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Monday, August 16, 2010

Buffalo Bills Uniform and Team History



Please click on the evolution of the Bills uniform poster above for a close-up version of the poster. The descriptions below give you some insight and background about the uniforms and/or eras depicted in the poster.


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Buffalo Bills 1960 uniform
1960
Even though it’s a tenuous connection, let’s start the story of the Buffalo Bills with the birth of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946. The AFL was a league established to rival the long since established NFL. In its inaugural season the AFL had 8 teams: Brooklyn Dodgers; Buffalo Bisons; Chicago Rockets; Cleveland Browns; Los Angeles Dons; Miami Seahawks; New York Yankees; San Francisco 49ers. It gets a bit confusing because one might assume that at least 3 of these teams (Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and the 49ers) went on to join the NFL in 1950 when the AAFC and the NFL agreed to a truce, but in fact the deal was that the NFL would take in the AAFC’s two best teams, the Browns and the 49ers, plus the lowly Baltimore Colts (who folded after one season in the NFL). The rest of the AAFC teams simply ceased operations.

Getting back to Buffalo in the AAFC, the 1946 team was known as the Bisons. Prior to the 1947 season, a contest was held to rename the team, which was owned by James Breuil of the Frontier Oil Company. One entry suggested the name “Bills”, in honor of the famous western frontiersman, Buffalo Bill Cody. Carrying the “frontier” theme further, the entrant further suggested that the team was being supported by Frontier Oil and was “opening a new frontier in sports in Western New York.” As you can imagine, the team was renamed the “Bills”.

As mentioned above, however, when the AAFC folded up shop after the 1949 season, so did the Bills.

Now turn the hands of time ahead to 1959, and the birth of the American Football League (AFL), which was to begin operations in 1960 as an 8-team rival league to the NFL. On October 28th, 1959, Ralph C. Wilson is awarded the AFL’s 7th franchise and thus Buffalo was back in the world of professional football and joined the following teams in the AFL: New York Titans (now Jets); Dallas Texans (now Kansas City Chiefs); Los Angeles Chargers (now San Diego Chargers); Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans); Boston Patriots (now New England Patriots); and Denver Broncos. The Oakland Raiders became the AFL’s 8th and final franchise after the Minnesota franchise (which would go on to become the Vikings) opts out of the AFL for the NFL before they play a single game.

When it came time to name Buffalo’s new AFL team, the name of Buffalo’s earlier pro football team, the AAFC’s Bills, was adopted.

Both the AFL and NFL competed head to head for players, fans and broadcast revenue. This was the way it was from 1960 to 1965 - two separate leagues, two separate champions, although few people would have honestly believed that the AFL champion could have beaten the NFL champs. Then in 1965 the two leagues agreed to merge. It was decided that beginning in 1970 there would be only one league, the NFL. In the interim, between 1966 and 1969, the AFL Champion would play the NFL Champion for the “World Championship”. It was only after the first World Championship had been played in 1966 that the name “Super Bowl” came into being.

The Bills began play in 1960 at the inner city War Memorial Stadium, and stayed there for 13 seasons. During that time the Bills saw the capacity rise from 26,000 to 45,748.
A final stadium note: In 1973, owner Ralph C. Wilson moved the Bills to “Rich Stadium” in suburban Orchard Park, NY. And turn the hands of time ahead almost 30 years, and the owner is still Ralph C. Wilson. In fact, so revered is Wilson that in 1998, civic leaders decided to honor him and renamed the Bills’ stadium "Ralph Wilson Stadium."

This blue Bills jersey has white numbers on both the front and the sleeves – note how high up the sleeve numbers are. The helmet is white with black numbers – interesting since the team’s predominant color is clearly blue.

As for on the field, the Bills finish year one 5-8-1, good for 3rd place in the 8 team AFL.


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Buffalo Bills 1964 uniform
1964
The Bills’ first .500+ season was in 1962 when they finished 7-6-1. The following season, 1963, the Bills tied the Boston Patriots with identical 7-6-1 records, and thus the two teams faced each other in a one game playoff in Buffalo to decide who would advance to the AFL Championship game. This was Buffalo’s first ever playoff game, but home field advantage didn’t help them as Boston won 26-8.

