Dec. 21, 1980 – Division titles seemed to be for other teams as far as fans of the Bills were concerned by 1980. The Bills hadn’t won that particular honor since 1966, when they were in the American Football League.
There was hope entering the 1980 season, since coach Chuck Knox was putting together a solid team, but Bills’ backers knew not to get their hopes up too high.
Buffalo won its first five games in that season to inflate those expectations, but only went 5-4 in the nine games after that. That put the team tantalizingly close to a playoff spot. A 24-2 loss to the Patriots in Game 15 was a missed opportunity to earn a spot for the postseason, so the Bills went to San Francisco a week later with one last chance to qualify.
The young 49ers – who had some good days ahead of them as we know now – weren’t ready to roll over, as they responded to each Bills’ score. Buffalo’s Joe Ferguson threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Butler, and Curtis Brown ran for another score. Joe Cribbs ran for 128 yards on the day.
The Bills’ fate wasn’t determined until the final moments. The 49ers’ Joe Montana launched a couple of long passes into the end zone in the game’s final seconds. The passes fell incomplete into the mud, and Buffalo celebrated an 18-13 win and a date with San Diego in the playoffs.
Budd Bailey is a retired sports reporter and editor at The Buffalo News. He is also the author of "Today in Buffalo Sports History." Learn more about the book here.