Watching the Bills fall short and recalling the most famous “blacked out” game, The Comeback, January 3rd, 1993

Watching the Bills fall short and recalling the most famous “blacked out” game, The Comeback, January 3rd, 1993

THIS PIECE WAS ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED FOR AFTER THE BILLS-PATRIOTS WEEK 16 GAME, BUT DUE TO TECHNICAL ISSUES, APPEARS NOW

Last weekend, I went to Jeremiah’s for the Bills-Texans playoff game, expecting a huge crowd but not expecting such a crowd that I was turned away. Scrupulously following the fire code, Nicole Meney sent back plaintive looking would-be customers. The fire marshal said the capacity is 99 for the bar and 77 for the other rooms; Nicole rightfully stuck by those numbers all night, keeping count with a hand clicker.

A few good Samaritans — less-than-fanatical fans not wearing Bills gear —  offered their spots to those dressed in full Bills Mafia regalia. Good Samaritans indeed!

(Above) looking into the full house; (Below) server Nicole Meney. Jeremiah’s Tavern on Monroe Ave. Jan 4, 2020

I watched the overtime meltdown at home; Houston reprising the city’s 1993 overtime loss. Two weeks earlier at Jeremiah’s, I watched the Bills fall yet again to the Patriots in a game shown only on NFL’s pay tv network

As seen in Why I am rooting for the PatriotsIf the Patriots win the Super Bowl, credit Talker and Returning to the fold: better to have loved and lost, two years ago, I tempted the football gods by switching my primary attachment from the Buffalo Bills to the New England Patriots. I justified the affair, arguing that I lived in Rhode Island for close to twenty years during which time the Pats wooed me with not one but three rings while the deadbeat Bills offered only a wilted flower thrown to a bridesmaid.

At halftime of the Super Bowl, I realized my rationalization was just that: a rationalization. I switch the lucky panda bear’s jersey from Patriots to Bills, hoping this newly installed bad karma would derail the Pats. It did not.

So, I was pumped up for the week 16 Bills/Patriots rematch. Unfortunately,a few days before the game, I realized it would be broadcast on the NFL network to which I do not subscribe. The Democrat and Chronicle‘s Stevie Johnson explained the need for some Bills fans to be creative

While I appreciated Johnson’s tips, they seemed too complicated. For example, I would probably forget to cancel the free fubo TV trial. I chose the least creative option: go to Jeremiah’s on Monroe Avenue.

Planning the trip to Jeremiah’s reminded me of the most famous blackout game of all time, the January 3rd, 1993 wild card match up between the Bills and Oilers, the Comeback Game won by the Bill 41 – 38 in overtime.

I listened to the game on the radio as Buffalo fell behind 35 – 3. Sometime in the second half, I sensed a historic comeback in the making, calling my friend Dean to meet outside Jeremiah’s.

David Kramer (left) and Dean Tucker on the Brickyard Trail 10/21/18 [Photo: Eric Kemperman] During the walk, we listened on the radio as the Colts crushed the Bills 37 – 5.

As described in Vivid memories of the four year Super Bowl run,

I remember during the blacked out Frank Reich comeback game against Houston walking through the snow to Jeremiahs where they had the game on the dish.  There was no room in the bar so we stood outside catching a little on the big screens through the windows and listening to Van Miller on the radio.  Frozen fools, we cheered madly when the Bills won in overtime.

Alas, no good Samaritans offered us their seats. This year I arrived an hour before the game in search of people who remembered the Comeback.

Bartender Meg Vasey was only eight at the time and living in Chicago. Now a rooted Rochesterian, she’s heard stories about the mob gathered outside in ’93.  In ’19, already the tavern was filling up.  While an important Bills vs. Patriots game always draw a big crowd, the blackout effect would likely see every seat filled. Meg explained that most Buffalo fans do not have the NFL network because the Bills are almost always on TV except for this rare exception, a Saturday game after Thursday night football ended. By contrast, for Meg’s parents — Chicago fans now living in Rochester — the Direct TV package is the only way to see their beloved Bears.

Meg Vasey, Jeremiah’s bartender. 12/21/19

In front were some diehard fans. The Comeback game was before the younger guys’ time, but they knew of its storied place in the history of the Bills.

Dianne was actually only walking buy. Her father has direct TV and she'll be watching in the comfort of home. I called here a soft millennial.

Dianne (left) was actually only walking by. Her father has direct TV and she’ll be watching in the comfort of home. I called here a soft millennial. She agreed. The guys were ready to brave any weather.

I met three old timers with vivid memories of the Comeback, although none were at Jeremiah’s.  Tom was ice fishing on Honeoye Lake along with about 200 other guys. Many of the guys had boom boxes and coolers of beer. As the comeback proceeded and the beer consumed, Tom could hear loud waves of cheering coming from different fishing holes across the lake. When the Bill won in overtime, the noise was almost deafening. Tom said it was the craziest thing.

