It's a simple question, but one that recent head coaches of the Buffalo Bills haven't bothered to ask: What made those Super Bowl teams so great?
Sean McDermott set out to try and get that answer Tuesday night. The Buffalo News has learned that McDermott took seven of the franchise's all-time greats -- Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, Darryl Talley, Steve Tasker and Cornelius Bennett -- out to dinner at downtown Buffalo steakhouse Sear.
Talk about a power table. Four Pro Football Hall of Famers. Seven members of the Bills' Wall of Fame. That's an impressive collection of knowledge to tap into for McDermott, who was in high school when the Bills made their run to four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
"I'm watching football. I'm playing football, and those are the role models of that time," he told The News on Wednesday afternoon. "They were quite impressionable in terms of what they did on the field." To have dinner with them "was just quite an honor."
This was not a publicity stunt. There were no cameras there to document things.
Now that the news got out about dinner last night. The gathering was probably one the most joyful nights I've had in years with my former teammates. Coach Sean did a lot of listening. He didn't have much of a choice. The memories kept smiles on all of our faces throughout the evening. It was a blessed night. Now I feel we have a blessed coach. To be a fly on the wall that evening. Priceless .. GO BILLS. 👍🙏🏈
McDermott simply wanted to hear about what made the Super Bowl teams tick.
"Basically all we did was try to illustrate to him why our team was different, and still is," Tasker said. "He appreciated it."
"We've all been on teams growing up," McDermott said when asked about what he took away from the gathering. "Whether you're on a football team, a baseball team, and whether you're 8 years old, or 28 years old, the chemistry of those teams – the really good teams that we've all been around at different points in our lives – really defines those teams.
"The love between teammates, the bond, the life-long bond that's been created. It was just fun to be in the room and listen more than anything."
McDermott's gesture was well received by the players.
"He basically just wanted to reach out to us and talk to us," Tasker said. "Most of it was us just laughing and having fun. It was great to get to know him. We were really flattered that he wanted to speak to us, because no other head coach has done that. That was kind of cool."
Particularly around the time The Buffalo News' Tim Graham published a story in 2014 highlighting the physical and financial hardships Talley has endured since his playing days ended, there were former players from the glory years who felt disconnected from the franchise. Another one of the players laughed when saying none of the Bills' coaches since 2000 have reached out the way McDermott did Tuesday.
"I mean, that was reiterated by a lot of the players," Thomas said. "All the coaches that have been here never did anything like that, just to get our perspective on how we did things. It was just a nice deal."
If there were fences to be mended, he did some of that Tuesday night, knowingly or not.
"It's very important," the coach said of establishing a strong relationship with the team's former players. " No. 1, I want all of our alumni to know how important they are to us. Moving forward, I want our players to know what it means to wear the Bills' helmet, and the colors. Every time they put that helmet on, what that means."
"He does want us to be around a little bit more, especially the guys who are out of town," Thomas said. "That was encouraging to hear from a first-year head coach."
How detailed is McDermott? As the players talked, he asked them if it was ok if he took notes in his phone.
"He just wanted to see what we were all about when we played together," Thomas said. "I think what he got out of it was, 'hey, these guys are really family. This is not an act. We really love and care about each other. I think he wants to see if he can try and bring that to the team he has now."
One message the players wanted to drive home to McDermott is what he can look forward to.
"We tried to explain to him how it is around here if you're winning and going to the playoffs," Thomas said. "All of us said last night, 'Sean, you have no idea how loud that stadium can get if it's a playoff game.' "
Any Western New Yorker knows that the bond that the Bills' greats share with the community endures to this day.
"Buffalo's a special city," Tasker said. "One of the reasons our team was successful was because of the city and what it allowed us to do as a team and as players, coming together, being part of a family. Some of that was talked about last night."
McDermott, of course, faces a big challenge. The weight of a 17-year playoff drought is heavy.
"He knows that whenever there's a head coaching change, something about the organization is not right. The team, the coaching staff, the management staff, for lack of a better word, something is sick," Tasker said. "You've got to diagnose what it is. In every city a new coach comes in, the problems might be the same, but the remedy is different because of the city that you live in and the organization that you work for. I got the feeling they're diagnosing what they need to do."
That might not happen overnight. But the players who spoke to The News on Wednesday left that dinner thinking the Bills have found the right man to make it happen.
"For about the last month, ever since we found out we were going to be doing this dinner, we've been on a text chain," Thomas said. "Today, every last one of the guys was going, 'man, I love that guy.' "