As the years flew by and The Drought became a double-digit anchor strapped to the collective neck of the Buffalo Bills and their fans, the question became one of the ways to wallow in the ceaseless misery.
Who was the last coach to guide the Bills to the playoffs?
Why that would have been Wade Phillips, of course, after the 1999 season. And those awful memories of the "Music City Miracle" and "Home Run Throwback" would come rushing back.
Now, that annoying question has a new answer: Sean McDermott.
Phillips has since gone on to work for six more teams, including a head-coaching stint with the Dallas Cowboys, and win a Super Bowl as defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. He, too, is going the playoffs, as the first-year defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, but he continues to keep a place in his heart for Western New York.
Monday, he tweeted: "Congrats to the Bills and their fans for making the playoffs!!"
Congrats to the Bills and their fans for making the playoffs!!
— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) January 1, 2018
Phillips shares the pain of what he will always remember as "The Music City Mistake" with Bills fans.
In his book, "Son of Bum," on which I collaborated with him, he went into considerable detail about the events leading up to that wild-card playoff game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville.
He talked about how late team owner Ralph Wilson ordered, in a phone call to late General Manager John Butler, that Rob Johnson replace Doug Flutie as the starting quarterback after Johnson's impressive performance in the meaningless '99 season-finale against Indianapolis.
"It wasn’t a bad idea, considering the Titans were unbeaten at home and won all their games there by big scores," Phillips wrote. "We had just played one of our best games of the whole season, and Rob played tremendously. Plus, if we weren’t playing well, Flutie could come in and give us a spark.
"I wasn’t worried about the players on the team who were in Doug’s corner being angry about the switch. If you’re coming off a big win like we were, I don’t think that happens. If it’s after a loss, I think it’s different. Once you lose and there’s a change, then all hell can break loose."
Hell did, in fact, break loose. But it had nothing to do with the quarterback switch. It had everything to do with how the game ended.
Johnson did his part, driving the Bills to what looked like a winning, 41-yard field goal by Steve Christie with 16 seconds left. Before the ensuing kickoff, Phillips writes, special teams coach Bruce DeHaven asked Phillips if he wanted to kick deep. Phillips said he did.
Then, DeHaven offered another suggestion.
"Why don't we bloop kick it?"
Phillips saw the wisdom in that, knowing a bloop kick would be shorter but higher than a standard kickoff and take more time off the clock. Phillips also assumed DeHaven would have Christie kick the ball outside the numbers rather than where he actually kicked it: straight down the middle.
Here are the excruciating details of what happened next, just in case you missed it the first million or so times: Lorenzo Neal made the catch and handed off to Frank Wycheck, who threw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who ran 75 yards for a touchdown.
"The officials said it was a legal lateral, but I was standing right across from where Wycheck threw the ball and I know it was an illegal forward pass," Phillips wrote. "I said, 'Well, they’re going to call it back, because we’ve got instant replay.' In fact, I was so sure they would overturn it, I was thinking ahead to the clock needing to be reset to when the penalty occurred. I figured that would still only leave them enough time for one play, so we needed to get our prevent defense ready.
"When the official came back and said, 'The ruling on the field stands,' I just lost it. I took off my headset and threw it on the ground. All the air just went out of me."
Phillips could come up with only one reaction in his mind.
He admits the return was the result of a miscommunication with DeHaven.
"I really felt that we let the team down by not having a better plan for the situation," Phillips wrote. "I regret not telling Bruce, who passed away in 2016, specifically want I wanted. In the end, the Music City Mistake was mine."
The heartbreaking end to the Bills' previous postseason appearance has a disturbing post-script.
It came a few months later, when Phillips and his coaching staff met with one of the NFL officiating crews that annually visit each team in the league to go over new rules that would be in effect for the following season. The officials showed video of selected plays from the previous year to help illustrate why calls were or weren't made and how they would be called under new rules and guidelines.
Amazingly, one of the first plays to appear was Wycheck's throw to Dyson.
"They didn’t just show the play, but they also said it was an example of 'why we’ve got good officiating' in the NFL," Phillips wrote. "I couldn’t believe it. None of us could. There they were, in the building of the team that was on the wrong end of that whole deal, talking with the coaching staff with emotional wounds that were still pretty raw, and they’re trying to tell us what a great job the officials did on that play?
"Of all of the hundreds of plays to choose from, they couldn’t come up with a different one to show us?"
Phillips was furious. All of his assistant coaches were, too.
“Turn it off!” Phillips demanded. “We don’t want to see that. First of all, it’s wrong. And for you to sit there and say it’s right is wrong. You need to get out of here right now.”
"They did," Phillips wrote. "Quietly."