105.5 The Team – The Buffalo Bills play host to the Cleveland Browns this weekend for what will be the 20th regular season meeting between the two franchises in a game that matters very little to either team. Of course Rex Ryan will site the Bills less than five percent chance to make the playoffs, but for all intents and purposes that dream is dead. Meanwhile, the winless Browns only motivation is to avoid the most embarrassing accomplishment in football – becoming the second team in NFL history to finish 0-16.
For both, it’s just another meaningless December game, a theme that has all become all too common for each of these fan bases. Once two of the NFL’s most competitive, the Bills and the Browns have become punchlines since the turn of the century. And their respective paths into this never ending cycle of drudgery has included the same bad habits and infuriating trends. Whether it be striking out on a long list of quarterbacks, an iconic moment of heartbreak, or excessive coaching failures; these organizations have suffered more than any others in recent history.
Buffalo – The Bills 16, soon to be 17-year playoff drought is currently the longest of any franchise in the four major sports. They last appeared in a playoff game following the 1999 season, as a wild card team, where they famously lost to the Tennessee Titans in the opening round on what we all now know as “The Music City Miracle.” Nearly 17 years later, it sure does look like a forward pass. So, technically the Bills have appeared in a playoff game this century, just not following a season that began this century.
Cleveland – Behind the Bills, the Browns and Raiders are each owners of the NFL’s second longest playoff drought, which dates back to 2002-2003 season. While Oakland is poised to end their postseason absence at 13 years, the Browns and their 0-13 record have already guaranteed that they’ll stay right on the Bills heels for a 14th year. Cleveland’s last trip to the playoffs also ended in defeat as the Kelly Holcomb quarterbacked Browns built a 17 point lead early on in the third quarter, then watched it fizzle away as Tommy Maddox and the Steelers scored 29-second half points to earn a 36-33 win. It’s not quite as demoralizing as the Music City Miracle, but it certainly stings the same for Cleveland fans.
One of the biggest reasons these two teams have suffered so much despair has been their inability to acquire or a develop a franchise quarterback.
Buffalo – Doug Flutie, Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, Drew Beldsoe, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brian Brohm, E.J. Manuel, Thad Lewis, Jeff Tuel, Kyle Orton, Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor … that’s 17 different quarterbacks that have started a game for the Bills since the turn of the century. The last QB to take the franchise to the playoffs, Doug Flutie, who started 15 games in 1999, then eight one year later before leaving Buffalo in free agency. Some have had longer leashes such as Drew Bledsoe, who was traded to the Bills in 2002 and started every game for three consecutive seasons from 2002-2004, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who stuck around Western New York for four years as the feature signal caller between 2010-2012. Others like J.P. Losman and E.J. Manuel were drafted with the high hopes of becoming “the guy,” only to be swiftly thrust into the limelight and flop, badly. The Losman nightmare was over years ago – he left Buffalo after the 2008 season and has been out of the NFL since 2011. Meanwhile, Manuel’s forgettable time with the Bills will come to an end in three short weeks. The man responsible for quarterbacking the only winning season for Buffalo since Bledsoe’s days, Kyle Orton, spent just a single season in Buffalo (2014) before retiring, but he wasn’t the long term answer anyway. And that brings us to current starter Tyrod Taylor. So dazzling a season ago, yet losing his luster, at least among fans and the media. Perhaps the Bills view him differently, which they’ll determine this off-season when they decide to pick up his option or not. Or maybe they could see what Jim Kelly’s got left in the tank.
Cleveland – For the Browns it’s much worse…
Doug Peterson, Tim Couch, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Colte McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Robert Griffin III and Cody Kessler … typing all 24 Browns QBs that have started a game since 2000 will induce instant carpal tunnel. You’ll notice a few repeat names from Buffalo’s long list as well and like the Bills, Cleveland has tried mightily and failed miserably at trying to find themselves a franchise quarterback by using the exact same methods. Through the draft they snared experiments with potential like Quinn, McCoy, Weeden, Manziel and most recently Kessler. The jury is still out on Kessler, but the others were notorious busts. Cleveland also tried supplementing aging veterans as a stop gap, hence Garcia, Dilfer and Delhomme. As you can tell, those attempts all failed miserably as well. The Bills may have the longer playoff drought, but the Browns have the longer quarterback carousel. They’re desperate for a franchise quarterback. Hopefully offensive guru Hue Jackson can finally debunk the depressing trend.
In sports, coaching stability is often key, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the NFL’s two most plagued organizations haven’t established anything close to continuity.
