MIAMI GARDENS — Having endured more bad news than Buffalo would care to handle, Bills fans were hungry for any morsel of good news, and they were about to get it.
The visiting team: the Dolphins. What more could Bills fans ask for?
Actually, there was something. A Bills player, whose major health scare had everyone on edge, suddenly appeared on the field. In his hand, a microphone. He didn’t speak long — didn’t need to — but punctuated his pep talk with a cry of “Squish the Fish!”
It sounds like a scene forecasting what is about to unfold before Sunday’s Dolphins-Bills wild-card game at Highmark Stadium. Maybe it is.
But this case is from 2014, when quarterback Jim Kelly, having just announced he was cancer-free, had the stadium in a frenzy before the Bills recorded a 29-10 squishing of the Dolphins. There are those there that day who swear the outcome was a foregone conclusion the moment Kelly may as well have dropped the mic.
Eight years later, the names have changed but the parallels haven’t. In place of Kelly is safety Damar Hamlin, two weeks removed from going into cardiac arrest during a game in Cincinnati. It was an unprecedented and frightening scene playing out on national television, then followed by days of tension while prayers and donations poured in.
Now, Hamlin is back home in Buffalo, having been released from the ICU. He lifted teammates’ spirits by addressing them via Zoom. Maybe he’s healthy enough to attend the game. Maybe not. If he is there?
“If he comes to the game, that’s going to be a different game,” Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard said.
December trip was one both teams won't forget
Different is a good way to describe the Dolphins’ last trip to Buffalo, a Saturday night slugfest that produced a 32-29 Bills win on the final play of the game.
Perhaps years from now, Bills fans will talk about that atmosphere the way Dolphins fans do that 1985 Monday night win over the unbeaten Bears. Stories from a game fit for a snow globe last month are still being told, including receiver Tyreek Hill’s gem about Wes Welker getting nailed with a snowball.
“It was crazy last time,” Hill said. “Our receiver coach got smacked in the head. It was funny, though. That was real funny. I was kind of mad at Wes and like, I don't know if like somebody felt my energy and they just hit him right in the jaw with a snowball. And I'm like, ‘That's what you get. That's what you get.’ ”
As tough as it was to win in that environment, the Dolphins know an even greater challenge may await because of the inspiration Buffalo (the team and the city) now draws from Hamlin.
“You can’t make something like this up,” linebacker Jerome Baker said. “It’s going to be a special one Sunday. It’s going to be electric. It’s going to be everything you wished for.”
Bills fans were relieved their team was saved in 2014
Topping the 2014 scene won’t be easy. This was Buffalo’s home opener and first game since the death of team owner Ralph Wilson the previous spring. Five days before kickoff, Kim and Terry Pegula, a Boca Raton couple, began finalizing their purchase of the club. Until then, Buffalo fans were living on a prayer in more ways than one. Fears were that rocker Jon Bon Jovi would buy the Bills and move them to Toronto. Los Angeles, also without a team, beckoned.
For anyone who has attended a game in Buffalo, it’s unthinkable to picture that city without the Bills. These are fans who think nothing of tailgating for hours in zero degrees. When jumping through tables wasn’t enough to show their devotion, they lit the tables on fire first. They call themselves the Bills Mafia. Before games, they hold a Ketchup Ceremony in the parking lot, dousing Ken Johnson with mustard and ketchup. Not because they mistake him for a hot dog. Just because.
“They’re going to get there early, they’re going to stay there late, they’re going to have a good time and they love their Bills,” said Danny Crossman, the Dolphins’ special teams coordinator who served on the Bills’ staff. “So it’s going to be a raucous crowd. But it was a ruckus on Saturday night when we were there a month ago.”
The Buffalo News billed the 2014 meeting as possibly “the biggest and most-anticipated home opener in team history.”
Before kickoff, Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas presented Wilson’s widow with a Wall of Fame ring. Thomas finished his career with the Dolphins but made no pretense about his allegiance.
By the time Kelly put in his order of squished fish, “There surely was no louder area in New York,” Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle reported.
C.J. Spiller returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, ex-Dolphin Dan Carpenter kicked five field goals and rookie receiver Sammy Watkins romped through Miami’s secondary with impunity for 117 yards.
Since then, the Dolphins have made six visits to Highmark Stadium. They’ve walked out losers six times. Whatever amount of electricity there is this time can’t come as a surprise to the Dolphins.
“It was electric the last time we were there,” said Skylar Thompson, the rookie quarterback who will start for the Dolphins. “And I expect nothing less now.”
Sunday's gameDolphins at Bills1 p.m., CBS
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Dolphins expect joint to be rockin' when they visit Bills on Sunday