After a brief two-year playoff run in the early 1980s, the Buffalo Bills were once again mired in an extended losing streak. Bill Polian was hired as head of pro personnel in 1984. On this date 25 years ago, Polian officially took over for the fired Terry Bledsoe as General Manager.
Polian is directly responsible for the greatest era in Bills franchise history. After Bledsoe suffered a heart attack in February of '85, Polian took over the responsibilities of the GM. In April, Polian put together one of the greatest drafts in NFL history when he added two Hall of Famers in Bruce Smith and Andre Reed (yeah, we said it). Frank Reich, Derrick Burroughs and Chris Burkett were also key contributors from that draft class.
Polian was the master of the draft. In 1988, without a first round pick, he selected future Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas in the second round. He found Howard Ballard in the 11th round in 1987. He also selected Will Wolford, Shane Conlan, Phil Hansen, Henry Jones, Nate Odomes, John Fina, Done Beebe and more during his tenure as GM.
In 1987, Polian pulled off one of the biggest trades in NFL history to acquire Cornelius Bennett from the Indianapolis Colts. He traded two first round picks, a second round pick, and RB Greg Bell for the rights to Bennett. "Biscuit" solidified the Bills' LB corps, propelling Buffalo to the playoffs in 1988.
While Polian was a master of the draft and putting personnel together, perhaps the greatest move he ever made was hiring Marv Levy as head coach in 1986. Levy became the franchise's all-time winningest coach with 112 wins, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
Beginning in 1988, the Bills went to the playoffs for six straight seasons (five under Polian), and made the Super Bowl four consecutive years. Following the third trip, Polian was fired, though. Nobody is exactly sure what happened at One Bills Drive, but word has leaked out that Polian and the Bills' treasurer, Jeff Littman, had a disagreement. Littman, Polian, and Bills owner Ralph Wilson are the only three men that know the whole story.
For my money, Polian belongs on the Bills Wall of Fame and in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He built the Bills into a dynasty before shaping the expansion Carolina Panthers into a Super Bowl contender and doing the same with the Indianapolis Colts. He finally won a Super Bowl ring with the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.