But in 1964, the Bills won the AFL East outright with a league best 12-2 record. Leading the team were QB Jack Kemp and running back Cookie Gilchrist. The AFL Championship was played in Buffalo on December 26th, 1964, and after giving up an early 7-0 lead to the San Diego Chargers, the bills never looked back as they won the AFL Championship by a score of 20 – 7.

This white road jersey has blue numbers with a red outline on the front and sleeves. There are also blue and red stripes around the shoulders, the only era in Bills history that the jersey had these vertical stripes. Note that the helmet now has a red buffalo on the side as well as stripes on the top. This is not the more famous “charging buffalo that the Bills have used for the last 25 years, instead it’s a rather peaceful looking buffalo.


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Buffalo Bills 1965 uniform
1965
The Bills are back at it again in 1965. Their 10-3-1 record is tops for wins in the league, and it earns them the right to play the 9-2-3 San Diego Chargers in San Diego at Balboa Stadium.

Once again the AFL Championship is played on December 26th, and once again the Bills set the Chargers back on their heels, this time by a 23-0 score.

They say timing is everything, and had this been 1966 instead of 1965, the Bills would have gone on to play the NFL Champion for the “World Championship” (it was only after the first World Championship had been played in 1966 that the name “Super Bowl” came into being). But the AFL and NFL hadn’t yet agreed to a merger, thus each league was satisfied with crowning their own champion and leaving it at that. (See below for more on the AFL-NFL merger.)

The Bill’s coach from 1962 to 1965 was Lou Saban, but after being named AFL Coach of the Year in 1964 and 1965, Saban left Buffalo and resurfaced in Denver a year later.

Before we leave the 1960’s, the Bills had one last good season. In 1967 the Bills finished 9-4-1, winning the AFL East and thus faced someone other than the Chargers in the AFL Championship for the 1st time in 3 seasons. The opponent was the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chiefs handed the Bills a 31-7 home loss. Had the Bills won, they would have played in the “World Championship” game (which was later renamed Super Bowl I).

The period of time between 1966 and 1969 warrants a bit of explanation. The 8 team AFL began in 1960 as a rival league to the NFL - both leagues competed head to head for players, fans and TV revenue. And thus it was for 5 years - two separate leagues, two separate champions (although few people would have honestly believed that the AFL champion could have beaten the NFL champs). Then in 1965 the two leagues agreed to merge. It was decided that beginning in 1970 there would be only one league, the NFL, and that between 1966 and 1969 the AFL Champion would play the NFL Champion for the “World Championship”. It was only after the first World Championship had been played in 1966 that the name “Super Bowl” came into being.

Thus the 1966 season saw the first meeting of the AFL and NFL champions, with the NFL Champion Green Bay Packers humbling the AFL’s KC Chiefs 33-10. (Even though the game was played in 1967, most football historians refer to this as the 1966 Super Bowl because it was the culmination of the 1966 season.) The NFL superiority was on display again in 1967, when the NFL’s Packers pounded the AFL’s Raiders 33-14.
Then came 1968 and the stunning upset - the AFL’s NY Jets shocked the football world by beating the NFL’s heavily favored Baltimore Colts 16-7.

This 1965 blue home jersey has white numbers with a red outline, both on the front and sleeve numbers. There are also white and red horizontal stripes around the sleeves. The helmet has a red buffalo on the side as well as stripes on the top.


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Buffalo Bills 1973 uniform
1973
This white road jersey has blue numbers with a red outline on the front and sleeves, which are short sleeves. There are also double rows of red and blue horizontal stripes around the shoulders. In an interesting switch, the pants have changed from white to blue, with red and white stripes down the sides. The helmet has a red buffalo on the side as well as stripes on the top.

