Remembering Frank Reich and "The Comeback" 20 Years Later

By Michael Collins
Image courtesy

January 3, 1993. A game that put an essentially unknown backup quarterback on the NFL map.

20 years ago today, the Buffalo Bills pulled off what was arguably the greatest comeback in NFL history in their playoff game against the Houston Oilers. Houston had already manhandled the Bills by a 24-point margin in the regular season finale, and it looked like the beatdown was destined to continue in the Wild Card game.

The deck was definitely stacked against the Bills. They were without three of their star players–quarterback Jim Kelly, linebacker Cornelius Bennett, and running back Thurman Thomas (injured early in the game)–and fell behind the Warren Moon led Oilers 35-3 into the 3rd quarter.

No Jim Kelly? No Thurman Thomas? No problem for the Buffalo Bills.

Frank Reich and Kenneth Davis to the rescue!

A Kenneth Davis scramble into the endzone, a recovered onside kick, a Frank Reich touchdown toss to Don Beebe (more on this one later), another Reich touchdown pass to Andre Reed, a Henry Jones interception of Moon, yet another Reich to Reed touchdown throw, a muffed hold on an Al Del Greco field goal attempt, and one more Reich to Reed touchdown connection.

38-35 Buffalo.

Wait, what? Even writing about it now I can barely believe it.

The Oilers would drive down and have Del Greco kick the game tying field goal to send it into overtime, and then summarily win the coin toss.

But Nate Odomes would pick off Warren Moon once again, and put the Bills in business. Buffalo kicker Steve Christie then split the uprights for the game-winning field goal. 41-38 Bills. The comeback was complete, and with it, Frank Reich’s place in NFL history.

But now for some little known facts about what some consider to be the greatest NFL game ever:

•    The aforementioned touchdown pass to Don Beebe would have been overturned if modern replay rules had been in place. Beebe clearly stepped out of bounds prior to the pass being thrown, and was therefore not eligible to catch the ball.

•    Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo was larger in capacity than it is currently, and due to the short holiday week, the game did not sell out. Fans within a 75 mile radius of Buffalo weren’t able to watch the game on TV, and had to see their team’s amazing comeback on ESPN’s NFL Primetime.

•    Frank Reich is still the only Bills quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in a playoff game.

•    Reich was also the quarterback in the 1984 game that had held the record for the largest comeback in Division 1A college history, leading the Maryland Terrapins back from a 31-0 deficit against the Miami Hurricanes. That record was eclipsed in 2006 by Michigan State in their 38-3 comeback win against Northwestern.

Just remember, they call it Wild Card weekend for a reason. Perhaps this game will be outdone by the likes of rookie QBs Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, or Russell Wilson this weekend


Michael Collins is a Rant Sports NFL and MLB Network Manager, and Atlanta sports columnist. Follow him @GaSportsCraze on Twitter and here on Facebook

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