced to throw on just about every play, Shaw completed key passes to Moses, Briscoe, and fullback Bill Enyart to put the Bills in field goal range. Rookie kicker Grant Guthrie kicked a thirty six yard field goal to tie the game at 17.
 
After trading punts Shaw and the Bills began their final drive with just minutes left.
 
Starting from inside their 20 yard line Shaw took the Bills to the Colts 37 yard line with only seconds on the clock. The goal posts in 1970 were on the goal line, (that rule changed in 1974). Guthrie would attempt a 44 yard field goal into the open end of Memorial Stadium to try pull off the biggest upset in the NFL that year, the snap was perfect the ball made it over the out stretched arms of the Colt lineman but the kick fell short by 10 yards. Guthrie would end the season connecting on just ten of 19 field goal attempts. The game ended in a tie. Shaw handled the best defense in the AFC but came up ten yards short on pulling off the upset victory.
 
The Colts went onto to win Super Bowl V that year, the Bills lost their remaining games after the tie with the Colts and finished 3-10-1, 4th pace in the AFC East.
 
Shaw would finish the year with 10 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. Not the best statistics but his play impressed the Associated Press sports writers. He won the AP’s Offensive Player Rookie of the year award. Also, Marlin Briscoe led the AFC in receiving that year. Shaw would stay with the Bills until 1973 when he would lose his starting job to rookie Joe Ferguson. He was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974 where he was Jim Hart’s back up until 1975.  He was cut after that year and retired. 
 
Dennis Shaw may not be remembered by many football fans, but for one afternoon he nearly beat John Unitas, Mike Curtis, Bubba Smith, Rick Volk, and a heavily favored veteran Baltimore team that went on to win the championship.
 
While the Ravens match up this week appears to be favorable, especially if the rookie Edwards starts at quarterback, keep Dennis Shaw and the performance that helped him win the rookie of the year award in 1970 in the back of your mind as you watch the game.

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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt’s passion for the game began in the 60’s watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi’s Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980’s where he’s captured more titles than John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins
 
Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son.

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