As noted earlier, Buffalo lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1966 AFL Championship game. In so doing, the Bills just missed playing in Super Bowl I. Then, during the next five seasons, they sank to the bottom, winning only 13 games while losing 55 and tying two. The two most frightening seasons were 1968, when they went 1-12-1 (partly attributable to the fact that they were without star QB Jack Kemp all season), and 1971, when they could only manage a single win against 13 losses.

Interestingly, the Bills drafted OJ Simpson out of USC in 1969, but Simpson was held back and gained only 697 yards in 1969, 488 in 1970, and 742 in 1971. Then in 1972, Coach Lou Saban returned to coach the Bills and made the decision to let O.J. Simpson carry the team. Smart move. Once again, the Bills were competitive, going 4-9-1 in 1972 and then 9-5 in 1973. And the responsibility certainly didn't bother the Juice: he ran for 1251 yards in 1972, then in 1973 he rushed for a stunning league-record 2,003 yards!


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Buffalo Bills 1975 uniform
1975
This is a blue home jersey with white numbers on the front and sleeves. There are also white and red stripes around the sleeves. The helmet is still white but has a new “charging buffalo” logo on the side as well as stripes on the top. We have chosen to show a foam neck collar because many Bills players wore foam collars in this era.

The Bills made the playoffs in 1974, but fell to the powerful, Super Bowl bound Steelers 32-14. In 1975, the year depicted by this jersey, the Bills finished 8-6 but out of the playoffs, and they would remain on the outside looking in until making the playoffs again in 1980. Simpson, however, had another monster year in 1975, gaining 1817 yards on the ground. This would be his second to last big season, and third to last season as a Bill. (Can you name where Simpson played after the Bills, and for how long?)


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Buffalo Bills 1984 uniform
1984
This is a blue jersey with white numbers on the front and sleeves. There are also white and red stripes around the sleeves, only now the stripes extend to the end of the sleeve cuff. There is also a small red and white collar on this jersey. Of note is the helmet, which is red and features the blue buffalo logo on the side.

The patch on the left shoulder celebrates the silver anniversary of the founding of the AFL (American Football League). Each of the original AFL teams (Buffalo, Oakland, San Diego, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, Patriots, Jets) wore this patch in 1984. But the particularly interesting thing about this patch is that each team wore a different version, one that incorporated the team logo into the patch.

In 1984 the Bills are in the midst of a horrible slump. They go 4-5 in the strike shortened 1982 season and 8-8 in ’73, but then the bottom drops out and the Bills finish out of the playoffs until 1988.

But 1986 and the coaching era of Marv Levy is about to begin, and thus the future is looking quite bright.


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Buffalo Bills 1988 uniform
1988
This is a white road jersey with blue numbers and red trim on the front and sleeves. In a departure from previous road jerseys, there are single blue stripes at the cuffs of the sleeves. The helmet is red with the charging blue buffalo logo.

The team’s steady improvement under 3rd year head coach Marv Levy is evident, and in 1988 the Bills finish a highly respectable 12-4. But perhaps the Bills rise also had a little something to do with the 1986 arrival of QB Jim Kelly and the 1985 addition of Bruce Smith. Or the 1988 arrival of Thurmon Thomas .

Regardless of what the reason, the Bills make the playoffs for the 1st time since 1981, and more importantly, notch their first playoff victory since 1965. The win came on New Years Day in Buffalo. The opponent was the Houston Oilers, and the final score was 17-10.

Next up were the surprising Kansas City Chiefs who tied with the Bills and the Chicago Bears for the league’s best record at 12-4. But in the AFC Championship Game, played in Cincinnati at Riverfront Stadium, the Bengals down the Bills 21-10.

But don’t despair, something special is brewing…


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Buffalo Bills 1990 uniform
1990
Oh Baby what a season!

