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Bills vs. Chiefs: A playoff rivalry steeped in AFL and AFC Championship history

Some say history never repeats, others say a river runs through it

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Photo by Herb Scharfman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills will square off against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium—the winner, of course, advancing to play in Super Bowl LV. While many in Bills Mafia likely consider the game a major bonus during an epic season, it’s also likely that no one wants to see the team’s season end this weekend. The team has played above expectations for sure but, in doing so, they’ve raised ours in return. But this year’s playoff mantra is “won, not done”. Like the expression, Buffalo and Kansas City’s playoff history isn’t done at one.

If you weren’t keenly aware before this week, you surely know now that the Bills’ last trip to the Super Bowl in the 1993 season came at the expense of the Kansas City Chiefs. Those Joe Montana-led Chiefs were a potent bunch, with Marcus Allen taking handoffs and screens from Montana, and a powerful defense led by Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith. But the Bills played their own brand of potent football, of course led by Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Kent Hull, Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennet, Henry Jones, Steve Tasker, and Steve Christie. A potent list of names, for sure.

Many long-time fans remember the last time the Bills and Chiefs met in the AFC Championship game for two reasons: Thurman Thomas’s one-man-wrecking-crew show and Buffalo’s terrifying defense knocking Montana out of the game with a concussion. Of course the Bills went on to win 30-13 at Rich Stadium—on the strength of Thomas’s 186 rushing yards and three touchdowns—to represent the AFC a record fourth consecutive time in Super Bowl XXVIII (a streak that still stands 26 seasons later). That Chiefs’ loss began an NFL record eight-game playoff losing streak and saw them go 22 years without winning another playoff game. (Clearly, the Bills don’t play around when it comes to adopting and handing out streaks.)

But 1993 isn’t the only time the Bills and Chiefs squared off for Super Bowl rights. You have to go all the way back to 1966 and the AFL Championship Game, when Kansas City came to War Memorial Stadium (The Rockpile) to face the Bills and move on to what would become known as Super Bowl I. The two-time-defending-champion Bills didn’t fare very well, and lost an extremely one-side affair to the dynamic and explosive Hank Stram-led Chiefs. Buffalo fielded a more conventional team built to control the clock and play stout defense, led by quarterback Jack Kemp, rookie halfback Bobby Burnett, wide receivers Elbert “Golden Wheels” Dubenion and Glenn Bass, defensive lineman Tom Sestak, linebackers Mike Stratton, Harry Jacobs, and John Tracey, and defensive backs Butch Byrd and Booger Edgerson. Add linebacker/punter Paul Maguire (of ESPN announcing fame) and MLB Marty Shottenheimer (yes, the same Marty Schottenheimer who coached that ‘93 Chiefs squad), and the Bills fielded a roster of great talent and big names. It just wasn’t Buffalo’s day, and they fell to the Chiefs 33-7 on their home field thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Len Dawson and an opportunistic Chiefs defense. Kansas City would go on to play in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, losing 35-10 to the Green Bay Packers.

For two storied franchises, the overarching theme to their rivalry is one of Super Bowl aspirations. With history repeating itself and numbers aligning, the Bills and Chiefs are set to face off in their third AFC/AFL Championship this Sunday—a marquee matchup featuring two of the hottest offenses led by bona fide star QBs Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. It also marks the first time the Bills don’t play the role of host.

For Buffalo, winning would mean returning to the city where they played their first Super Bowl. Beating the Chiefs is also what the Bills had to do to play in their last Super Bowl. For Kansas City, there are dynasty aspirations—a chance to go back-to-back to the NFL’s biggest game. It had been 25 years since the Bills last won a playoff game—and it comes during a season when they could return to the city where the franchise played its first Super Bowl (XXV). Should Green Bay defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and advance to the big game, then we’ll party like it’s 1966—with the Bills and Chiefs playing for the rights to take on the Packers, as it was with Super Bowl I.