The 1980 Buffalo Bills were on the verge of the NFL playoffs for only the second time since the merger and needed a win in Week 16 in order to win the AFC East. During their week 15 loss to the New England Patriots, a win that would have clinched the division, Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson severely injured his ankle. Even with ten wins the Bills would have been on the outside looking in of the playoffs and needed a win over the San Fransisco 49ers in their final game to advance. Ferguson gutted it out against the 49ers and got the "W" sending the Bills to their first AFC East division championship.
Playing against a young Joe Montana, Ferguson started the scoring by hitting Jerry Butler for a ten yard score in the first. He only passed for 102 yards but the Bills offense was able to put 16 points on the board while the defense added a safety in the 18-13 win.
Though the Bills had a bye during the wild card round, Ferguson's ankle didn't fully heal and when the team traveled to San Diego to face Don Coryell's high-powered Chargers he was just getting past the injury. He continued to play but re-injured the ankle in the first quarter.
"We taped that ankle up as much as we could," said Ferguson in Legends of the Buffalo Bills . "But it really hurt. I just couldn't get going with it. When I got back home and had it examined a final time, it was discovered that the ankle had been sprained, torn, pulled and stretched. And there was a cracked bone in the back of my ankle to top it off."
The Bills held a 14-3 halftime lead after a Roosevelt Leaks run and a Ferguson pass to Frank Lewis. But that was the last time the Bills would score, falling 20-14 on a late Chargers touchdown pass with 2:08 remaining. Ferguson's last play of the game was an interception where his ankle simply gave out. Ferguson finished the game with 180 yards passing but threw three interceptions in the effort.
Ferguson's playoff heroics earn the 20th spot on our list of great moments even in defeat. He put his grit to the test in the 2000s when diagnosed twice with cancer and like 1980 he fought through it and this time he won. His cancer is in full remission as of last report.