When the annals of football history are someday written, the Buffalo Bills’ teams during a six-year period from 1988-93 will go down as one of the elite, if not most talked about teams of any era— ever.
The narcissists will recount one thing and one thing only; the four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Four straight years the Bills were on cusp of winning the biggest game of their collective lives, and four straight times they lost, caught bad breaks, choked, beat themselves, etc. However you want to write it is irrelevant. They’ll record it whatever way they prefer, and they’ll never tell the whole story. Just the sour endings.
But what these pessimistic historians will fail to tell you is that this era of Buffalo Bills football dominated that six-year span like few others have ever seen. The Bills may not have won a Super Bowl, but they achieved about everything else imaginable. Prior to that era, the Bills had made the playoffs exactly three times in 21 seasons.
Their celebrated run saw them win four consecutive conference championships; a feat never before or since accomplished. During those six years the Bills won 70 games and lost just 26. During their four-year Super Bowl run they averaged 12.25 wins. The Jim Kelly-led no huddle offense revolutionized football.
Fans too young to recollect this era can only imagine. The current regime has not only failed to make the playoffs this entire decade, but has conjured up just one winning season since 2000.
As time goes by, at least for the vast majority of football fans, this exhilarating era of Bills football has gotten their just due, at least for the most part.
As they should. It was a team filled with superstars and character. The team has three Hall of Famers; Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith… and four if you count James Lofton. It had a Hall of Fame coach in Marv Levy. It had flashy stars in Andre Reed and Cornelius Bennett, and it had hard nosed grinders in Steve Tasker and Shane Conlan.
But to a man— and you can ask any on those teams, Darryl Talley was as much, if not more responsible for the Bills transformation than anyone else. He’s widely regarded as the most underrated player this organization has ever seen. He made plays and led by example. He also had no problem leading with his mouth. If the Bills were a movie, then Talley was their director.
Smith once gave Talley the ultimate compliment. “Without Darryl Talley, I wouldn’t be half as good a player as I am, with him on my team.”
During that four-year Super Bowl run, Talley led the team in tackles three of them. The lone time he didn’t, he trailed Conlan by a mere five. 1991 was probably Talley’s finest season. He finished that year with four sacks, four forced fumbles, recovered two and led the team with five interceptions. He was voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time, after being selected by Art Shell the previous year as the coach’s pick.
Talley left the Bills in 1994 after 12 seasons, and by no coincidence it was the first time the Bills missed the playoffs in a half-dozen years. Before signing with Atlanta after being told he was no longer in the Bills future plans, Talley took out a full page ad in the Buffalo News thanking all his teammates, coaches and fans for their support.
During his first three pro seasons, the Bills won eight games. They lost 40. But Talley matured as a player and field general. He took on a leadership role and as talent trickled in, he led the team to a revival, just as he previously did in college.
I recently had the opportunity to interview the former Bills great. We discussed his blue collar upbringing, initial impressions of Buffalo, a lot of his teammates and what it would feel like to be someday be elected into the Hall of Fame.
Here is what he had to say…
Buffalo Sports Daily: You played your college football at West Virginia. What was that experience like there?
Darryl Talley: WVU was quite an experience because I went from a city kid to the hills of West Virginia, which in itself is an eye-opening experience. Going from the city to the hills is a lot different. The culture is completely different. It took some getting used to, but like any good chameleon, I learned to adapt. I got my degree and a wife – both of which I still have!
The football aspect was different. They were at the bottom and we had to change the culture of the way football was being played. So it was the class before mine and my class that actually started to put WVU on the map once again. WVU had not been to a bowl game since the early 70s. After playing for two years, WVU made it to a bowl game.
BSD: You were drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 1983 draft. What was going through your mind when that happened?
DT: When I was waiting to be drafted, I thought I would go earlier in the draft because of what people in the business were telling me. I graded out high in the draft and didn’t go until early in the second round. At that point, I decided that I was going to make everyone wish they had drafted me earlier.
Actually what I was doing, I graded out in the top half of the draft and thought I would be in the top 10 picks. When that didn’t happen, I got up and took my grandfather for a ride in his wheelchair (he had had his legs amputated). He had just come to visit me and I had to do something to get it off my mind while the media and everyone sat at the house watching the events unfold. I was outside when they came out to tell me.
