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September 7, 1980 - Bills End 20-Game Losing Streak To Dolphins

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Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills have currently lost to the New England Patriots 13 straight times dating back to the opening game of 2003. That streak, however, isn't even close to the longest to a division opponent in team history. Today is the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest wins in Bills history.

In the season opener to the 1980 season, the Bills beat the Miami Dolphins for the first time since 1969, a streak of twenty games and an entire decade.

The Bills had been outscored 565 (28.5 points per games) to 299 (14.5) during the 1970s by the Dolphins, failing to score more than ten points in over a third of the contests (7). They were shutout three times. Conversely, the Dolphins were held under twenty points just four times, and laid 45 points on the Bills twice. The domination was so thorough that the Bills only lost by one score or less five times, and Don Shula had never lost to Buffalo since taking over as Dolphins coach in 1970. The Bills only held a lead in eight games, for crying out loud, and only twice in the fourth quarter.

But the stranglehold began to loosen in 1979, when the Bills held the Dolphins to 9 and 17 points in their two meetings. With an influx of new talent, the Bills would be able to play with the Dolphins now.

Trailing the hated rivals from the south 7-3 entering the final quarter, Buffalo scored two touchdowns in the final 3:42 for a final score of 17-7. Fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts, not to celebrate a championship, but a 1-0 record. Ralph Wilson was overjoyed in the aftermath as well. "It’s the biggest win this club’s ever had," he commented. "Bigger than the AFL championships. I’ll be happy to buy new goal posts."

Rookie running back Joe Cribbs rushed for 60 yards and the winning touchdown, and also had 9 catches for 71 yards. Fullback Roosevelt Leaks had the Bills’ other trip to paydirt, a four-yard TD reception from QB Joe Ferguson, who had lost to the Dolphins 14 straight times to start his career. Second-year pro Jeff Nixon had three interceptions.

"It was so nice to see us finally beat them," Nixon says in Buffalo Bills: The Complete Illustrated History by Sal Maiorana, where an entire page is devoted to the streak and the game that ended it. "Not so much for me, but for the older veteran guys that had played for ten years and had lost every single game."

Despite the outcome, the game was not pretty. Ferguson was intercepted five times, and the Bills turned the ball over seven times in total. The Dolphins turned the ball over six times themselves. Ferguson likened the feeling of the win to someone taking the Empire State building off his back.

The win catapulted Buffalo to a scintillating 5-0 winning streak to begin the season. The 1980 Buffalo Bills went on to an 11-5 record and the team's first playoff appearance since 1974. It was also the team's first ever AFC East division crown. Buffalo lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the AFC West Champion San Diego Chargers.

To see a copy from the game day program from that day, check out the Pro Football Hall of Fame archives.