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Erik Brady: The Bills' luck ran out when the game clock struck 13

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Bills KC playoffs overtime (copy)

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) walks off the field after the Bills' overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoff game.

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It means fear of the number 13. Such superstition is deeply rooted in our society. It is why high-rise buildings typically don’t have 13th floors, and why airplanes often don’t have Row 13s. They just number their floors and their rows so that 14 comes after 12, as if we won’t notice.

Me, I never understood the phenomenon. Thirteen? It’s just a number. A baker’s dozen. What is there to be afraid of?

Plenty, as it turns out. Just ask the Buffalo Bills.

You know what happened, so we won’t belabor it here. It’s really hard to lose a game in which you take a lead with 13 seconds left. But the Bills have done it twice this millennium, counting Forward Lateral, a kickoff that began with 16 seconds left to play in Nashville, Tenn., 22 years ago.

Cue the music:

To dream the impossible dream.

To lose the unloseable game.

You might say – to paraphrase Pogo, the pen-and-ink possum of midcentury comic pages – that Friday the 13th came on a Sunday this month.

And so we are left with this: Where do we place Sunday night’s meltdown in Buffalo’s pantheon of pain? And by what shorthand will we remember it for generations to come?

We typically do this with two-word phrases.

Wide Right.

No Goal.

Forward Lateral. (No, not the Music City Miracle – never that; let them call it that in Tennessee, not here.)

Staley Swindle. (Sure, that’s 100 years ago, but our NFL misery begins there.)

Nicknames cannot be legislated. They develop organically, so it is too soon to know for sure what this one will be called. But Jason Wolf suggested “13 Seconds” in his Buffalo News column written on deadline late Sunday in Kansas City, and I think it works well. It contains just the proper amount of dread, not least because of that unlucky number, 13.

The Twitterati began playing the name game in the moments after overtime ended. Someone suggested Coin Toss. That one does not fly. Yes, the overtime rule is unfair and unwise, but it is the rule. (And maybe you should never call tails in a stadium that has the word “head” in it.) But to call the game Coin Toss suggests that it was a 50-50 proposition. Ah, but when Josh Allen hit Davis – the angel Gabriel – for his fourth TD with 13 seconds to play, the Bills’ win probability was up there somewhere in the neighborhood of 99%.

ESPN put out a win probability chart as the Bills and Chiefs traded haymakers in the closing moments. The line looks like an EKG of Bills fans as the game went from won to lost and back again. And again.

The time has come to take Scott Norwood officially off the hook. We hear Wide Right and we think if only his kick had been true, the Bills win Super Bowl XXV. But that play begins with 8 second remaining. If his kick goes through, a few seconds are left.

And the Bills still have to kick off.

On Sunday, as the Bills prepared to kick off with those 13 terrible ticks still on the clock, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes conferred with his coach. Andy Reid later told reporters what he told Mahomes in that moment:

“When it’s grim, be the Grim Reaper.”

In tarot cards, No. 12 is “The Hanged Man.” No. 14 is “Temperance.”

And No. 13? It is called “Death.”

And it is represented by – the Grim Reaper.


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Erik Brady has more than 50 years in newspapers as a paperboy for The Buffalo Evening News, a sports columnist for The Courier-Express and sports reporter for USA Today, where he retired as the last member of the national newspaper’s founding generation.

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