Takeo Spikes was the first former player I reached out to for my story on Bills who played in the drought in Friday's playoff special section. Unfortunately, he got back to my about two minutes after I filed the story.
Spikes, in my estimation, had the best individual season of any player during the drought, and one of the best in team history. In 2004, the linebacker had his finest season and made all-Pro. He had four forced fumbles, 18 passes defensed and five interceptions, including two that he returned for touchdowns.
The Bills, of course, lost the season finale to the Steelers, 29-24, to miss the playoffs by one game. If the Bills had won more games and made the playoffs, he might have been Defensive Player of the Year.
He also has a dubious distinction: Spikes played in 219 games from 1998-2012 without making the playoffs, an NFL record and a personal drought that rivaled the Bills' 17-year dry spell. Spikes played for three more teams after leaving the Bills, and that team made the playoffs the year after he left each time.
Spikes, who played with the Bills from 2003-06, recently published a book, “Behind the Mask.” He was the photographer and co-author of the book, which revisits some of the greatest linebackers ever to play in the NFL. He said it took him two years to complete, and has been very well-received.
Here are some high points from a 10-minute interview with Spikes, who was watching when his former team broke its playoff drought last Sunday:
"The reason I still feel I have that connection in Buffalo is I was recruited by the fans. I remember walking out of that tunnel, and it was the last game of the year (at the Ralph in 2002). I was playing in Cincinnati and people there had my jersey on, a Buffalo jersey, already! I was like, all right, OK.
"So I take 10 more steps, get on the field. Immediately, I turn around and see all these little faces. They've got the TKO hard hat on, the one with the spikes. Every time I made a tackle in the game – I had a sack and played well – the stadium was chanting 'TKO!' Deep down inside, I was like 'Wow. They go all out'.
"I made that connection. Nobody deserves it more than those guys, and I truly mean that. I remember coming out there when we had nothing to play for.
"I remember speaking to people in the community. One guy said, 'My light bill is going to be late and I just hope they don't cut it off, and if they don't, I don't care. Because I need to come out to support you guys and I found a way to get the money. Please, just win!'"
"Yup, I had some great times in Buffalo. That '04 year, I thought I could have had strong consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. But one, you don't win when you lose as many games as we did and two, we didn't make the playoffs. I got some votes, might have come in fourth place."
Spikes played in 2007 in Philadelphia, where Sean McDermott was a young assistant coach. McDermott brought up Spikes before the regular-season finale when talking about players who never made it to the playoffs. When I told Spikes, it must suck to have never made the playoffs, he went silent for a full 10 seconds.
"It does. It was tough, man," he said.
"I'm proud of (this year's team). I want to make a special note to Sean McDermott. I'm proud of him, because he has been the same person since I first met him back in 2007. He stayed with the same morals, the same values – with the exception of one week, when he started Peterman."