Who earns the nod as greatest Bill?
Kelly was the third quarterback taken in the quarterback-rich 1983 NFL draft, but opted to sign with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL instead of the Buffalo Bills. Kelly had one MVP season in the USFL, but finally ended up with the Bills in 1986 after the USFL folded. Between 1990 and 1993, the Kelly-led Bills were the class of the AFC, making four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Unfortunately, all of them ended in losses. Running the no-huddle “K-Gun” offense, Kelly made the Pro Bowl four times and led the league in passer rating and touchdown passes once each. Kelly also holds an unusual NFL record – largest single-game yards-per-completion average, 44, set in 1995 when he completed only four of 21 passes against Carolina, but they went for 176 yards. Kelly was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 3, 2002.
The Bills drafted running back O.J. Simpson before the 1969 season, but the former Heisman Trophy winner from USC didn’t lead them to a winning season until 1973, which was DeLamielleure’s rookie season. With the former All-American from Michigan State at right guard on the famed “Electric Company” offensive line, Simpson became the first player to break the 2,000-yard rushing barrier, gaining 2,003 yards in a 14-game season (something no player has done since). DeLamielleure was named All-Pro six times and to the Pro Bowl as many times. In 1975 the NFLPA named him offensive lineman of the year, and in 1977 he received the Forrest Gregg Award as the NFL’s top offensive lineman. DeLamielleure was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1970s, and in 2003 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Thomas was one of the key cogs in the early-1990s Bills team that made four straight Super Bowls. The former Oklahoma State teammate of Barry Sanders led the AFC in rushing in 1990, ’91 and ’93, but his greatest asset was his versatility. He won the league MVP award in 1991 after becoming only the 11th player in NFL history to amass more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season. He remains the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons, and is one of only six running backs to have more than 400 receptions and 10,000 yards rushing. His 472 receptions in 13 NFL seasons are remarkable in that in college he was almost never utilized as a receiver out of the backfield. Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame in August 2007.
Simpson was the first pick in the 1969 common draft, the third combined AFL-NFL draft. The Heisman winner out of USC first topped the 1,000-yard mark in his fourth season, 1972, but the next year he became the first player to rush for more than 2,000 yards. He is still the only player to do it in a 14-game season. From 1972-76 he averaged 1,540 yards a season, and won four rushing titles. In a Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions in 1976, he rushed for a then-record 273 yards. After nine seasons with the Bills, Simpson finished his career with two years as a San Francisco 49er. His 11,236 rushing yards were second in NFL history at the time (he’s now 18th). Simpson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, but he is better known today for his controversial 1995 acquittal in the murders of his ex-wife and her friend. He is currently serving a 33-year jail sentence for several felonies, including kidnapping and armed robbery.
The Buffalo Bills that went to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s were known for offense, but they couldn’t have achieved what they did without a strong defense, too. The anchor of that defense was Smith. Selected by the Bills with the first pick of the 1985 draft, Smith quickly established a reputation as a sack specialist, recording 15 in 1986. In 1990, the first Super Bowl season for the Bills, he had 19 sacks. In the Super Bowl that followed that season, his sack of New York Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone made him only the fifth player to record a safety in a Super Bowl. For his career, which included 15 seasons with the Bills and four with the Washington Redskins, Smith had an NFL-record 200 sacks. Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.