Before the Texans reached the postseason for the first time in franchise history a season ago, it had been nearly 20 years since Houston fans had gotten a taste of postseason action. But they’d rather not remember some of those past appearances.
In a 1994 AFC Divisional Playoff, the Houston Oilers blew a 13-7 fourth-quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs. But that’s nothing compared to the Oilers’ collapse a season before. On Jan. 3, 1993, the Oilers (today’s Tennessee Titans) were on the wrong end of the greatest comeback in NFL history. Up 35-3 over Buffalo in an AFC Wild Card matchup, Houston surrendered 35 straight points and fell in overtime to the Bills, 41-38.
Buffalo News Senior Sports Columnist Jerry Sullivan was watching the contest from the stands of Rich Stadium that day. Sullivan, who detailed his experience in a recent column, spoke with Bill Littlefield about the game — still remembered to this day as “The Comeback.”
“It was surreal,” Sullivan said. “We talk about the ’12th man’ helping a team. There was this sort of delirious sense that the crowd literally was lifting the team.”
Trailing 28-3 at the break, the Bills opened the second half on the wrong foot. Filling in for starting quarterback Jim Kelly, backup Frank Reich threw an interception 1:41 into the third quarter that turned into a Houston touchdown.
While the outcome looked bleak for the Bills, at least one Buffalo player, linebacker Darryl Talley, remained confident.
“Darryl was an amazing competitor and a crazy guy who had gone nuts at halftime in the locker room,” Sullivan recalled. “When it went to 35-3 early in the second half, he said, ‘We’ve got them right where we want them.’”
By the end of the day, Talley didn’t seem so crazy. The Bills posted five unanswered scores — including four touchdown tosses from Reich — to take their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter.
“[Reich] jokes, he says, ‘I threw that interception just to make them over-confident,’” Sullivan said. “But it really happened. That’s when [the Oilers] really lost their competitive edge.”
While the team went on to win the game and eventually reach the Super Bowl, the Bills did not return to Buffalo with the Lombardi Trophy — a scenario that repeated itself for four straight seasons. Even so, Sullivan said the Bills are proud of “The Comeback.”
“I think in retrospect it is called their greatest moment, the moment that most reflected that team’s winning, resilient qualities,” Sullivan says. “So that game came to reflect those qualities of a team that didn’t win the ultimate game but sort of stood for something larger.”