The Buffalo Bills' home finale today, against the Denver Broncos, was blacked out locally. It was an act of mercy.
So was Jim Turner's 32-yard field goal as time elapsed, giving the Broncos a 19-16 victory. It eliminated the need for overtime viewing by 37,886 fans who already had sat for 3 hours 29 minutes in freezing temperatures while feet froze on uncleared snow.
The home team turned over the ball seven times and despite quarterback Joe Ferguson's 326 yards passing -- he became the first Bill to top 3,000 yards in a season -- Buffalo's only touchdown came on Steve Freeman's 50-yard return of an intercepted pass.
Still, the Broncos were awful themselves, botching an extra-point attempt, losing three funbles and missing on two short field-goal tries. So both teams' hopes of playoff glory still breathed after Buffalo's Nick Mike-Mayer kicked a tying 34-yard field goal with 1:58 remaining.
Denver gained five yards before punting. Buffalo picked up seven yards in three plays. Then, with 25 seconds left, the Broncos took a time-out to force a Buffalo punt.
Rusty Jackson kicked the ball out of bounds at the Denver 44 with 18 seconds on the clock. With Craig Morton's passing statistics reading seven for 21 and 99 yards, there seemed to be no cause for Buffalo alarm.
Morton, however, fired 22 yards to rookie Steve Watson and 18 yards to Haven Moses. On the second completion, with Denver devoid of timeouts, Moses was able to step out at the Buffalo 16 and conserve the last three seconds.
Turner had missed from 22 yards in the opening moments, had failed from 28 yards earlier in the fourth period as Norris Weese mishandled the snap and had been deprived of an extra point when Weese could not hold Ken Brown's high snap. This time Turner was perfect and the Broncos raced happily toward the warmth of the dressing room.
The 7-7 Bills, their playoff dreams gone, milled in disgust, with tackle Mike Kadish prone on the frigid AstroTurf. Then snowballs from the disgusted fans induced them, too, to leave hurriedly.
Buffalo boo-birds were particularly unkind to fullback Curtis Brown, who managed to lose four fumbles. There were 11 fumbles in the contest, with Denver recovering all six by Buffalo, plus two of its own five.
Morton did not put a pass in anyone's hands until his seventh attempt was corralled by Freeman and turned into a 7-3 Buffalo lead. On his 10th attempt, Morton finally connected with a Bronco, but Denver seemed hopelessly out of it as Buffalo, leading by 10-3, drove to a first down at the Broncos' nine-yard line early in the third quarter.
Brown started to his right and lost the ball as he was blasted by safety Charlie West and linebacker Bob Swenson. Linebacker Randy Gradishar scooped up the ball at the Denver 14 and started down the left sideline. He lateraled to cornerback Louis Wright at the 22 and Wright covered the last 78 yards. The high snap on the extra point try kept Buffalo ahead, though.
On their next possession, the Broncos went 78 yards in five plays for the only touchdown by either team's offense.