It’s an exciting day for everyone at WGR and all of the Entercom Buffalo radio stations with the news that WGR is once again the Home for Buffalo Bills Football. It worked out well the last time the Bills were on WGR. A four year run sandwiched between two stints on our sister station, WBEN, saw the Bills go to four straight Super Bowls.
A few weeks ago when I was on vacation(and had no idea this was going to happen) I was cleaning out boxes of memorabilia. I came across an old picture of the Bills/WBEN broadcast team from 1994. The photo, taken in front of the giant Bills helmet/golf cart at training camp in Fredonia, included the legendary voice of the Bills Van Miller, then analyst John Murphy, broadcast engineer Dave May and yours truly, pre game host and post game locker room reporter.
I remember how excited I was (and somewhat nervous) to be involved in the game broadcasts of a major professional sports team and to work with a broadcasting giant like Van as well as Murph, someone who I admired and respected a great deal. I spent only two seasons on those broadcasts before leaving for the Empire Sports Network but I have so many memories, some good and some not so good.
Despite the fact the 1994 season saw the Bills playoff streak end at six years, it was still eye opening for me to get somewhat of an insider’s view of the team. The broadcast team traveled on the Bills charter flights, were transported on team buses and stayed at their hotel.
I remember a handful of trips where I was invited to the suite of then General Manager John Butler to watch college football. A scout at heart, it seemed like Butler could always be found in his suite the night before the Bills game watching multiple college games and evaluating talent. I soaked up everything I could.
I remember the last game of that 94 season, a loss in Indianapolis. The Bills knew they weren’t going back to the post season and a streak of consecutive Super Bowl berths(never done before or since) was over at four. There was almost a sense of relief in the visitors locker room at the RCA Dome. It was like the Bills needed a break, a longer off season to re- charge the batteries after playing 16 playoff games on top of the 96 regular season contests the previous six years.
Oddly enough, one of the coolest things about those two years were the police escorts to and from the games. It made you feel so important when you saw city policemen or state troopers clearing out a lane on the interstate or stopping city traffic at every intersection as the entourage of four buses made its way from hotel to stadium in the morning and stadium to the airport just hours later. It really came in handy in New England where there is only one road going in and one coming out of Foxboro.
I remember a game in St. Louis in 1995 when just after a Bills win over the Rams, everyone was told that Buffalo was snowed in. The charter landed in Niagara Falls and the entire Bills traveling party spent the night in a downtown hotel before busing to Prior Aviation the next morning to dig out our cars. I’ll always remember the look on Thurman Thomas’ face as we approached Prior. He couldn’t believe how much snow had fallen.
Then there was the trip to Pittsburgh for the playoff game with the Steelers. As I said, we were on the Bills charter. We didn’t exactly keep attendance to make sure every player got on the plane but we made sure to keep an eye out for the big name guys. We realized none of us had seen Bruce Smith board the flight. Eventually Marv Levy came over to us and said Smith was sick and he didn’t know if Bruce would be able to make it for the game the next day. I spent the night in a Pittsburgh radio station doing my One on One Sports show on WBEN and listening to callers scream about Smith quitting on his teammates.
I thoroughly enjoyed the shows we did back then whether it was Marv Levy on Mondays or Butler on Wednesdays. It offered me the opportunity to get to know them better. WBEN also did player shows and I can say with certainty I will never experience anything like the Darryl Talley Show. First off the guy scared the you know what out of me. I always worried that if I asked a question he didn’t like, he’d lean over and punch my lights out. In addition, he was completely unpredictable. You had no idea what was going to come out of his mouth in a response to a question from me or a listener.
The last time I worked for the Bills flagship station was the beginning of the end in a great era of Buffalo Bills football. Hopefully this time will mark the beginning of another great era.
I got in touch with Pete Weber who was on staff at WGR the last time the station had the games. Pete was on the broadcast team in 1990 with Van and Ed Rutkowski. From 1991-93 it was Van, Greg Brown and Marc Stout. Pete shared some of his memories:
We started the 3-hour pregame show as part of the package (ok, blame me!) In order to prepare for Rich Broadcasting to take over the rights, the Jim Kelly show had begun in 1986….when I arrived in the fall of 1988, we started the Bill Polian Show, in addition to the Marv Levy Show.
Van, Ed and I did a practice game in a studio on Franklin Avenue and North Street, pumping in crowd sound before training camp…just so that we would have the chance to develop some booth chemistry….
That run to Super Bowl XXV will never be forgotten – I saw and heard in the tunnel before that AFC championship game some Oakland Raiders personnel on the phone making arrangements for the trip to Tampa! Then the utter destruction of the Raiders was incredible – not exactly Jay Schroeder’s greatest day in sports (football OR baseball). I will never forget the aftermath of Super Bowl XXV, recording Jim Kelly for his show the next morning in the bathroom of the Sombrero (he was leaving first thing in the morning for Hawaii and the Pro Bowl), then moving on to interview Scott Norwood on the post-game show and he answered every question there was and was prepared for more. Then, the flight back to Buffalo with the team and the incredible reception in Niagara Square with the show of love for Scott Norwood. I still can’t believe that (but it positively demonstrates the type of fan that lives in Western New York).