Welcome to the second installment of “Rivalry History”, where we look back at the Buffalo Bills’ all-time history against all of their opponents this season. As we tackle the our first division rival, the Miami Dolphins, we’re thrown right back to the place where it all began: the AFL.
Squishe Ye Olde Fish
Though the AFL was founded in 1960, the Dolphins wouldn’t join the league until 1966. And they didn’t get the warmest of welcomes into what would become one very important rivalry. The 0-3 Fins travelled to Buffalo to take on the 1-2 Bills in War Memorial Stadium (our beloved “Rockpile”) for the first time, but they’d leave in a body bag. Wall of Fame QB Jack Kemp would carve them up. The defense would do their fair share of scoring too. Legendary DB Butch Byrd would return an interception 60 yards to the house, then put up a 72-yard punt return TD on the very next drive. In the first half alone, Buffalo would post a shocking 48 points. It was a bad day for Dolphins HC and QB George Wilson.
A Decade Of Dominance
Then came Shula. As the post-merger NFL was beginning to form, Miami negotiated a deal to steal Shula from under the thumb of the Baltimore Colts, costing themselves their 1971 first-round pick due to tampering policies at the time. Though seemingly costly at the time, Shula proved to be worth the price. From the moment of his hiring through to the conclusion of the 1979 season, Shula won every single game against the Bills; most of them by double digits. Miami would appear in three Super Bowls during that period, winning two of them; One of those wins would conclude the NFL’s only true perfect season. After a shocking 20-game losing streak and a decade without beating a division rival, Buffalo finally began to turn the corner.
As things often do throughout history, it happened suddenly, and in strangely epic fashion. Despite five offensive turnovers, Buffalo was still in the game, having forced four interceptions of their own. The defense, led by rookie DB Jeff Nixon (who hauled in three of those interceptions himself), allowed only seven points. The score was 7-3 in Miami’s favor, but it wouldn’t stay that way. With under four minutes left in the game, another Wall of Fame QB by the name of Joe Ferguson would toss a four-yard TD to fullback Roosevelt Leaks. Another TD by RB Joe Cribbs would seal the deal.
The Turning Of The Tides
The team could hardly contain themselves. The fans definitely couldn’t. They rushed the field in a huge swarm, mingling with the players and causing all kinds of chaos. Security didn’t have the personnel to stop them. It got out of hand as fans banded together to bring one of the goalposts to the ground. It may have felt like one of the ugliest games the league had seen in a long time, but for Buffalo it was the greatest thing they’d ever seen. The streak was over. The era of being the downtrodden laughing stock of the league was over. Buffalo would go 11-5, winning the AFC East for the first time.
Ferguson’s name comes up once more in this rivalry, as he was immeasurably important in playing spoiler to eventual Hall of Famer Dan Marino’s first career start. Opening strongly, the Bills took a 14-0 lead before finding themselves down 35-28 late in the fourth quarter. Time was running out and, despite strong performances from both Ferguson and Cribbs, the Bills were in real trouble. A dramatic drive was stalling out on the goal line when Ferguson launched his 5th and final TD of the day to Cribbs at short range. It was going to overtime, but it was far from over.
Miami got the ball to start, with some time remaining. Marino took them down to the Bills 35-yard line, but missed the ensuing 52-yard field goal attempt. Buffalo was set up to win, but went three-and-out before punting. An incredible punt put Miami at their own two, but Dan was determined, leading them once again into Buffalo territory. Another wide kick would give the Bills the last opportunity they needed. The Bills finally ended the game, winning 38-35. Ferguson recorded 419 passing yards and 5 TDs on the day. Marino would become an unpopular figure in the annals of Bills history shortly after, but we’d taken round one; Round two was coming up fast.
Marino vs. Kelly
The Bills faded into obscurity for the next few years. It wasn’t until Jim Kelly returned to Buffalo following his brief USFL career that they became relevant again. The Kelly-Marino rivalry and the resulting battle for the AFC East (and the rest of the AFC as a byproduct) finally earned the former AFL teams the respect of the “original” NFL franchises. Kelly vs. Marino went on for over a decade, and the electric games it produced were incomparable. Players from both rosters recall the series as emotionally charged and fuelled by an undying hatred. Though Jim Kelly and the Bills got the better of Marino, the two men are generally considered equals in terms of skill. Both were promptly awarded HoF inductions upon the conclusions of their playing careers.
The Modern Era
Amazingly, both teams fell apart around the same time and in similar ways. Holding onto the dregs of greatness, they let what they had slip away and were unable to retain or replicate it. That kind of roster building success comes once in a few decades for most teams, and the rivalry began to fizzle amongst a lack of interest and generally poor play. At the beginning of the modern era of NFL football, Miami and Buffalo both began to fall off the map, and they’ve only just begun to find their way back onto it. Despite the years, the two hated foes still found themselves at each others throats on just about every gameday, in some capacity.
Almost inexplicably, the heat was still there, and it came to a head as often as Ol’ Faithful. Most Bills fans recall the illegal hit on defenseless DB Aaron Williams by then-Miami WR Jarvis Landry in 2016, a hit which ultimately ended Williams’ career. Tensions flare and punches are thrown, and there’s always a good story when these two historic foes face off. (Or at least some bloodshed.) Buffalo has once again had the better end if the series since the retirement of their respective franchise greats, but it became a little too close for comfort. It wouldn’t be for long.
A Fresh New Direction
In drafting Josh Allen, the Bills collected the ultimate piece to take a lead in this series, and have won all but a single matchup in this series since then. With the injection of our fiery young leader, there’s a new spark for the rivalry once again, and facing off against Miami has once again become an absolute joy to watch. Welcome to the Allen era.