Buffalo – Since the glory days of the 90s with Marv Levy at the helm, the Bills have gone through eight different coaches. Wade Phillips had some big shoes to fill when he took over for Levy before the 1998 season, and quite honestly didn’t do a terrible job. He is the last coach to take them to the playoffs after all and the last coach to post a winning record during his tenure with the team (29-19). Regardless, after an 8-8 season in 2000 the Bills moved on, hired Greg Williams and three seasons of .500 or worse football followed. Then came Mike Mularkey and after an 0-4 start in 2004, he rallied his team to 9-6 heading into Week 17. Riding a six game win streak the Bills needed a win over the Steelers backups to clinch a spot in the playoffs and infamously lost 29-24. One year later Buffalo would finish 5-11 and Mularkey would resign a few weeks after the season. Dick Juron didn’t even make it through a third season before being fired in 2009 and replaced by Perry Fewell for the final seven games, Chan Gailey followed and lasted all of three seasons. Then came Doug Marrone and no sooner than Buffalo had built a dominant defense and posted their second winning season this century, came the ownership change that ultimately led to Marrone opting out of his contract. That of course opened the door for current head coach Rex Ryan, who’s days seem numbered with less than two seasons in charge. Eight head coaches, just two winning seasons and a combined 111-151 record since 2000 explains a lot.
Cleveland – Since the team was reestablished in Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have experienced a nearly identical cycle of coaching turnover to Buffalo’s. It all started with Chris Palmer, who in two seasons from 1999-2000 led his team to a deplorable 5-27 record. From there Butch Davis took over and by comparison had better success, leading a 9-7 Browns team to their only playoff appearance this century in 2002. He was fired two seasons later, 10 games into the 2004 campaign and Terry Robiskie took over the rest of the way. Romeo Crennel came next and after two dismal seasons to begin his tenure got a 10-6 season out of Browns in 2007. Sadly, it was all for naught as the 07 Browns became just the 16th team since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule to miss the playoffs with a 10-6 record. One more year of Crennel ended in 4-12 and it’s been nothing but losing seasons since. In two year’s with Eric Mangini Cleveland went 10-22. The two that followed with Pat Shurmur, one win worse 9-23. Rod Chudzinzki was given just one year in 2013 and was promptly fired after a 4-12 season. Then Cleveland snatched up former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and got a 10-22 record out of it from 2014-2015. Now, with the organization in what they’ve called a “deep rebuild,” the team hasn’t been able to earn even a single win during Hue Jackson’s first year as head coach. So since getting their team back in 1999 the Browns are on their ninth head coach, have nearly 100 more losses than they do wins (87-185), and like the Bills have just two winning seasons this century and one postseason appearance. The GPODAWUND certainly hopes Jackson can end this drudgery.
Most Heartbreaking Moment:
Buffalo – There’s a case to be made that Buffalo’s most heartbreaking moment was the Music City Miracle, considering the drought that has plagued the franchise since. But let’s be honest, the most heartbreaking moment in Bills history can be summed up in two words; wide right. Scott Norwood pushing his 47-yard field goal wide right in the final seconds of Super Bowl 25 haunts Bills fans to this day. Of course Buffalo would earn three more stabs at winning a championship in the three seasons that followed, with each coming up woefully short of hoisting the Lombardi. Super Bowl 25 wound up being the closest they came to actually winning one, and to be deprived of a championship in that fashion is flat out excruciating. Although, if the Bills lose to the 0-13 Browns on Sunday, invoking immediate change, it could be the franchise’s rock bottom.
If you have any desire to relive the kick, here you go…
Cleveland – Some may consider Cleveland’s most heartbreaking moment “The Drive,” in the 1987 AFC Championship game, when John Elway’s 98-yard fourth quarter drive killed the Browns Super Bowl dreams. As bad as that was though, nothing is quite as torturous as losing your team like Cleveland did in 1995. At that time the Browns played at Cleveland Municipal Stadium and then owner Art Modell had spent years as a part owner of the stadium, paying rent back to the city to help cover the costs of operating the facility, which the Browns shared with the Indians. His refusal, however, to share suite revenues with this cities MLB club forced the Indians to build their own facility in 1994, is known today as Progressive Field. Naturally Modell went on to lose $21 million dollars in revenue between 1993-1994 and immediately requested funding for a stadium revitalization project that would require $175 million in tax dollars. Fearful his project wouldn’t be approved, Modell announced on Nov. 6, 1995 that he was moving to the team to Baltimore. One day later voters overwhelmingly accepted the aforementioned tax issue to remodel Cleveland Stadium. That hurts. Fortunately their team was restored in time for the 1999 season with a new, modern stadium, now known as First Energy Stadium, to call home, but the pain that comes with losing your team is tough to put into words. The Bills came close to experiencing it with the ownership change that took place in 2014 after the passing of long-time owner Ralph Wilson, but Terry and Kim Pegula swooped in to save the day.
So which team and fan base has been more tortured over the years? It’s a close race. We’ll let you be the judge.
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