1980 - First AFC East Division Title
11-5 record, first of five in AFC East, first-tied of 14 in AFC, fourth-tied of 28 in NFL
Following the 1979 season the Bills traded nine-year Buffalo veteran Bob Chandler to the Raiders. Chandler had only appeared in 3 games in 1979, catching no passes. He would have a great year in Oakland catching ten touchdowns and setting a career-high in receiving yards and winning a Super Bowl. Right before the 1980 season, Buffalo traded away another of its icon - Joe DeLamielleure. Joe D. had been with the Bills since being selected in the first round of the 1973 draft. He had blocked for the most potent offenses in Bills history as a member of the Electric Company. The Bills traded Joe D. to Cleveland for two draft picks. The Bills had been trying to trade DeLamielleure since the draft, when they selected guard Jim Ritcher with the sixteenth overall selection. In the second round the Bills kept things going strong by selecting running back Joe Cribbs. The Bills also took tight end Mark Brammer and punter Greg Cater in that draft.
The season opener was one of the greatest days in Bills history. The Bills finally got the monkey off their collective back by beating the archrival Miami Dolphins for the first time in 11 years. The crowd of 79,598 stormed the field following the game. Maybe this season would be different. The Bills flew out of the gate after their big win, going 5-0 to start the season. In week three Joe Ferguson passed Jack Kemp as the all-time leading passer in Buffalo history. After a 1-3 slide the Bills winning ways resumed and they finished the year on a 5-2 streak, vaulting them to the top of the division. For the first time in the NFL, the Bills won their division and were AFC East champs. The biggest reason was the defense. The Bills D was third in points allowed and first in yards allowed. Strong Safety Steve Freeman picked off seven passes to lead the Bills. The offense didn't rank highly but had some great games and players. Rookie Joe Cribbs rushed for 1185 yards and 11 touchdowns while catching another touchdowns and gaining 415 more yards through the air en route to a Pro Bowl spot. Second year man Jerry Butler also made the Pro Bowl on the strength of his 832 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Buffalo was the third of the three division winner seeds due to a lower conference record than San Diego and a lower record vs. common opponents than Cleveland. Because of the rule in place at the time the Chargers and Wild Card winning Raiders could not play in the divisional round since they were in the same division. Therefore the Bills played at top-seeded San Diego in an old AFL match-up. Buffalo jumped to a 14-3 halftime lead. However, San Diego took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 70 yards to score. Then early in the fourth quarter, the Chargers added a field goal to cut the Bills' lead, 14-13. San Diego took over at their own 31-yard line with less than 4 minutes remaining. With 2:08 left in the game, Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts threw the 50-yard winning touchdown pass to receiver Ron Smith to defeat the Bills, 20-14. Buffalo cornerback Charles Romes almost intercepted Fouts on the play before the winning touchdown. After the game it was revealed that Joe Ferguson had been playing with a fractured ankle, suffered three weeks earlier in a game against the New England Patriots.
Because of the great turnaround he had orchestrated in Buffalo, Chuck Knox was named Coach of the Year by the Sporting News. The second week of the season saw the debut of the Bills' Wall of Fame at Rich Stadium. O.J. Simpson was the team's first enshrinee. Joining Cribbs and Butler in the Pro Bowl was nose tackle Fred Smerlas. The young Bills with their bona fide coach were starting to get really good.