The Bills are probably the best team in football, and proved it with another ass-kicking of a playoff hopeful Monday night. Buffalo blasted the Titans, last year’s top seed in the AFC, 41-7. Which opponent is going to slow down the Bills is the biggest question in the NFL right now. Incredibly, the blowout was the first win in Buffalo on Monday Night Football in almost 30 years.
The Bills give us an incredible atmosphere, the antics of Bills Mafia, and in late-season situations, crazy weather conditions. These are usually the holy trinity of cat nip for TV execs. Yet the Bills haven’t won a game on Monday night in Orchard Park in 28 years? What gives.
First, let’s look at the harsh reality. Between the Bills greatness of the early ’90s and the recent vintage of Josh Allen/Sean McDermott, there was a lot of bad football. And even though MNF now routinely puts on middling matchups, until about 15 years ago, Monday nights were reserved for the best.
Some of it is just dumb luck. The Bills of modern days beat the Niners and the Patriots on the road in ’20 on Monday night. They also had gale force winds last year in Buffalo against the Pats and lost a game Bill Belichick refused to throw a pass in. Buffalo demolished New England in the rematch in the playoffs in Western New York. So the Bills have played in, and been good enough to win Monday night games in the last three seasons.
But then that brings us to the barren decades, ’94-’20. What happened in this quarter century? First, the decade of the ’00s was despair for the Bills and left them out in the cold. They were so bad, cycling through coaches and quarterbacks after Marv Levy and Jim Kelly, that they were shut out altogether from Monday night between ’00-’07. So let’s look at the before that and after that.
During the 4 Super Bowl seasons the Bills were on MNF a lot (chart below). These games were the only true measure of national primetime popularity because the Sunday night package was on cable (ESPN/TNT) and took lower tier games. This was also pre-Thursday nights. Between ’90-’93, Buffalo played on MNF 10 times, which is plenty. But only three of those were at home. The squeezing out of Orchard Park had begun.
On September 26, 1994 the Bills beat the Broncos in Buffalo 27-20, where Thurman Thomas had 100 yards and 2 TDs. But starting later that season, a decision was clearly made. On November 14, 1994 the Bills traveled to Pittsburgh, starting a run of nine consecutive road MNF games until ’00. That’s when the post-dynasty dark days set in, and they would not appear again on Monday at all until ’07.
So the Bills didn’t host a Monday night game for 13 years, but were still good enough to be in 9 of them during that time. Putting them on the road every year was a message. Some theorize it was the outdated stadium, a facility opened in 1973 that didn’t see significant upgrades until 2012. Through those decades the renovations were limited to additional luxury suites and a bigger scoreboard. Perhaps the owners holding the Bills home games at ransom to deliver the bells and whistles that make the league more money. Perhaps ABC didn’t want to televise games in cramped facilities and an outmoded stadium as new stadiums popped up around the league in the late-90s and ’00s.
But was it something else? Some have pointed to the theatrics of Bills Mafia and figured the league (and the Bills) didn’t want to encourage that behavior. A Monday night game gives fans – especially in the Eastern Time Zone – all day to get liquored up. The Patriots were kept off of Monday nights in Foxboro for a number of years in the ’80s and ’90s for concerns about all-day partying and late-night rowdiness for neighbors. Both stadiums are located in residential areas instead of alongside massive highways like the Meadowlands, Philly and others.
When the Bills returned to Monday night in ’07, it was indeed at home. But they lost back-to-back years in Buffalo in ’07 and ’08 to Dallas and Cleveland. (These were by a total of 3 points, so the drought could’ve easily been stopped 15 years ago.)
It might have been a chess piece against Bills ownership. It may have been a reaction to folding-table wrestling and Labatt chugging (although a lot of Bills Mafia viral antics spiked with social media in the last decade). It was at least partially because of a dreadful team in the ’00s. It was a little bit of bad luck too. But there was a decision made for nearly a decade and a half to not put one of the best teams in football at home on a Monday night, and Bills fans finally saw their home victory last night.
Sept. 24, 1990: at Jets, W 30-7
Nov. 26, 1990: at Oilers, L 27-24
Oct. 7, 1991: at Chiefs, L 33-6
Oct. 21, 1991: vs. Bengals, W 35-16
Nov. 18, 1991: at Dolphins, W 41-27
Oct. 26, 1992: at Jets, W 24-20
Nov. 16, 1992: at Dolphins, W 26-20
Oct. 11, 1993: vs. Oilers, W 35-7
Nov. 1, 1993: vs. Redskins, W 24-10
Nov. 15, 1993: at Steelers, L 23-0
Sept. 26, 1994: vs. Broncos, W 27-20
Nov. 14, 1994: at Steelers, L 23-10
Oct. 2, 1995: at Browns, W 22-19
Oct. 23, 1995: at Patriots, L 27-14
Sept. 16, 1996: at Steelers, L 24-6
Dec. 16, 1996: at Dolphins, L 16-14
Oct. 20, 1997: at Colts, W 9-6
Nov. 17, 1997: at Dolphins, L 30-13
Oct. 4, 1999: at Dolphins, W 23-18
Dec. 11, 2000: at Colts, L 44-20
Oct. 8, 2007: vs. Cowboys, L 25-24
Nov. 17, 2008: vs. Browns, L 29-27
Sept. 14, 2009: at Patriots, L 25-24
Nov. 23, 2015: at Patriots, L 20-13
Nov. 7, 2016: at Seahawks, L 31-25
Oct. 29, 2018: vs. Patriots, L 25-6
Dec. 7, 2020: at 49ers, W 34-24
Dec. 28, 2020: at Patriots, W 38-9
Oct. 18, 2021: at Titans, L 34-31
Dec. 6, 2021: vs. Patriots, L 14-10
Sept. 19, 2022: vs. Titans W 41-7