Joe Ferguson

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Buffalo Bills Quarterback

The April 30, 1985 trade which sent Joe Ferguson to the Detroit Lions marked the end of an era in Bills football. Joe left as the Bills’ career leader in seasons played (12), games (168), pass attempts (4,166), completions (2,188), yards (27,590) and touchdowns (181). A cool, capable passer, Joe’s field leadership was always an integral part of the frequent success which the team enjoyed during his long career.

Fergy led teams which featured sharply contrasting styles of play and adaptability was a necessary asset early in his career. Ferguson’s rookie season was the year that O.J. Simpson rushed for an individual record of 2,003 yards, the Bills gained an NFL team-record 3,088 yards, and Joe averaged fewer than 12 attempts and five completions per game for the ball-control Bills. By 1975, the passing game had become an integral part of one of the most fearsome attacks ever unleashed on the gridiron, including the no-huddle Bills of 1990-1993. Simpson’s stellar running and the best triumvirate of receivers in the game (Hill, Rashad and Chandler), made that 1975 offense the most potent in Bills history. Despite outstanding personal statistics, however, Ferguson invariably put team accomplishments ahead of personal glory.

There were moments of personal glory nonetheless including a stirring comeback victory over the Raiders on Monday Night Football in 1974 accomplished with two late Ferguson touchdown passes.

The Miami Dolphins were the Bills’ chief rivals (and tormentors) during Joe’s career, and some of his most memorable afternoons came at the expense of the Fish. On a sun-soaked September Sunday in 1980, Joe drove the Bills to two late scores which ended Miami’s 20-game domination of Buffalo. In 1983, the Arkansas Rifle spoiled the starting debut of Dan Marino with a brilliant performance featuring five touchdown passes, and team records for completions, attempts, and yardage in an overtime victory which brought the Bills their first victory in Miami since 1966.

Ferguson once modestly admitted that he wanted to be remembered “as a guy who tried.” Never were Joe’s determination and grit more evident than during an AFC Divisional playoff game at San Diego on January 3, 1981. Playing on a sprained left ankle, Ferguson led the underdog Bills to a 14-3 halftime lead in their first playoff appearance in six years. Despite the heroics of their hobbled quarterback, the Bills lost a 20-14 heartbreaker in the last two minutes. This game remains the most indelible image of Ferguson to most Bills fans.

Fans and teammates alike recall Joe as a selfless player, eager to deflect praise and willing to accept blame. Fergy’s induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame is a richly deserved honor and tribute to one of the classiest players to pull on a Bills jersey.