1979 - More Improvement
7-9 record, fourth of five in AFC East, 11 of 14 in AFC, 18 of 28 in NFL
Prior to the 1979 season, former Bills tackle Stew Barber was promoted to General Manager. The Bills had another stellar draft in 1979. The Bills had acquired the No. 1 overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft from San Francisco as part of the OJ Simpson trade. With the pick the Bills selected LB Tom Cousineau from Ohio State. He did not sign a contract with Buffalo saying the Bills were rude to him. He instead opted to play in the Canadian Football League for the Montreal Alouettes (where they offered him double the money Buffalo offered). Cousineau would eventually attempt to return to the NFL but we'll get to that later. With the Bills original first round pick the team selected wide receiver Jerry Butler fifth overall. In the second round the Bills selected nose tackle Fred Smerlas and in the third selected linebacker Jim Haslett, two stallwarts of the brand new 3-4 defense Buffalo was to employ. Also of note, Van Miller returned to the Bills broadcast booth following an eight year absence. Miller was the first radio announcer the Bills had in 1960 and would continue broadcasting the games until retiring in 2003.
The Bills season was filled with a mixture of successes and failures. At least that's better than all failures like most of the 1970s. In week two Roland Hicks had a career day rushing for four touchdowns on five carries in a 51-24 trouncing of the Bengals. Jerry Butler had his first hundred-yard day in the win as well but his breakout game would come two weeks later. In week four Joe Ferguson set a team record throwing for five touchdowns and 367 yards. Butler caught ten of those passes and set team records in yards (255) and TD (4) as the Bills outgunned the Jets 46-31. Commentator John Brodie said of Butler: "That was the best single-game performance I've ever seen from a wide receiver. I played 16 years, but I've never seen anything like that." In Week 7, the Bills lost their twentieth straight game to division rival Miami. The Bills did not beat the Dolphins once in the 1970s. (November 16, 1969, was the last Bills win for those of you keeping score.)
On the year, the Bills finished No. 23 in points scored, 21 in yards gained, and were in the bottom eight in every offensive category. The defense kept them in several games ranking eighth in points allowed and sixth in passing yards. The defense did give up the fifth-most rushing yards that year. Butler, Haslett, and Smerlas were all named to the UPI all-rookie team. Butler was the UPI Offensive Rookie of the Year and Haslett was the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. Guard Joe DeLamielleure was the lone Bills representative on the Pro Bowl. With a rookie class like that things were certainly looking up.