The tirade that turned around Bills Coach's fire sparks Bills' Super surge

January 28, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- The most outrageous comeback in NFL history took root in an X-rated halftime speech under the stands at Buffalo's Rich Stadium earlier this month.

That's where Walt Corey went ballistic, where his game plan went out the window, where the Buffalo Bills -- staring up at a 28-3 deficit -- started to draw together, strange as it may sound.

Embarrassed and on the brink of elimination from the playoffs, the Bills reeled into their 12-minute break with all the stability of a guy walking up a down escalator.

Then the second half started and they stumbled again. When Bubba McDowell returned an intercepted pass 58 yards for a touchdown, the Houston Oilers led 35-3.

The king of the AFC was dead. Or so it seemed.

On the Bills sideline, players huddled in small clusters. In at least one cluster, tackle Glenn Parker said this week, the discussion centered on vacation plans -- imminent vacation plans -- not miraculous comebacks.

Said Bills safety Mark Kelso: "I never in a million years thought we were going to win that game."

And then fate intervened. Somehow, some way, the Bills did win that game. The final was 41-38 -- in overtime, no less -- when Steve Christie's 32-yard field goal pushed them over the top and banished the Oilers to an off-season in NFL purgatory.

Since then, the Bills have been resolute on defense. Until the Miami Dolphins got a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown, the Bills' goal-line had been impenetrable over a span of nine quarters.

If Buffalo goes on to win Super Bowl XXVII over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, the Bills will look back at that raucous wild-card playoff victory as a franchise milestone. It will remind them how crazy football can be. And they will wonder one more time how it happened.

Levy's prophecy

Linebacker Carlton Bailey sat in the interview room at the Bills' hotel here yesterday and remembered the chatter of players trudging into the locker room at halftime on Jan. 3.

"A lot of guys were saying, 'C'mon, let's put this half behind us,' " said Bailey, a graduate of Woodlawn High and a five-year NFL veteran. "And Marv was saying, 'We can have the greatest comeback in the history of football.' "

In what would become one of the more colorful halftimes in Bills history, Levy's was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Once in the locker room, players quickly broke into offensive and defensive units. One by one, the assistant coaches briefly addressed their respective group.

Dick Roach, who coaches the defensive backs, issued this stern warning: "If you think it's over now, you're wrong. They could score 60 points."

Then it was Corey's turn. Flushed with anger, the defensive coordinator launched a harangue of expletives that served as a wake-up call.

"I've seen him mad before," said linebacker Shane Conlan, "but he went crazy. And with good reason. We weren't playing very well."

Corey's subject matter was not exactly Rockne-like. His language was laced with four-letter adjectives.

"It caught their attention," he said.

"He was coherent," Bailey said, "but I honestly thought he might have a heart attack. Most of the time at halftime, he gets his point across and is real firm. This time he was just yelling and screaming.

"He said, 'They're good, but you can beat these guys. Pick your head up and go out and get it done. You can't stand back and wait for something to happen. We have to set the tempo.' "

Ditching the dime

Then Bailey and Conlan heard the words they wanted to hear. Corey said the Bills would scrap their dime (six defensive backs) package and go to their base 3-4 defense, replacing the extra defensive backs with linebackers.

Houston quarterback Warren Moon had strafed the Bills for 218 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. Conlan and Bailey had been on the field for only four defensive plays the entire half.

"Every time [Houston] would score a touchdown, Shane and I would say to each other, 'We need to go to the regular defense,' " Bailey said. "We said it to each other, but we didn't say it to the coaches.

"As linebackers, we were really hungry to go out there against the run-and-shoot. It was more of a challenge for us because people always say linebackers can't cover wide receivers."

Linebackers get their shot

As the first half wore on, it became evident the Bills' defensive backs couldn't cover the Oilers' wide receivers, either. So Corey had little choice but to go back to his linebackers.

"I thought we had a good scheme," Corey said. "We went in with the idea of putting our quick defensive backs at the outside linebacker positions, something that's normal.

"Because we were playing zone defenses, and because the linebackers were just as good on those drops [into pass coverage] as the defensivebacks, we gave that a shot and it worked."

When the Bills came out for the second half, they had a renewed sense of purpose and a strong dose of reality.

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