(l-r) Tom, Bob Page and John Bailey

Bob Page was listening to the game on the radio as the Bills fell behind, seemingly hopelessly. So he agreed to go to the mall with his wife. The rally was beginning as they reached the mall. Bob could not bear to take himself away from the car radio, sitting in his car for about an hour, abandoned by his wife who preferred shopping.

John Bailey was at home when a friend called from the Holiday Inn bar. The bar was able to show the game and John’s friend recommended he get there quickly.  John and his wife did, grabbing one of the few remaining tables.

I returned to Jeremiahs’ for the end of the game. Meg was right; every seat was taken.  Alas, the Bills rally fell short.

12/21/19

As seen in The Jills ball as talisman thwarted; the curse is back., I also took the lucky ball to Jeremiah’s for the 2017 playoff game against Jacksonville. The ball proved unlucky.

Jordan (McCoy), left, and Diane (Williams); (left to right) Tony, Paige and Mike. Jeremiah’s 1/7/17 From The Jills ball as talisman thwarted; the curse is back.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 1/04/93 pages 1 and 23

When delving into the archives of the 1993/94 Democrat and Chronicle, not surprisingly blackouts were a hot topic, especially since they occurred much more frequently than today when a blackout is a fluke. In 1993, the Bills failed to sell out the Oilers game within 72 hours before kick off, triggering the blackout. Mostly, sports writers and letter to the editor writers found fault with the “greedy” policy of the NFL. One woman reasonably wrote that the blackout violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act because deaf people — who could only watch the game and not listen on the radio — were being discriminated against.

At the same time, others — including the sports’ staff — blamed “soft” and “fickle” unworthy Bills’ fans who could not be bothered to sit in the cold at then Rich Stadium.

Tue, Jan 05, 1993 · Page 6

As in ’19, before the game the D & C offered tips on how to watch the blacked out game:

1/03/93

As with Stevie Johnson’s advice in ’19, Wheeler’s seems complicated. Maybe just best to “fight [what Wheeler calls] the mob scene at the local sports bar.” Even if you have to stand outside with a radio looking wistfully at big screens that from your vantage point are tiny.

Wheeler added a a partial list of bars planning to show the game.

Looking backward, I did not realize my trip to Jeremiah’s was ethically problematic (or perhaps forgot that I knew). As a younger Rick Wheeler says, broadcasting the game violated NFL rules. In essence, Jeremiah’s committed theft. It used another’s property — in this case intellectual property — without permission and against its contractual agreement.  Was I complicit in thievery by patronizing Jeremiah’s?  Was I tacitly endorsing illicit behavior?

At a dinner party, I asked the question. The men who were football fans said absolutely nothing was wrong with going to the game. Screw the NFL and besides that’s up to Jeremiah’s and the NFL. The women who did not like football disagreed. Knowing that Jeremiah’s committed theft — as did all the other bars including Dibbles who appeared on the front page of the D & C — from an ethical standpoint, I should not have watched the rules breaking game.  I participated in an activity that violated my principles.

A younger Leo Roth weighed in on the issue:

1/04/93

In his piece, Roth wrote:

Bills owner Ralph Wilson was joined by each and every coach and player, by 75,141 Rich Stadium fans, by anybody in western York yesterday watching the Bills aptly named WILD-card playoff game with the Houston Oilers on a pirate television screen. If you boycotted the game in protest of the Bills’ late-season swoon or the overpriced tickets, if you preferred Three Men and a Baby, that ran on Channel 10 instead of “Frank Reich: Miracle Worker,” stand up and let Steve Christie kick you. THIS WAS a classic  . . . It was the greatest comeback in NFL history, regular season or playoffs, and millions in WNY didn’t get to see it, thanks to the NFL’s greedy television blackout. That topic is for another day.

Here, Roth seems to want it both ways. Robin Hood-like, he bashes the “greedy television blackout.” But Roth admits that Jeremiah’s action represented “piracy” — not a good thing even if tickets are overpriced (however “overpriced” is defined).  Roth dodges the controversy as a topic for another day.

Perhaps fittingly, the next season the Oilers returned to Buffalo for a Monday Night Game.

October 10th, 1993

A younger Matthews was right. The game was blacked out and the Bills won again, 35 – 7.

October 12th, 1993

I leave the last word to Promo the Robot who posted his recollection of the Comeback on January 3, 2013 at TwoBillsDrive.com:

Lakeshore Hockey Arena – Rochester, NY – Untappd

I was living in Rochester then. The game was blacked out but I could get ch.3 from Syracuse which had the game. I had to work at Lakeshore Ice Arena during the game so I recorded it. When my shift ended right around 4pm I ran home got the VCR tape, brought it into the bar at Lakeshore and had a packed room watch it.

Promo’s account feels too good to be true. If true, I can see him galloping back to Lakeshore, VCR tape in hand, greeted to cheers as if in an episode from Cheers. If true, Promo reminds me of those far sighted fans who had the good sense to tape the first Super Bowl.

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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