The Bills go 13-3 for their 2nd best winning percentage ever (they went 12-2 in 1964 in their first AFL Championship season). The names trip off the tongue: Don Beebe, Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlon, Jim Kelly, James Lofton, Pete Metzelars, Scott Norwood (be kind!), Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley, Steve Tasker, Thurmon Thomas, Coach Marv Levy and many more.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Bills and Dolphins have a score-fest, with the Bills outscoring the Dolphins 44-34. Then in the AFC Championship game, the Bills lay a licking on the LA Raiders like nothing they’ve ever seen before – final score Bills 51, Raiders 3. The Rich Stadium fans were in a state of shock, the Bills were off to Super Bowl XXV in Tampa Bay a week later.

In life we can play the game of “what-if” until we’re blue in the face, and it isn’t going to change anything. So let’s just say the Bills came within a goalpost of winning it all, but instead fell to Ottis Anderson and the rest of the New York Giants 20-19. But what a year, and to a man the Bills knew they would be back.

This is a white jersey with blue numbers and red trim on the front and sleeves. There is also a single blue stripe on the cuff of the sleeve. As we have seen previously, the helmet is red with the blue buffalo logo on the side. The patch on the left shoulder celebrates the team’s trip to Super Bowl XXV in Tampa Bay. This is a trend that began, I believe, with Super Bowl XXV. In almost every Super Bowl since then, the final two teams add a commemorative patch to their jersey to honor their Super Bowl appearances.


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Buffalo Bills 1991 uniform
1991
Round Two.

The bills finish the 1991 season with another 13-3 record.

In Round One, the Bills face off against the Kansas City Chiefs, who handed the Bills their worst loss of the regular season. As if out to prove that was a one-time wonder, the Bills take the field and swamp the Chiefs 37-14 – it was 24-0 before the Chiefs could get anything on the board.

Next up the AFC Championship Game, to be played in the friendly confines of Rich Stadium in front of the usual 80,000 fans. This turns out to be a titanic defensive struggle, but our Bills come out on top by a slim 10-7 score.

After a two-week break, it was on to the Metrodome in Minneapolis for Super Bowl XXVI against the Redskins, who powered their way into the Super Bowl with a 41-10 drubbing of the Lions. Washington stakes a 17-0 half time lead, and just when fans think it’s all over, the Bills claw their way back into the game with 10 straight points to start the second half. But that’s as close as the Bills get, and they go on to a 37-24 defeat at the hands of MVP Mark Rypien.

The jersey we have shown here is a blue home jersey. This is a somewhat familiar looking uniform – it’s a blue home jersey with white numbers on the front and sleeves. There are also white and red stripes around the sleeves. The helmet is red with the blue buffalo logo on the side. If you look closely at this jersey, you will note a smaller patch the NFL shield on the jersey’s neckline. Most NFL uniforms added this NFL logo patch to the neck and upper left thigh of the pants beginning in 1991 - an exception being in 1994 when teams occasionally wore "throwback" uniforms celebrating the NFL's 75th anniversary – in those cases most teams didn’t wear an NFL shield/patch.


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Buffalo Bills 1993 uniform
1993
We’ve skipped the 1992 uniform, yet we can’t skip the season. It’s déjà vu all over again as the Bills go 11-5, then win 3 playoffs games, including a Wild Card game vs. Houston in Buffalo that will go down as the “I was there game” of all time in Bills history.

Part way into the 3rd quarter, the Oilers have a 35-3 lead, and it’s all over but the crying.

Can you say Frank Reich?

Final score, Bills 41 – Oilers 38. An overtime thriller to tell the grandkids about.

The Bills make it to Super Bowl XXVII, but come up lame against a hungry Cowboys team. Final score? Let’s just say the Bills lost.

Now it’s on to the 1993 season, the actual year of this jersey. We’ve shown a #4 on the jersey to honor the fact that the Bills have made it to the Super Bowl for the 4th time in a row. This is a white jersey with blue numbers and red trim on the front and sleeves. There are also blue stripes around the shoulders. The helmet is red with the blue buffalo logo on the side. It’s identical to the 1990 jersey except for the addition of the NFL logo shield/patch - if you look closely at this jersey, you will note a small NFL shield patch on the jersey’s neckline. Most NFL uniforms added the NFL logo patch to the neck and upper left thigh of the pants beginning in 1991 - an exception being in 1994 when teams occasionally wore "throwback" uniforms celebrating the NFL's 75th anniversary.

