In February 2017, the New England Patriots shocked the world, coming back from a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 to claim their fifth-ever National Football League championship. As improbable as this result was, another against-all-odds victory way back in 1993 was so unbelievable that the game itself has its own special name: The Comeback.
Rich Stadium, ensconced in the south Buffalo suburb of Orchard Park, was packed with 73,000 rowdy fans on the afternoon of January 3, 1993. These die-hards were eager to see their beloved Buffalo Bills get revenge on the Houston Oilers for a loss just a week prior. But this time, the game would have real implications, with the winning team advancing past the American Football Conference Wild Card round of the playoffs to challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the losing team going home in shame, their championship aspirations dashed.
The Oilers (since relocated to Tennessee and renamed the Titans) stole some of the electric excitement of the Buffalo crowd with their first offensive possession, driving 80 yards and gobbling up more than nine minutes of game time before quarterback Warren Moon threw a three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Haywood Jeffires.
The Bills responded with a field goal, and the score was 7-3. But they wouldn’t score for the rest of the half. Meanwhile, Moon played like the greatest quarterback of all time, tossing touchdowns to Webster Slaughter, Curtis Duncan and Jeffires again to stake his team to a 28-3 halftime lead (that score seems familiar). The Bills defense played hard and made strong tackles but couldn’t stop the league’s leading passing attack from marching methodically down the field nearly every drive.
Surprisingly, with the game seemingly already decided, the fans didn’t opt to escape the frigid conditions and go home. Likewise, the Bills couldn’t escape the wrath of their defensive coordinator, Walt Corey, in the locker room. “I was hollering the same things the fans were hollering at me when we left the field,” he recalled. “… [T]he more I talked, the louder I got.
“The thing that bothered me was their approach. To me, they looked timid. … This is an attitude game. Sometimes you start playing, and you’re afraid to make things happen or afraid to make a mistake.”
“You’ve got thirty more minutes. Maybe it’s the last thirty minutes of your season,” legendary Bills head coach Marv Levy told his players. “When your season’s over, you’re going to have to live with yourselves and look yourselves in the eyes. You’d well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out.”
I watched this game from start to finish recently. What struck me most was the unshakable resolve of the Bills players. Never was there a hint of panic in their eyes, even as the game was slipping away. They eagerly paced the sidelines until it was their turn to check back in to the game. They encouraged one another constantly.
You may think this is normal behavior by professional athletes paid handsomely to play a sport. If you do, I challenge you to sit down and watch a sporting contest in its entirety. Most of the time, games are comfortably decided well before the final whistle blows. Pay close attention to the demeanor of the losing team when the game seems permanently out of reach. The players lose their burst of speed. Their shoulders slump. Their heads hang. They make uncharacteristic mistakes. Blank stares cover their faces as they mentally arrange postgame dinner plans. They may experience a surge of uncontrollable anger, expressed in pathetically childish ways such as screaming at coaches and teammates or even attempting to physically harm the opponent.
Too often, sports devolve into a repulsive display of the downward pull of human nature in action. But not on that frosty January day in Buffalo in 1993.
On the first Bills drive of the second half, their predicament got even worse. Quarterback Frank Reich’s pass was dropped by his intended receiver, landing in the hands of defensive back Bubba McDowell, who sprinted 58 yards for another Oilers touchdown. 35-3. Game over. No nfl team had ever come back to win after trailing by more than 28 points.
By the way, Reich was starting in this game only because Jim Kelly had injured his knee the week before. Earlier in this game, running back Thurman Thomas was sidelined with a hip injury. If Buffalo was to mount a counterattack, it would have to do so without its two most potent offensive weapons—arguably the best quarterback and running back in the league.
But the Bills didn’t quit, and the elements and the Oilers gave them an assist. The wind nearly blew the ball off the tee on the next Oilers kickoff, resulting in a weak kick that gave the Bills outstanding field position at midfield.
Reich, who as a backup quarterback for the Maryland Terrapins in 1984 led his team to the greatest comeback (31-0 deficit) in college football history up to that point, got right to work. Taking advantage of a missed interception by the Oilers, he moved the Bills 50 yards in 10 plays, capped by Kenneth Davis’s one-yard touchdown run. Davis converted a fourth-down attempt on the drive.
