Joe Devlin was one of the best, and most under-appreciated, linemen in Bills history. (Getty Images)
OL Joe Devlin (1976-1989) | 6'5", 261 lbs.
Notable Achievements: Member of Bills' 25th Anniversary Team
Joseph Gregory Devlin was born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania on February 23, 1954. After graduating from Great Valley High School in Malverne, PA, Devlin went on to attend the University of Iowa. He developed into an All-Big Ten and first team All-American lineman by his senior season. The Bills selected Devlin in the 2nd round of their very solid 1976 NFL Draft, with the No. 52 overall pick. The pick was obtained from the Cardinals in exchange for super-bust Walt Patulski. Devlin picked up a pair of starts at right tackle during his rookie season in place of incumbent starter . He slid into the starting lineup the next year and was a mainstay for well over a decade. Devlin's cousin, Mike Devlin, also played for the Bills, backing up Kent Hull from 1993-1995.
For a man who spent almost a decade and a half as a starter along the Bills offensive line, Joe Devlin has gone down as one of the most under-appreciated, but excellent offensive linemen ever to don a Bills uniform. He never made a Pro Bowl, but it's not because he wasn't a good, sometimes great, player. Simply put, he was a victim of playing on bad teams; the prototypical good player for a bad team. In Devlin's 14 years with the Bills, the team finished with a winning record just 4 times, making the playoffs in each of those seasons. Who knows how many Pro Bowls and other recognition Devlin might have received if the teams he played for weren't so poor?
Devlin spent the 1977-1988 seasons as the team's starting right tackle. He ended up missing the 1983 season, but just five other games during his career, and was an absolute rock for the team. While the team suffered through some of its worst seasons, especially on the offensive side of the ball, Devlin helped lead the way for a handful of 1000-yard rushers. Terry Miller in 1978, Joe Cribbs in 1980 and 1981, Greg Bell in 1984, and Thurman Thomas in 1989 were all aided by the blocking efforts of Devlin and his line mates.
Devlin currently ranks second in team history among games played by an offensive linemen with 191. His longevity and consistent play were a testament to his blue collar attitude and strong work ethic. Even those he's somewhat of a forgotten player, one that was never recognized for his play around the league, he was more than good enough to be selected as a member of the Bills 25th Anniversary Team. He proved to be a great leader throughout his career, as well, including being a mentor of sorts for guys like Kent Hull:
''The big thing is the older players here now had some great teachers like Joe Devlin and Fred Smerlas,'' said Hull, a 12-year veteran. ''I can remember in 1988, going into the championship game in Cincinnati. Joe Devlin stood up and said, 'Guys, I got to tell you, play as hard as you can because you never know when you're going to be in this situation again.' I was 26 then and that didn't mean anything to me, because I'm thinking I'm going to get back there next year. It doesn't work like that. Now our job is to make sure these younger guys take it better than we took it, because I took it for granted then.''
The Bills left Devlin unprotected in Plan B Free Agency following the 1989 season, but he would re-sign and return to the team. He was moved to Right Guard to make room for future Pro Bowler Howard Ballard at Right Tackle. He was released following the 1989 season and ended his career having played it entirely in Buffalo. There aren't too many players that spent as much time in Buffalo as he did.
Having barely heard of Devlin before putting together this list of the all-time great Bills, it was a pleasure learning about how great, yet under-appreciated he was. It's too bad he never earned that elusive Pro Bowl berth, because he sure seemed more than deserving. Having played alongside Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure early in his career, Devlin sure made a great impression on his former line mate:
"One of the best tackles I’ve ever played with," said Bills Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure. "Never went to a Pro Bowl, which was a joke. Literally one of the best players I’ve ever played with."
191 games played