There is a small sense of “now or never” as the Bills dedicate their season to a single goal – to win the Super Bowl. By finishing 12-4, the Bills accomplish step one.

By beating the Raiders 29-23 in a come from behind win at Rich Stadium, step two is in the books.

Next up, the Dolphins. And in true workmanlike fashion, the Bills dismiss Joe Montana and the Chiefs 30-13 in the AFC Championship played at Rich Stadium. Step 3 completed.

Fate beckons.

At halftime, the Bills hold a 13-6 lead over Dallas, and victory is so close fans can actually taste it.

And then the roof caves in, the Cowboys score 24 unanswered points and the Bills lose their 4th Super Bowl 30-13 played in Atlanta at Georgia Dome

But rather than dwell on the negative, let’s look at it another way. Starting in 1988, Marv Levy lead the Bills to five AFC Eastern titles in six years and became the only team ever to play in four straight Super Bowls.

And through it all, Bills fans have been magnificent. Playing at suburban Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, NY, the Bills set an NFL single-season attendance record of 635,889 in 1991. And through it all, owner Ralph C. Wilson has remained as one of the oldest owners, in terms of longevity, in the entire pro football world. In 1998, civic leaders decided to honor the owner and renamed the home of the Bills, "Ralph Wilson Stadium."


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Buffalo Bills 1994 uniform
1994
During the ‘94 season, the NFL and its franchises were showcasing ‘throwback’ jerseys, or replicas of older uniforms to help commemorate the NFL’s 75th anniversary. The 75th anniversary was signified by the large, diamond patch on the left shoulder.

The Bills were supposed to honor their 1964 uniform, but somehow got mixed up along the way and didn’t include the white helmet with the red buffalo logo. Oh well, we’re all far from perfect, and it makes for a good discussion. But because of the mix up we have chosen not to show the throwback jersey, but instead we’ve shown the white road uniform the team wore in 1994.

One other note about the uniform: If you look closely at almost all NFL uniforms worn from 1991 on, you’ll note a small NFL shield patch on the jersey’s neckline. Most NFL uniforms added the NFL logo patch to the neck, and to the upper left thigh of the pants, beginning in 1991. The only major exception to this practice was in 1994 when the teams wore their throwback uniforms – in almost all of these cases, the throwback jersey did not have the small NFL patch. But since this isn’t a throwback jersey, it should, and does, have the NFL shield patch.

This is a white jersey with blue numbers and red trim on the front and sleeves. There are also blue stripes around the shoulders. The helmet is red with the blue buffalo logo on the side. There are two patches on this jersey. The diamond patch on the left shoulder celebrates the NFL’s 75th Anniversary. The patch on the right shoulder celebrates the Bills 35th anniversary – the team was founded in 1960.

In 1994, by the way, the Bills’ streak of making the playoffs for 6 straight years (1988 – 1993) came to an end as the team finished 7-9, far out of the playoff picture.


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Buffalo Bills 2000 uniform
2000
This is a blue jersey with white numbers on the front and sleeves. There are also white and red stripes around the sleeves. The helmet is red with the blue buffalo logo on the side. The blue of this jersey jumps out at the viewer a bit more than most of the other blues, and I think this is partly related to the type of fabric now used by most teams in the manufacture of the jersey.

If you look closely at this jersey, you will note a smaller patch, the NFL shield, on the jersey’s neckline. Most NFL uniforms added the NFL logo patch to the neck and upper left thigh of the pants beginning in 1991 - an exception being in 1994 when teams occasionally wore "throwback" uniforms celebrating the NFL's 75th anniversary.

Wracked by a divisive quarterback controversy – Doug Flutie or Rob Johnson - the 2000 Bills struggled to an 8-8 mark after going 11-5 in 1999 and coming within a trick play (by the Tennessee Titans) of making it to Round Two of the playoffs.

If the pattern of previous Bills teams is an indication of what’s to come, fans should brace themselves for a couple of lean years, but then the Bills always seem to rise from the ashes.


