The Bills are searching in the dark without a flashlight at backup quarterback, with Tuesday’s release of Thad Lewis and the signing of Jordan Palmer.
When have the Bills been great at backup QB? Not that often, with a few notable exceptions.
Here are the five best Bills backup QBs. (And we’re not counting Doug Flutie, because he truly was a starter, even though he backed up early in 1998 and most of 2000.)
No. 5: Ed Rutkowski. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to come up with a fifth man worthy of the list. Gary Marangi almost led an upset of Miami in ’74, but we can’t pick him. On a day in 1976 when O.J. Simpson rushed for 273 yards, Marangi went 4 of 21 for 29 yards. Rutkowski, a receiver, threw a game-ending two-point conversion to give the Bills a tie in Miami in ’68. The Bills used four QBs that day. He almost pulled out a 34-32 decision at Denver that year. The Disaster QB: Long ago but not forgotten.
No. 4: James Harris. The Bills’ first African-American QB played three seasons in Buffalo and went 0-3 as a starter on bad teams. He backed up Dennis Shaw in 1970 and ’71, although Harris had more talent. Harris proved his talent when he joined the Rams in 1973. He posted a 21-6 record as their starter over four seasons and led them to the NFC title game in 1974.
No. 3: Alex Van Pelt. He’s the longest-tenured Bills backup ever, spending nine-plus seasons in Buffalo, from late 1994 through 2003. Van Pelt was smart and got along with most everybody, serving as a confidant to Jim Kelly early and Drew Bledsoe late. He played well in brief relief in a playoff game at Pittsburgh in 1995. Was 3-8 as a starter.
No. 2: Daryle Lamonica. Before the Flutie-Johnson Feud there was Kemp-Lamonica, and the latter was a much bigger deal. In 1964, Lamonica rallied the Bills to win in Weeks 4, 7, 8 and 9, and the Bills were 9-0. Controversy? The collective hair of the fans was on fire! Then Lamonica won in Week 13. Kemp returned to win Week 14 and the AFL title game. You know the rest of the story. Lamonica was dealt to the Raiders in ’67, promptly won AFL MVP and took Oakland to the playoffs four of the next five years. Worst trade in Bills history.
No. 1: Frank Reich. Lamonica was a better player than Reich. But Reich did more in Buffalo and is part of NFL history, as the author of the Greatest Comeback Ever. Besides his playoff win over Houston in the 1992 season, Reich went 3-0 in 1989, won the division-clinching start over Miami in 1990 and won a playoff game in Pittsburgh. How about some Wall of Fame consideration for the Bills’ greatest backup QB ever?
– Mark Gaughan