Bills kicker Steve Christie somehow recovered his own onside kick, giving the team back-to-back possessions. Reich found Don Beebe for a 38-yard touchdown just over a minute following the previous score. Suddenly, the score was 35-17, with half of the third quarter still to play.
The Bills defense forced the Oilers to punt for the first time all game on their next drive. A woefully short kick gave the Bills great field position once again. The offense gobbled up real estate on long passes to James Lofton, Davis, and Andre Reed for the touchdown. In 10 minutes, the Bills had outgained the Oilers by 175 yards and outscored them by 21 points. 35-24.
Bills safety Henry Jones intercepted the first pass of the next Oilers possession. Reich connected with Reed for another touchdown, and the Oilers were reeling. 35-31.
In the fourth quarter, a botched hold thwarted an Oilers field goal attempt. Davis took a third-down handoff and romped 35 yards before Reich threw yet another touchdown pass to Reed. With 3:08 left, the Bills finally had a lead, 38-35.
Pulling off the biggest comeback in history wouldn’t be that easy. How could making history ever be easy? Showing flashes of his invincible first-half performance, Moon led the Oilers down the field for a game-tying field goal, sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, however, Moon threw an interception to Nate Odomes that would prove fatal. Three plays later, Christie kicked a 32-yard field goal to give Buffalo the win, 41-38. Rich Stadium erupted. The Bills rejoiced. Never before had anyone witnessed or executed a comeback of this magnitude.
To fans of the Buffalo Bills, this first-round playoff victory is equivalent to a Super Bowl championship. I should know. No other team has ever advanced to, and lost, four consecutive Super Bowls. In fact, the Bills would go on to lose the Super Bowl that very year. In the doldrums of Bills history, one Wild Card game, against a team that no longer exists, is a rare bright spot.
Most of you reading this are not fans of the Buffalo Bills. You are not wiping away tears like I did while reliving the glory of a game that took place when I was barely two weeks old. However, the lesson from The Comeback is obvious: Persevere. Strive. Fight. Even when pummeled by an avalanche of touchdowns, keep picking yourself back up. Move forward. Push onward.
The Bible tells us that if we faint in the day of adversity, our strength is small (Proverbs 24:10). God expects the exact opposite from all of us, including you precious young people. In a Key of David television program on May 26 titled “Psalm 37:4—All the Desires of Your Heart,” Mr. Gerald Flurry said, “What if Jesus Christ had been a quitter? Then none of us would be having the opportunity to be in the Kingdom of God! You can’t be a quitter!”
“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). Christ died—resisted unto blood—to pay for our sins! You young people must endure vicious attacks from Satan. That’s why some of your friends may no longer be attending the Philadelphia Church of God. The public school experience has become so depraved in the last decade or so that it’s better left undescribed in this article—I know this from harrowing experience. Worldly peers pressure you to break the Sabbath, to sample drugs and alcohol, and to “get” a boyfriend or girlfriend. The rise of smartphones and ubiquitous internet access has created the scourges of screen addiction and cyberbullying. Media, music, television, movies, videogames and other forms of entertainment encourage you to rebel against authority and to gratify your most carnal desires. Going against the flow as a godly youth is hard—but Jesus Christ had it harder. No matter how hard it gets, it could always be worse. Remember that.
As a youth, your list of battles is extensive. It is a battle to wake up early each morning and put God first, to limit or eliminate distractions such as YouTube and Netflix, to choose reading and exercising over binge-watching and lounging, to hire yourself a job and prove valuable enough to keep it, to conquer the temptation to procrastinate on homework assignments, to prioritize family time over outings with friends, and to face the many comfort zone-expanding challenges (public speaking! CrossFit!) at the character-building institutions of Philadelphia Youth Camp, Imperial Academy and Herbert W. Armstrong Colleges.
Through the challenges and obstacles, keep firmly at the forefront of your thoughts the main goal: “[Become] ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Christ was already perfect before transforming into a physical human being, but He really proved Himself through suffering, through winning every single battle against Satan (Hebrews 2:10).
In a playoff game that ultimately didn’t mean much, the Buffalo Bills refused to quit. In a life-or-death, 33 ½-year-long struggle against Satan, society and human nature upon which the eternal fate of all mankind depended, Jesus Christ refused to quit. The battlefield lies before you. The fighting will be hard, but the victory will be glorious. Refuse to quit.