In their 55 years of existence, the Buffalo Bills franchise has played 81 outdoor games where the kickoff temperature was at or below freezing. The Bills have a record of 46-35 in those games, 51 of which came in the friendly confines of Western New York. While most of them were played in November or December, nine came in January, and one was played in late October. Ten of them came during the playoffs, which makes you realize how much you'd be willing to sit through freezing temperatures just to see a Bills playoff game anytime soon.
With the weather outside being as frightful as it is, I figured now would be a good time to go through the history of the Bills' sub-freezing games and take a look at some of the more memorable contests.
11/19/1961, Bills at Denver (W, 23-10)
Surprisingly, the first time the Bills played a freezing game was on the road. Unsurprisingly, it was in the Mile High wonderland of Denver.
In the second season of AFL action, Buster Ramsey led his 6-8 Bills squad against a 3-11 Broncos team that was in the middle of what became a seven-game losing streak. Johnny Green (he of 11 career Bills starts) threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns, while Billy Atkins and Jim Crotty each recorded two of Buffalo's six interceptions in the 23-10 victory.
12/28/1963, Bills vs. Boston (L, 26-8)
The first time the Bills played a freezer at home, it was also the first time they did so in the playoffs. Coincidentally, it was also the first time they played in the playoffs at all. The 7-6-1 Bills played host to the 7-6-1 Patriots, and the final score doesn't quite tell how lopsided the game really was.
The Bills managed a net total of seven rushing yards, and relief quarterback Daryle Lamonica tossed three picks on 24 passes. He did, however, manage to set what still stands as the longest play from scrimmage in team playoff history by hitting Elbert Dubenion for a 93-yard bomb when the game was still in doubt. Alas, Babe Parilli's 300 passing yards led the way for a decisive Patriots victory.
12/09/1973, Bills vs. New England (W, 37-13)
12/16/1973, Bills at New York Jets (W, 34-14)
With two games remaining in the 1973 season, O.J. Simpson had run for 1,584 yards in 12 games. While it was a very impressive number, there wasn't a soul alive who thought he could make up the remaining 416 yards in the next two games to reach the magic milestone of 2,000 yards in a single season. With the team fighting for their first playoff spot in seven years and two below-average run defenses on the horizon, however, anything was possible.
The game plan was simple: turn on the juice. Joe Ferguson threw a total of 12 passes in both games. Combined. The running game did the damage in both blowout wins, with backup Jim Braxton even managing a solid 168 yards on 39 carries in the stretch.
There was only one star, though. In the first game, Simpson torched the Patriots for 219 yards on just 22 carries. That put him at 1,803 yards heading into the finale at the Meadowlands. Even after such an impressive performance, he still had 197 yards to go and a lot of doubters. Nobody had ever run for 200 yards in consecutive games to that point, but Simpson ran wild on the Jets' D that day, posting a clean 200 and the first 2,000-yard campaign in NFL history.
10/20/1974, Bills vs. New England (W, 30-28)
The earliest sub-freezing game in team history came on a 31-degree day in late October 1974, in what must have been a fairly well-hyped game. The 4-1 Bills were playing host to the 5-0 Patriots in a game that featured the reigning MVP (Simpson) against former first-overall pick Jim Plunkett of the Patriots.
Simpson had his normal solid game, running 32 times for 122 yards and a touchdown, but Ferguson was the catalyst for the Bills in this one, throwing for 153 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Paul Seymour, as the Bills held on late to hand the Pats their first loss of the season. Two weeks later, the Bills would again defeat the Pats, sending them into a tailspin (their 6-1 start was mirrored by a 1-6 finish) and giving Buffalo their first taste of the playoffs as an NFL franchise.
11/26/1978, Bills vs. New York Giants (W, 41-17)
The Bills have had a number of star running backs put on the red, white, and blue, but none of them figured into the largest single-game rushing total in Bills history.
Neither of these teams was any good in 1978, and both of them were riding four-game losing streaks coming into this one. The Bills did manage to maintain a Top 10 running game the year after Simpson was moved to San Francisco, however, and a big reason for that was this game. Terry Miller, the fifth overall pick in the draft that year, had what many thought was his coming-out performance with 208 yards and two touchdowns. Backup Roland Hooks got in on the action as well, picking up 115 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown. Adding in Curtis Brown's 31 yards and Dennis Johnson's 12, the Bills picked up a team-record 366 rushing yards in the blowout.
Oh, but what of Miller, who the Bills picked one spot ahead of James Lofton? He had 777 rushing yards for the rest of his career and was out of the league by 1981.
1/12/1991, Bills vs. Miami (W, 44-34)
Usually, games under 32 degrees don't feature a lot of high-powered offense, and what offense there is usually comes from the running game. This chilly contest didn't quite work out that way.
Thurman Thomas (117 yards, two touchdowns) and Miami's Sammie Smith (99 yards) were both excellent on the day, but Jim Kelly (339 yards, three touchdowns, one pick) and Dan Marino (323 yards, three touchdowns, two picks) both put on a clinic. Marino used his team's deep receiving corps, completing passes to nine different Dolphins, while Kelly focused in on his top guys to a larger extent. That proved to be a winning strategy, as James Lofton (7/149/1) and Andre Reed (4/122/2) were the difference-makers in the Bills' first playoff win on the road to four straight AFC Championships.
12/26/1993, Bills vs. New York Jets (W, 16-14)
1/15/1994, Bills vs. Los Angeles Raiders (W, 29-23)
Most of the below-freezing games in Bills history were in the low-30s or mid-20s. There were only two games on the list where the ambient temperature dipped below 10 degrees, and they just happened to be consecutive home games near the end of the 1993 season.
The first measured in at nine degrees, but the wind chill put the temperature well below zero. Neither offense was particularly adept at dealing with the weather, and in a low-scoring game like that, a big difference in special teams can play a huge difference. Steve Christie was solid as always in the cold, nailing three field goals while his Jets counterpart, Cary Blanchard, missed three that would have made the difference. The win clinched a playoff spot for the Bills for the sixth straight year.
After a quick trip to Indianapolis and a first-round bye, the Bills returned home for the coldest game in team history. The mercury fell to three degrees, and once again a wind chill put both teams to a far-below-zero test (BuffaloBills.com puts the wind chill at minus-32). The Raiders handled the game fairly well, considering their Los Angeles home, and held the lead going into the fourth quarter. Kelly, excellent on the day with 287 yards and two touchdowns, took back the lead for good with an early strike in the final frame to Bill Brooks, and the Bills were on their way to their fourth straight AFC Championship.
12/17/2005, Bills vs. Denver (L, 28-17)
There was nothing really special about this game, relative to the Bills or the NFL. The Broncos were good, the Bills were bad, and even though the game was tied at halftime the outcome was never really in doubt.
This game was pretty important to me, though. Money was tight growing up, so I never got to see a game in person until this one, when I was 19. My first tailgating experience was a dark and frigid wasteland full of barrel-fires, and I could not have been happier. Hanging out in a parking lot with old and new friends, drinking adult beverages (because there wasn't nearly enough security to police everything), and freezing your butt off to see your team, even if they're awful, is my favorite part about being a Bills fan. I haven't been to many games since, and I left the area few years ago, but if I ever forget why I love the Bills I just remember this day.