In the 23 years since Jim Kelly retired, the Buffalo Bills have hosted a whopping 18 players at the starting quarterback position. With so many different coaches, play styles, and degrees of success; it’s no wonder the Bills hadn’t settled on a QB1 in all that time. But if there’s one thing that Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, E.J. Manuel, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Kyle Orton, Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel (as a technicality), LeSean McCoy (another technicality), and the beloved Nathan Peterman have in common, it’s that they don’t look nearly as good in shorts as Josh Allen. With all these QBs (and one running back) starting behind the centre in the past 23 years, it hasn’t been easy being a Buffalo fan. It’s been made harder due to the fact that I’m only 22 years old. With no memories of the good old days to fall back on, the experience of being a Bills fan has been difficult at best and torturous at worst. Sitting in the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, 14-year-old me watched his first Bills game. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 262 yards (he went 21-27), 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, whilst Fred Jackson carried the pigskin 26 times for 120 yards and no house calls, helping the Bills cement a 23-0 shutout against Washington. That first game was the beginning (and potentially greatest moment) of a long and painful love of the game for this solitary Bills fan. It’s been a long time since that October day in the Great White North and, despite years of hardship, the love for my team has grown with every passing Sunday. Freezing cold visits to “The Ralph” each winter felt like a yearly pilgrimage in hopes of enlightenment, and the gameday drive to Buffalo became a time-honoured tradition. Be it victory or otherwise, I grew to love both my team and the game they play but until recently, I didn’t know that I’d never truly “Billieved”. That was subject to change.
Picture the scene: Week 3 in Minnesota. The season looked like it was over before it had even begun. We were sitting at 0-2 following a series of embarrassing blowout losses, not to mention Vontae Davis retiring at half time the week before: it wasn’t pretty. I knew that a playoff appearance was unlikely, regarding the sheer number of players we’d shed that offseason, alongside the discrete knowledge that perhaps we weren’t going to “Run The East”. We’d bought tickets to Minneapolis because of our mission to see the Bills play every team in the league, and it was going to be my first time seeing regular-season Josh Allen in action, but when it came time to board the flight a sense of dread filled me. It was going to be a long was to travel with nothing to show for it but a game day program. As we boarded the train to the stadium, there was hardly a Bills fan in sight, lost amongst a sea of Vikings. As courteous as they were (the stereotypes are true), it seemed every person in sight already knew the outcome of the game. Our offense had been unproductive, our defense had been ramshackle at best, and the Vikings were enjoying playing with their shiny new QB, coming out of the gate with a 1-1-0 record. As we took our seats, enjoying the views, sights, and sounds that you only get to experience on game day, the spectacle got underway.
A 6-yard completion and one of Kelvin Benjamin’s signature drops had us looking like the same old Bills with an immediate 3-and-out to start the game. Josh Allen got sacked for a loss of 7 and the Bills punt team began warming up their oft-used legs. A yellow, and at the time, controversial, flag was thrown, and the wind blew good favour in our direction. “Roughing the passer” the refs called, giving Allen a chance to make a 2nd 1st impression on me (which I’m sure was his intention): a chance he flew to meet. He leaned on Chris Ivory (both by land and by air) for all but 14 of the remaining distance to get him 10 yards outside of the endzone. What happened next felt almost magical. As his reads broke down and the fight or flight response kicked in, Allen chose both.
As great as that play was (and believe me, the few Bills fans I saw around me were all clutching their heads in amazement), it was only the beginning. Our beloved defense forced 2 consecutive fumbles on the next 2 opposing drives, handing Allen and Co. the ball within the Vikings 25-yard line twice. After failing to convert the first drive into a touchdown, though Hausch Money still handed us the 3 points, Allen found the wide-open Jason Croom for the easy 26-yard score.
We were up 17-0, with the best yet to come. On Buffalo’s next drive, not that they had to wait long, Allen took off on a brief yet memorable run. Looking for enough room to scramble past Anthony Barr, he found the only way was up. Way up.
The pandemonium this single act caused was legendary. Bills fans nearly rioted and the league was shocked. Allen rose to the occasion in week 3, and I haven’t been the same fan since. As Allen went up, so too did my experience as a fan, and only one of those things has come down. Allen had many lowlights through the remainder of the season, as any rookie would, but his highlights outweighed them all. His arm? Undeniable. His growth? Significant. His athleticism? See here.
It may be too early to say, but Allen has shown flashes of greatness unseen in most of the Bills’ rich history of journeyman QBs. He may have only a single season under his belt, but with a little more o-line help, some shiny new receivers, and a fresh offseason of growth, I “Billieve” that Josh Allen has what it takes to finally give us the franchise QB we’ve been dreaming of.