BUFFALO, NY - The Queen City has had its ups and downs over the years, but perhaps at no time did it ever experience the natural high which came 20 years ago, on January 3, 1993.

That's when the Buffalo Bills staged the largest comeback in NFL history, in a wildcard playoff game at Rich Stadium, where the Bills overcame a 32 point 2nd half deficit to vanquish the Houston Oilers.

On what was a cold and gray day, there were still seats available in the stadium, which failed to sell out in time to lift the NFL blackout.

Without the game televised in Western New York, many fans flocked to bars in Canada to watch on satellite (back before the NFL took steps to make that practice illegal). Some bars in Buffalo invited patrons in, then when they reached capacity, simply affixed signs on their door to say "closed, private party" in order to skirt the rules.

Many others listened to the game on the radio.

By the time the Bills had fallen behind 35-3 in the third quarter, fans who did attend were leaving the stadium in droves.
They had reason to be less than optimistic about an improbable comeback at that point.

The Bills were without Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly, and All Pro Linebacker Cornelius Bennett, both of whom were injured and never played in the game. As well, Hall of Fame Running Back Thurman Thomas had to leave the game just after the first half with an injured hip.

However the Bills, behind backup QB Frank Reich (who had once lead the largest comeback in college football history) came roaring back by scoring four touchdowns in just under seven minutes to take the lead....and eventually went on to win in overtime.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't think there was any way they were coming back," said veteran 2 on Your Side Photojournalist Bob Mancuso, who was stationed in the tunnel end zone of the stadium.

Game highlights (which we are not allowed to show here due to NFL rules--- but which can be found in abundance on YouTube) show that when Andre Reed hauled in his third consecutive touchdown strike, which gave the Bills the lead, he stopped and glared down into the waiting lens of Mancuso.

"All I was thinking at that point was to make sure I was recording," Mancuso joked, recalling " I was sensing that this was something very special, and I still feel privileged to have been there for that moment."

That "moment" was galvanizing for the team and for all of Western New York, as Bills fever continued to rage and the Bills went on to reach their third of four consecutive Super Bowls.

Much of the adulation was centered on Reich, Kelly's humble, God-fearing backup, who following the game - and before taking questions from reporters-- insisted on reading out loud, the words to a favorite Christian song, "Christ Alone".

"In every victory, let it be said of me, that my source of hope, and my source of strength, is Christ alone," Reich recited, before a quiet press corp.

Reich even had a hot dog named after him at a local restaurant.

"The Reich Frank" featured toppings including Frank's (brand) Hot Sauce, and a dab of Miracle Whip, emblematic of his engineering what remains-to this day-the greatest comeback in NFL history.

20 years later, the Bills aren't a team that gets much respect. In its article about the anniversary of the comeback,the New York Timesquestionswhether was it really the greatest rally (on the part of the Bills) or the greatest fade (on the part of the Oilers.

It quotes several former Oilers who believe it was closer to the latter, contesting the comeback was due in part to some fluky plays and a non-call by the officials, referring to a Don Beebe touchdown in which the receiver had stepped out of bounds and which-in these days replay review, would have not have stood.

After two decades, you can call it what they called it then, and still do in these parts -"the Comeback", or refer to it as they still do in Houston as "the Choke".

But Bills fans can always sum it up in one word.


Follow Dave McKinley on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2