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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: Down to the wire

   December 21, 1980 -- The Buffalo Bills hadn't won their division since 1966 when the 1980 season rolled around. Chuck Knox had brought some life to the franchise in 1979, but the team really got going in 1980. Buffalo won its first five games to take control of the division right from the start.

     Even so, they still hadn't wrapped up a playoff spot when the game with the San Francisco 49ers on this date started -- thanks in part to a 24-2 loss to New England the week before. The AFC East title wouldn't come easily this time either.

     Every time the Bills scored, the 49ers responded on a muddy field. Joe Ferguson threw a touchdown pass to Jerry Butler, while Curtis Brown scored on a 4-yard run. Joe Cribbs rans for 128 yards on 18 carries. Still, the Bills' fate wasn't determined until the final moments of the game.

     Joe Montana, then a relatively unknown young pro quarterback, was the leader of a San Francisco team that was coming together as well. The Niners were just a year behind the Bills in their rebuilding program.

     On this day, Montana launched a couple of long passes into the Buffalo end zone in a last-ditch attempt to win. They fell incomplete into the mud, thus delaying the establishment of Montana's legend for a short time. At game's end the Bills could celebrate an AFC crown with an 18-13 win ... and a date with San Diego in the playoffs.

--- Budd Bailey

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