On a late August afternoon in 1968, Bills coach Joe Collier, aggravated by the way his team had played in a preseason loss a few days earlier, decided he was going to teach his guys a lesson.
He conducted a live scrimmage in the first practice after that game, and during that session, starting quarterback Jack Kemp suffered a season-ending knee injury.
So began one of the worst seasons in franchise history, a 1-12-1 nightmare, with only two of the games coached by Collier, who was fired following a 42-point Week 2 loss in Oakland.
Without Kemp, the Bills were stuck with Dan Darragh, Kay Stephenson, Tom Flores, and emergency man Ed Rutkowski as their quarterbacks, a foursome that combined for seven TD passes and 28 interceptions. Thus, you can understand 1-12-1.
Not since that year has Buffalo's quarterback situation been any worse than it is this week as the Bills get ready to face a Cincinnati defense that just hammered Tom Brady and held the Patriots without a touchdown.
Coach Doug Marrone announced Monday that Thad Lewis has been activated off the practice squad to start the game while rookie Jeff Tuel will serve as the backup. Lewis will be replacing rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel, who is expected to be the future of the franchise, but was playing the way most rookie quarterbacks play before going down with a knee injury Thursday in Cleveland.
So, to capsulize: The No. 1 quarterback (Manuel) is a raw and erratic rookie who is currently hurt; the veteran backup (Kevin Kolb) they had banked on is out for the season with a concussion; the No. 3 guy is an undrafted rookie (Tuel) who is clearly not capable of starting or playing in the NFL yet; and the No. 4 man (Lewis) is up from the practice squad and is about to make just his second career NFL start.
Yeah, it's 1968 all over again. The good news, though, is this Bills team is far better than that one (hey, it already has two wins), and Marrone seems to think Lewis can do more than just hand off to C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
"You're down to 3-4, and when you look around the league it's difficult when you're down to your third and fourth quarterback," Marrone admitted. "But he's been in a game, he's been around. He can run, he can extend plays, can run the read option, and he can throw the ball extremely well. Having him with us from (the last preseason game) until now, he's made some great gains because he knows the system."
When Manuel went down against the Browns, Marrone wasn't ready to make this move and said the team would look outside the organization for a starter. Once he saw the scrap heap of unemployed quarterbacks, he changed his tune.
The Bills brought in free agents Pat White and Dennis Dixon for workouts and neither impressed. Team president Russ Brandon confirmed that Josh Freeman was hotly pursued, but Freeman opted to go to Minnesota because he believes he'll have a better chance to be a long-term starter.
So the Bills stayed in house, and the choice was Lewis.
"We thought after working them out, it was best for us to move on and play with Thaddeus," said Marrone.
OK, so why was Lewis on the practice squad and Tuel active the first five weeks?
"Jeff, in my opinion, is going to be a very good player; he can do a lot of good things and he's a great young talent," Marrone said. "The reason why we had to have him in the position he was in (on the 53-man roster) was because he played extremely well in the preseason and we didn't want to expose him and lose him (on the practice squad). In a perfect world, it would have been EJ, a veteran, and Tuel was the perfect practice squad candidate until he started playing well and we needed to protect him."
Interestingly, this move would indicate that Marrone thinks Lewis is better right now than Tuel, yet no one was clamoring to claim Lewis off the practice squad, so why were the Bills so worried about losing Tuel?
After the Kolb concussion, and with Manuel out with an earlier knee injury, the Bills scrambled to sign Matt Leinart off waivers, and traded backup linebacker Chris White to Detroit to get Lewis.
Leinart was cut within days, and Lewis survived only because he had practice squad eligibility. Now that he's been here six weeks, the Duke graduate has learned the offense, has done well running the scout team in practice, and the Bills are giving him his shot.
"I have a great sense of the game plan," Lewis said. "Every week you don't sit there on practice squad and not prepare as the starter. That's your job and you have to know the things you need to do."
Lewis was undrafted out of Duke in 2010 after setting school records for passing yards 10,065) and touchdown passes (67). He has been with the Rams, Browns and Lions, and his lone NFL action came in the final game of 2012 for Cleveland. He started against Pittsburgh in a 24-10 loss and completed 22 of 32 passes for 204 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception.
"Last year's game was a great experience and a childhood dream to start an NFL game, but since I've started an NFL game, you know what to do, you know what to expect and how to prepare this week, so it's just business as usual," said Lewis.
Lewis knows there are fans who are scratching their heads over this move by the Bills, but the 25-year-old thinks he's ready for this moment.
"I'm confident, no anxiety, it's football, something I've been doing since I was 5 years old," he said. "A lot of people don't understand - it's not my ability why I was on practice squad, it's (roster) situations. As long as you're confident in your ability you can go out there and do the things you need to do."