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Stats Wizard: Bills' numbers, facts and oddities of the early 1980s

This season, we have been taking periodic looks at interesting Bills’ numbers, facts and oddities throughout the years, with a simple goal of uncovering one fun "did you know?" for each season throughout team history. We left off with 1979, when first overall draft pick Tom Cousineau spurned the Bills to play in Canada, a squandered draft pick that somehow turned into one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, Jim Kelly.

We pick up the series in 1980. The Bills' second-round pick, first in that round and 29th overall in the draft was Joe Cribbs. The first overall pick – belonging to the Detroit Lions – in that draft was Billy Sims. That season, Cribbs and Sims became the first-ever first-year players to rush for at least 1,000 yards and catch 50 or more passes. Since, only six players have joined the pair: Eric Dickerson (1983), Marshall Faulk (1994), Edgerrin James (1999), LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), Matt Forte (2008) and Steve Slaton (2008).

Continuing with the theme of draft picks, specifically in the second round, in 1981, the Bills had consecutive picks, 49th and 50th overall. They chose defensive back Chris Williams and wide receiver Byron Franklin. Both played just three seasons for Buffalo. But that is not the significance here, rather, it is the picks that sandwiched the Bills' pair of second-round draft choices, the Raiders' 48th overall pick, future Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, and the Saints' 51st overall choice, future Hall of Fame linebacker Rickey Jackson. Worth noting, there were seven Hall of Famers taken in this draft, in addition to Long and Jackson, three whom the Bills did not have a chance at taking in Lawrence Taylor (second overall), Kenny Easley (fourth), Ronnie Lott (eighth), and two whom the Bills did pass on – Mike Singletary (38th) and Russ Grimm (69th).

The 1982 season was halted due to a players' strike, limiting the season to just nine games. Before the strike, halting the season after Week 2, the Bills were 2-0, beating the Chiefs and the Vikings. When the season reconvened, in Week 11, the Bills took on the Miami Dolphins, losing 9-7, behind seven turnovers, including five picks thrown by Joe Ferguson. The Dolphins would go on to win the AFC Championship, and the Bills would fail to make the playoffs, finishing the nine-game strike-shortened season just 4-5.

The following year, 1983, was of course highlighted by the Bills' 14th overall draft selection, Jim Kelly, but the process by which he was selected actually began in 1979, which we broke down here. It also was Joe Cribbs' third season (out of four total) with at least 1,600 total yards from scrimmage. At that time, only Walter Payton, Jim Brown and Ottis Anderson had more seasons with as many total yards. The only year during his career to that point in which Cribbs failed to reach that mark was the strike-shortened 1982 season, in which he would have been well on his way, with 732 total yards in seven games, leading the league with 90.4 rushing yards per game. Unfortunately, this would be the last of his real NFL success, as he would leave the Bills after a contract dispute to play for the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL, the next season. He returned to the NFL and the Bills in 1985, when the USFL folded, but never returned to form, picking up 1,310 rushing yards and 558 receiving yards in 48 games spread across Buffalo, San Francisco, Miami and Indianapolis.

The Bills, now without their Pro Bowl back, faltered miserably in 1984, beginning the season with 11 straight losses, finishing with just a 2-14 record, but to no fault of Cribbs' replacement, rookie back out of Notre Dame, Greg Bell. Bell rushed for 1,100 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl. The abominable season was the demise of longtime Buffalo quarterback Joe Ferguson, perhaps both literally and figuratively, as this was his final season with Buffalo and as a true No. 1 quarterback and his offensive line allowed 60 quarterback sacks for 554 yards lost, a Super Bowl era record at the time, since worsened by the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles, who lost 708 yards on 104 total sacks. The Bills' defense was no better than their offensive line that season, allowing a franchise worst 454 points, en route to becoming one of just 25 teams in history to allow at least 200 more points than points scored.

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