With the hindsight of 20 years, how important was the Bills’ comeback game against the Houston Oilers?
On a scale of 1 to 10, Van Miller would probably write in an 11.
“It meant a lot to everybody,” the former Voice of the Bills said in an interview at his Town of Tonawanda home. “It got some people into the Hall of Fame.
“Maybe including me. I’m there in two places in Canton.”
Miller, who retired from the Bills’ booth at the end of 2003, never missed a single game in 55 years of broadcasting, whether it was high school, college or professional sports.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff, but nothing compared to that game. You know, it changed the lives of a lot of people.”
Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith were all future Hall of Famers on that Bills team, though Kelly, of course, missed the game with an injury and Thomas departed in the third quarter after hurting a hip. Coach Marv Levy was also inducted to the Hall and there is one more person who will be there one day.
“One man who should go in the Hall of Fame is Bill Polian, because he put that team together,” Miller said. “And they did everything but win the Super Bowl. You had Teddy Marchibroda as an offensive coordinator. And Kelly was a great quarterback. But Frank Reich was the man that day, no question about it.”
Reich wasn’t quite the toast of the town early in the third quarter when he threw an interception to Bubba McDowell, who ran it back 58 yards for a pick-six that made the score 35-3.
What was going through Miller’s mind after the Bills fell into a 32-point hole?
“You can imagine what the attitude was in the broadcast booth and in the press box,” Miller said. “You could hear a pin drop. … There’s a cardinal sin – you don’t ever cheer in the press box. Of course, I was in the broadcast booth, but in the press box, the writers from Houston and the PR guys, anyone associated with the Oilers, they wanted to get up and scream – whoopee! – because it looked like the [Bills’] run was over for the Super Bowl.”
Miller shifted into his radio voice as he recalled how the game turned around:
“Nothing happened until the middle of the third quarter. And then Andre Reed put on his show. I think he scored three touchdowns in that third quarter. (Reed scored twice in the third quarter and again in the fourth.) He was amazing.
“There was Andre’s completion on a fourth-down play. The onside kick [that was successful]. And the Oilers had to come back and kick a field goal to tie the game. That put it into overtime and then, of course, Nate Odomes intercepted Warren Moon’s pass and that set up the field goal.”
Miller will never forget the performance of the Bills’ quarterback that day.
“Nobody ever had a better backup quarterback than Frank Reich,” he said. “Well, look what he did at Maryland. You know his team was down there, 31-0, in the first quarter and the No. 1 quarterback was out of the game, and all he did was go in there and win it, 42-40.”
Miller has not lost the sense of humor that endeared him to generations of Bills fans. He had some back surgery a few years ago that he said “makes me walk like Herman Munster.”
“Of course, I’m 85,” he said. “My Social Security number is 2.”
He laughed while showing a visitor some merchandise in his home that came about because of his call at the end of the comeback game. A company called Pacific Direct contracted with Miller to use audio of his call on a beer-cap opener, a key chain and a barbecue fork. Miller picked up the fork in his den and out came his words from Jan. 3, 1993:
“Adam Lingner ready to snap it back. It’s 38-all. Bills can win it here. Reich puts it down. The kick is on the way ... and it is good. And the Bills have won it! The Bills have won it! The Bills have won it, they win it 41-38. Incredible! What a comeback by the Bills. Absolutely incredible. This place is fandemonium.”
Now that 20 years have passed, Miller sees that game as one of many special ones during the Bills’ Super Bowl era.
“What they did in that game, especially in the second half on offense, I don’t know if it will ever be duplicated,” he said.
“They say that records are made to be broken, especially in sports. And it’s inevitable in most cases – the 100-yard dash, the 220, the 400 – every year they break them. But there are two things that I think will be very, very hard to break. One would be the comeback game, and the Bills going to four Super Bowls in a row.
“I don’t know, in this day of parity in the National Football League, or what they like to call parity, I don’t know if anybody will ever do that again. I put that up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting record, that’s still holding good after all these years.”