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42-Years in Broadcasting: Rich Funke looks back on his coverage of the Buffalo Bills

Posted at: 11/08/2012 8:13 PM
Updated at: 11/27/2012 7:45 AM
By: Rich Funke

With Rich retiring next month, News10NBC is looking back at some of the people and events he covered over his 42-years in broadcasting. Buffalo's team is Rochester's pro football team too. Rich covered the Bills for more than 30 years.

The Ralph opened the year Rich began covering the Bills. O.J. Simpson rushed for 2,000 yards in 1973 and nobody since has been as electrifying as “The Juice”. He couldn't have been nicer and his arrest was a shock to those who covered him.

Joe Ferguson was one of the few quarterbacks to start right out of college. Rich remembered the playoff game against the Chargers in 1980 when he played the whole game on a sprained ankle. Chuck Knox told Rich, Fergy's only fault was not having “touch” on the long ball.

Knox was a savior of sorts when he coached the Bills to their first win over Miami in 11 years and won the division. He did a weekly TV segment with News10NBC and actually made predictions. Can you imagine an NFL coach doing that today?

In 1983, the Bills picked Jim Kelly, who picked the USFL instead, and Bills fans wore bags on their heads through two 2-14 seasons. The USFL's demise, triggered Buffalo's rise. Kelly arrived in Buffalo in 1986.

But the Jets were ready when Jim made his debut. The Bills went 4-12 his first season. He was brash, and pointed fingers in those days. Remember the bickering bills in 1989 when Ronnie Harmon dropped that game winning touchdown in the playoffs at Cleveland? But Bill Polian and Marv Levy put the pieces together with Andre, Thurman, and Bruce. And the clincher was trusting Kelly to run the "new" high energy k-gun offense which powered the Bills to their first Super Bowl. But the most feared offense in the NFL misfired when it mattered most in the final two minutes of Super Bowl 25. 47 yards to win a title that's no chip shot for any kicker. Rich won't forget Scott Norwood's class after that heartbreaking loss or the way Bills fans embraced him when he got home.

That string of Super Bowl runs also produced the great wild card comeback against Houston, engineered by Frank Reich. It wasn't televised and people left before it was over. News10NBC produced a special to show them what they missed.

Who can forget the Flutie-Johnson era? Ralph Wilson once confided to Rich that he thought Rob Johnson had the hardware, but not the software. Flutie had the fans. In 1999, he led the Bills to the playoffs before Wade Phillips or Wilson made the shocking decision to start Johnson at Tennessee.

Still, the Bills were leading and kicking off with just 16 seconds left. Rich left the press box and headed for the field and when he reached the bottom of the stairwell, Titans' fans were going nuts. Richhad completely missed the Music City miracle.

Drew Bledsoe gave the Bills new hope, and set ten passing records his first season. Three non playoff years later when Rich asked him if he'd accept a backup role, to that new young quarterback, he motioned to JP Losman's locker, and said "Not to him."

Coaches and quarterbacks have come and gone since the glory day and they still need a franchise quarterback. Ownership hasn't changed. But Rich doesn't agree with those who consider Ralph Wilson a penny pincher. Maybe he should have spent more on head coaches, but he's spent plenty on players. His only fault? His old school loyalty to the scouts and general managers who have let him down. But his loyalty also extends to the City of Buffalo. Art Modell he was "not". Bills fans can only hope the next owner will feel similar loyalty.