Would you trade the glory of the run for one?
That's the central theme in a new documentary about the 1990s Buffalo Bills entitled Almost A Dynasty. The documentary is set to premiere this Friday night, and I spoke with Phil Gangi, Peter Tasca and Stephen Butler from 1derful Film Productions about the film.
The trio came together in 2010 after Gangi and Tasca began doing some research around the Bills in that era. As you're painfully aware, those teams came so close, but never won the big game. After being joined by Butler, they began to lock down interviews with members of those memorable Bills teams, and even attracted some big names to the project.
"Bill Polian gave us a wonderful 90-minute interview," said Gangi. "Chris Berman gave us an hour or so interview. Marv Levy, Van Miller - 'the voice of the Buffalo Bills' for the first 37 years of their existence - gave us a wonderful interview. Steve Tasker, Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Steve Christie and a few other players. It really turned out to be a fantastic project, and one that not only the die-hard Bills fans are going to embrace, but the entire community of Buffalo. It really is a fan story above everything else."
The concept of a "fan story" came up repeatedly when the filmmakers spoke. They didn't anticipate that their story would include player and staff interviews, and still think it holds up as a story of Western New York as well as those Bills teams.
"It's really a Buffalo tale," said Butler. "People that have higher interest in Buffalo culture, and not just the Buffalo Bills or sports (fans) are going to enjoy the film, too."
"It's really comical how differently each of [the fans we interviewed] answer the questions," added Gangi. "You’ll be able to tell on film who is the die-hard fan, who is the bitter fan, who is the checked-out fan, who is the fan that continues to drink the Kool-Aid year after year after year, and who is the insane fan. We do represent a wide variety of Bills fan.
"We have Pinto Ron, and we do a little vignette on him," Gangi continued. "There’s a great exchange between him and his wife on what he does every single Sunday. He hasn’t missed a game in 18 straight seasons - home and away - and why he's a Bills fan, and why he comes every single Sunday, and why he leads the charge, and why he’s at the forefront of the tailgating every single Sunday. That’s the type of vignette that we’ve put into this documentary that makes it quite different than any other sports documentary that I’ve seen. I think we’re really doing a different spin on the sports documentary, almost putting it into a different genre all together. We really do represent Bills Nation and the Western New York community very well."
Despite the emphasis on the fan, interviews with prominent figures from that era in Bills history are featured prominently. The producers singled two out as their most interesting but only one was their favorite.
"The interview that stood out would have to be Bill Polian, first and foremost," said Tasca. "We did the interview with him while he was still with the Indianapolis Colts over at their facility. We really weren’t expecting anything. We were just honored that he would give us the time. We expected maybe - if we were lucky - about 15 minutes of his time. We knew he would give a lot of credibility to the film, and we really wanted to pay homage to him and his role in building that almost-dynasty team.
"He gave us more than we could have imagined or dreamed of with over an hour and a half, pouring his heart and his soul out to us not only about the team that he was so instrumental in building, but that time in Buffalo, New York. More than anything else, [he talked about] his experience as a Buffalonian. He very much considers himself a Buffalonian, and it really ties into the heart of the project as we developed it," Tasca concluded.
The other big score for the interviewers was Scott Norwood. In case you didn't know, Norwood is the kicker who missed the field goal at the end of Super Bowl XXV. Despite that giant letdown, Norwood was greeted with an ovation at the rally upon the team's return to Buffalo.
"Early on it was a running gag with one of our friends whether or not we were going to interview Norwood for the film, and we said no," explained Tasca. "First, we thought it could never happen; and second, we really didn’t want to focus on the negative side of the Super Bowl run, the four consecutive losses. We weren’t delusional. We certainly address the fact that we lost four consecutive, and it’s never been done, but we really wanted to focus on the glory side from a fan perspective versus the agony side. Norwood is, of course, more emblematic of the negative side than any other figure. We never thought it could happen, but it did. The way that it was shot - with city hall in the background - we connect to the rally after the first Super Bowl loss against the Giants. The sentiment he extends to the Bills fan is really special, I think. People are going to be blown away by the film because he really hasn’t spoken publicly about that miss, and about Buffalo the way he does in this film. It’s pretty special in that regard."
The documentary premieres this Friday night at 7 PM at the Market Arcade in Buffalo. There are no plans to screen it elsewhere, but you can already pre-order a copy on DVD at the group's website. For information, you can visit the website or buy a ticket from the theater here. Editor's Note: The premiere has sold out but they have added a second show at 8:30 PM.
Would you trade the run for one? Fans might be surprised by how many people wouldn't trade the run of four AFC Championships for a single Super Bowl win.
"It really ties into what encapsulates the film, which is the principle question of our film and something we asked every one of the interviewees, from Bill Polian all the way on down to the average fan," said Tosca. "'Would you trade the glory of the run, for one?' It’s a question that really got a lot of people scratching their heads. Sometimes it took thirty seconds to a minute to be able to articulate an answer to the question. Yes, we lost them all, and we’ll be infamous about that for all of our days, but there’s also something so uniquely special about it that was so meaningful for all of us, that it’s almost difficult to answer that question - and it’s even more difficult to answer that question 'Yeah, I would rather have one of those Super Bowls instead of having that four consecutive experience.'"
According to Tosca, three-quarters of the people they interviewed wouldn't change a thing about those four Super Bowl outcomes. What about the filmmakers? Would they trade the run for one?
"We actually answer the question in the movie," said Butler. "We don’t want to give it away."