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Buffalo Bills 2002 uniform
2002
With the free-agent acquisition of QB Drew Bledsoe prior to the start of the 2002 season, the Bills once again had a passing game that could win games and possibly get them back into the playoffs. In 2002 their high-powered offence would go on to set numerous team and individual records. Bledsoe set 10 franchise marks including single-season records for passing yards, attempts (610) and completions (375); while WR Eric Moulds became the first Bill to catch 100 passes in a season.

Despite their new-and-improved offence, the Bills defense struggled early in the 2002 season as it allowed at least 24 points in each of their first 6 games on their way to a 3-3 start. Then the Bills “D” showed signs of improvement, led by LB London Fletcher who set a franchise record with 209 tackles in a season. But after improving to 5-3 it was the Bills offence’s turn to go into a slump. The Bills lost all 3 games in November to fall out of the playoff race. Buffalo would go on to finish in last place in the tough AFC East Division with an 8-8 record, although they were just one game behind all three other teams in their division. The Jets won the AFC East by virtue of tiebreakers over the Dolphins and Patriots, all of whom had 9-7 records.

Leading into to the 2002 season, the Bills completely redesigned their uniform and while it took fans some getting used to, it was fairly well received. This 2002 Bills home uniform features a dark blue jersey with large white numerals outlined with blue and white trim, on the front and back. Smaller “TV” numbers appear in the sleeves above the cuffs. Red trim is present on the collar and the underside of the sleeves running down the side of the jersey.

The pants are white with a lace-up fly and have a thick red stripe outlined with blue running down the side the leg. Just below the waist on the left side is a small “NFL Equipment” patch. Regarding the “NFL Equipment “ patch, if you look closely at every NFL uniform worn from 2002 onward, you will notice an “NFL Equipment” patch on the jersey’s neckline and on the upper left thigh of the pants. This “NFL Equipment” patch is larger (it’s a bit bigger than the size of a golf ball) than the previous “NFL shield” patch (about the size of an average postage stamp) that had been worn on uniforms in the same two places almost without exception since the 1991 season.

The helmet remains red in color, but the stylized charging buffalo logo has been updated.


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Buffalo Bills 2005 uniform
2005
This text still has to be written.
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Celebrate the Bills' uniform history by owning a piece of history:
If you love the Buffalo Bills and the history of the Bills franchise, you might really love to own an original piece of artwork celebrating the team's historic uniforms as seen in the poster at the top of this blog - you can actually own one of those original pieces of art! There are only 14 pieces of original art available for sale, and when these 14 are sold, that's it, they're all sold out.

These original watercolor paintings would make a great gift (birthday gift, anniversary gift, retirement gift, Christmas gift, etc.) for someone you love or even a great gift for yourself (one of these framed pieces would look fantastic in your home or office). Each piece can be bought one of three ways:
1. As unframed art that you could have framed or mounted yourself (the one on the left)
2. Framed in our "Classic" framed version (the middle version)
3. Framed in our "Deluxe" framed version (the version on the right)



If you would like more information about this great artwork including the three ways you could purchase each piece, please visit our Buffalo Bills YouTube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukIivOc5Qnk or go directly to the artwork website www.heritagesportsart.com/Buffalo-Bills-c107/ where you can see and purchase the artwork.

And if someone you know loves the history of sports uniforms (but maybe another team) and loves great art, please let them know that we have over 1500 pieces of great original artwork for sale at www.heritagesportsart.com (all NFL teams, all MLB teams, all NHL teams, all CFL teams, select NCAA football teams) or check out each team's video at the Heritage Sports Art YouTube Channel www.youtube.com/user/ssillcox

And please search my blog archive http://heritagejerseys.blogspot.com/ for other blogs on the history of the Bills.

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This blog was written by Scott Sillcox and was last updated August 16, 2010. I have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information, but I am human and can make mistakes. If you believe I have made a mistake, please let me know by email at ssillcox@rogers.com !

Many thanks!!!
Scott

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