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JAN 08



Had the now ubiquitous “Win Probability Chart” been a thing in 1993, the Buffalo Bills and their fans would not have been happy with what it showed at halftime of their AFC Wild Card playoff game on Jan. 3 of that year. As the Bills shuffled off to their locker room, they trailed the visiting Houston Oilers, 28‑3, and the real‑time tracking line of the chart would have been about as close to “Houston = 100 percent” as it could be without the game actually being over.

“At halftime, we joked a bit about whether the planes were running on time at the airport because we thought about going home early,” said 19‑year NFL official Dale Orem, who served as the line judge on what would become a historic day in NFL history, with a chuckle. “It was a great day in Buffalo and the weather was actually pretty decent.”

It was a relatively pleasant Saturday afternoon, at least by the standards of western New York in January. The field was free of snow, the winds were mild when they blew at all and the temperature at kickoff was 38 degrees. For the officiating crew, the gloves some members wore were a convenience rather than a necessity.

Umpire Bob Boylston, a 21‑year NFL official, had a better‑than‑front‑row seat for Houston’s first‑half dominance, positioned as he was, just a few yards off the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball. Pick your statistic of choice: the Oilers scored a touchdown on each of their four first‑half possessions, they nearly tripled Buffalo’s time of possession, they outgained the Bills, 290 yards to 75, and Houston quarterback Warren Moon was 19‑for‑22 with four touchdown passes.

“As officials, we were always aware that we had to be ready for a comeback any time we go out there,” noted Boylston. “You just never know what is going to happen.”

“In games like that you always discuss the fact that we have to officiate like it is 0‑0,” added Orem. “You’ve got to keep to your routine and procedures as closely as you can even in a game like that.”

While theoretically possible, a Buffalo comeback seemed highly unlikely. Buffalo’s star linebacker Cornelius Bennett and Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly were both injury casualties and hadn’t even dressed for the game. Backup quarterback Frank Reich, now head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was making his first start of the entire season, and on Buffalo’s first possession of the third quarter, one of his passes was deflected into the arms of Houston’s Bubba McDowell, who galloped into the end zone to give the Oilers a 35‑3 lead. Following the interception, Reich and the Bills scored on each of their next four possessions.

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