BSD: What were your first impressions of Buffalo? Do you have an initial memory?
DT: My initial memory of Buffalo was that the people of that city were a lot like the people of the city I grew up in. The people had a blue collar workman like attitude towards everything. I understood that because it was similar to what I had been raised around my entire life.
BSD: What would you consider your most memorable game; for you personally?
DT: My most memorable game is harder to choose. It would either have to be the Raider game in which we destroyed the Raiders on our way to our first Super Bowl. The other would be Super Bowl XXV when our country was at war and Blackhawk helicopters were flying over head, Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem, and that was enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. That was enough to go out and entertain everyone considering what was going on the world to protect our country. You were simply not an American if that didn’t bother you.
BSD: You never missed a game in your 12-year Bills career. What do you most attribute that to?
DT: I attribute it to my parents for making me be accountable for everything I did. If I told someone I would do something, I was told to show them, not tell them. That came directly from my father. That is where I get the blue-collar, lunch box workman type attitude. I was always told if you leave your glove on the field, someone else would pick it up and play with it – meaning there is always someone waiting to take your job and you wouldn’t play again
BSD: You’re the Bills all-time leading tackler (1,137).
DT: Yes, because I was taught to wrap up when you tackle and bring the man to the ground. If you didn’t there was no credit given for a tackle. It was considered a mis-tackle if they didn’t go down.
DT: It comes from wanting to win and win awful bad. To do whatever it takes to win the game within the framework of the game and lead by example. Because if I was going to miss tackles and miss blocks, how could I ask another player to make tackles or make blocks. Also, my dad always told me,” it is better to build boys than to mend men”.
BSD: Thurman Thomas told me you were the most underrated player he’s ever played with. Feelings?
DT: It was very humbling to be thought of in that light, but I understood that someone had to take a back seat so that others could flourish and I was still able to be a big contributor. I was the older player there and I thought it was my job to get everyone to play at the highest level. That would be hard being and” I..I..I” guy being up front.
I had to be a “We” and “Us” guy in order to get things done the way they should be. That is simply the way I thought of it. I couldn’t ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.
BSD: It’s been many years since, but how much, if at all does it eat at you that the Bills failed to win a Super Bowl four straight years? Do you reflect on it as a blessing or a curse?
DT: Well, there are many people who have played this game. Not many have reached the Super Bowl, but to have four opportunities to take a bite of that apple is a bit of pleasure and pain not winning at least one.
Hopefully history is kind to us and a lot of us will receive the accolades that are due to us. Only time will tell. Yes it was a curse we didn’t win. It is a shame we didn’t win, but it is what it is. We had 53 great men on all those teams and coaching staff that deserve some sort of accolades for going four straight years.. and it should have been five!
BSD: After your Bills career was over you finished up briefly with Atlanta (1995) and Minnesota (1996). Legend says you were so determined to spend Christmas with your family that you played your last game with Atlanta with a loaded U-Haul in the parking lot. Is this true?
DT: Yes, it is true. I had asked my family if they wanted to spend Christmas in Atlanta or at the home in Florida. They said they wanted to spend it at home in Florida, so at the beginning of the week, I tied a Christmas tree to the top of the truck and they took Christmas presents and drove to Florida. I stayed behind, packed the rest of the stuff in a U-Haul, drove the U-Haul to the game against the 49ers.
I only played 6 plays during the game. I made 2 tackles, forced one fumble and recovered a fumble. So four out of the six plays I was on the field were very positive. We were going to have time off for Christmas after the game. We had made the playoffs for Atlanta’s third time in their history. I left after the game to go home to Orlando to be with the family.
What legend doesn’t tell you is that I was the first one back at the Atlanta Falcons facility on Wednesday ready to go to work. If anyone knows anything about me, I have never played a “run for the bus game”. It was not in my make up to do what I was accused of and that angered me and I did not blast the media for assuming I did something I did not do.
If I played six plays of the game and made four major plays out of the six that I played, can you tell me I played a “run for the bus” game. NO, I think not.
BSD: In 2008 you said that Scott Norwood belongs on the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame. Do you still feel the same?
DT: Yes, I feel that Scott Norwood belongs on the Wall of Fame in Buffalo, because in the early years we won a lot of AFC East championships with him kicking field goals and playing great special teams. He made clutch kicks for us during the seasons and down that stretch which everyone forgets about.
BSD: You are a member of the Bills Wall of Fame. You were inducted in 2003 and became the 20th member of the Wall. You’re feelings?
DT: That was very meaningful to me because it was for things I did off the field as well as on the field.
BSD: You were on the final ballot of 76 this year for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. What would it mean for you if you’re to get in someday?
DT: It would be truly a great honor because I felt that I had a great college career. I went to a school that didn’t have a lot of notoriety. The players the year before mine and my class of players turned that university around and put them on the map so that they could go out and recruit the top players in the country.
BSD: Speaking of Hall of Fames, several former Bills teammates say you deserve to be in the NFL Hall of Fame; or at the very least deserve much stronger consideration. What does that mean to you and what would it mean to you to someday eventually get in?
DT: I am truly honored that my teammates feel I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. I worked very hard at my craft. If I were to someday get in., I’d quote Deacon Jones, “No one could ever doubt my game again because you reached the pinnacle, the summit, the place were all players want to be.”
I would have made it to the place where all great players end up – the Hall of Fame – two hours from where I grew up in East Cleveland, Ohio—where all little boys want to grow up and go into the Hall of Fame.
BSD: You’ve certainly built a strong case during your career. All-time leader in tackles on team that went to four straight Super Bowls, not to mention 38.5 and 12 interceptions to go with a pair of Pro Bowls. Even more than numbers, you’re regarded as the defensive leader of those great teams.
DT: People only use the criteria of Pro Bowls to consider who goes into the Hall of Fame. If you look at the time span of my career, I played against and with some of greatest outside linebackers, partly due to the 3-4 scheme where linebackers had to be athletes that ranged from 6’ 1″ to 6’ 8″,and were 215 to 265 lbs. Not too many of those guys have more than 2 or 3 Pro Bowls.
BSD: Who’s the toughest player you ever played against?
DT: Toughest player I ever played against was – myself. I had to compete with me. But I did have one interesting experience. I was playing against Russ Francis my rookie year. I went on an inside move, he hit me and drove me to the other side of the center. I got up looking out my ear hole of my helmet listening to Randy Cross, the announcer, yelling “WOW”.
For the rest of the game, I backed off Russ Francis and played with speed the rest of the game. I played him the following year and it was a different ball game. I knew what I was doing and I took it to him.
BSD: Who was your favorite player to watch from the sideline?
DT: My favorite player to watch from the sideline was… Well, that is a hard question because I had a lot of interesting people to watch. I watched Don Beebe, the human pogo stick run by people. I watched Andre Reed run across the middle and catch footballs and be Jim’s (Kelly) stunt man. I watched Kent Hall just physically beat and wrestle with people that were a whole lotta fun to watch. I watched Thurman (Thomas), who was known to be a great runner and catcher out of the back field block and hit linebackers in the chin and watch their reaction. He used to knock the shit out of linebackers.
I had the only quarterback who thought he was a linebacker and would run into the pile and try to gain a yard even though he was slow at the time. Or if he threw an interception he would go try and make the tackle.
BSD: Fill in the blank. If Darryl Talley wouldn’t have been a successful football player, he would’ve been a —–
DT: If Darryl Talley had not been a successful football player, he would have been a great physical therapist.
BSD: Where are you living today and how are you enjoying life?
DT: I live in Orlando with my wife and daughters. I own a traffic control company and I am a federal contractor as well. I am trying to play golf as much as I can.
BSD: You were back in Buffalo recently for the home opener, honored as part of the Bills 50th Anniversary All-Time team. What was that experience like for you?
DT: It is a super feeling to know that you were one of the best players in the history of the Buffalo Bills.
BSD: What does this current Buffalo Bills team need to do in order to turn things around and start winning?
DT: I don’t have that much time to start telling you that. The Bills current players need to tackle better, they need to block better, they need to play as a team and trust one another as a team and hold each other accountable for his assignment.
But then, most of all, they need to have fun together as a team on and off the field, because their time together is short and don’t realize until it’s over.
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