- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Buffalo Bills’ No. 2 quarterback had just seen an interception returned 58 yards for a touchdown that put his team 32 points down in the third quarter when No. 3 quarterback Gale Gilbert trotted over and patted him on the back.

“He told me what I needed to hear,” Frank Reich recalled after the game. “He said, ‘Hey, you did it in college, so there’s no reason why you can’t do it here.’”

Gilbert had a good memory. In 1984, Reich replaced Maryland starter Stan Gelbaugh in the third quarter with the Terrapins trailing Miami 31-0 and ignited a furious rally that produced an implausible 42-40 victory at the Orange Bowl.

And now, unbelievably, he did it again.

On Jan. 3, 1993, career backup Reich, playing only because All-Pro Jim Kelly was out with a knee injury, threw four touchdown passes in the second half as the Bills erased that 35-3 deficit and stormed to a 41-38 victory in an AFC wild card playoff game before a mostly ecstatic throng of 75,141 at Buffalo’s Rich Stadium.

What are the odds of the same quarterback engineering what then were the biggest rallies in both college and pro football history? When the word “comeback” appears in dictionaries, Reich’s picture should be alongside.

He threw a touchdown pass to Don Beebe and three more to Andre Reed, and the Bills switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 to better contain Houston’s Warren Moon, who completed 19 of 22 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. Slowly and surely, the Bills rallied to take a 38-35 lead before a field goal by Houston’s Al Del Greco sent the game into overtime.

There was no way Reich and the Bills were going to lose this one, however. After an interception and a face-mask penalty put Buffalo at the Houston 20, Steve Christie delivered a 32-yard field goal three minutes into the extra period to let the Bills advance in the playoffs.

In fact, they advanced all the way to Super Bowl XXVII 28 days later, when Kelly returned and led, if that’s the word, the Bills to the third of their record four consecutive defeats in the championship game. The Dallas Cowboys did the honors this time by a lopsided 52-17 margin after rolling to a 28-10 halftime advantage. But if Bills coach Marv Levy had put Reich back in the lineup, who knows what might have happened?

“Without question, this [victory over Houston] was the game of my life,” Reich said afterward. “I was pretty emotional when I got to the locker room. I couldn’t hold back the tears.”

Emotional, yes. Surprised, no.

“Coming from behind was a regular thing for us at Maryland,” Reich said. “My last four games there, we were either tied or losing at halftime. If you don’t try to get it all back on a few plays, you can give yourself a chance.”

Who could disagree?

Levy, a former coach at William and Mary and an assistant with the Washington Redskins among other stops, understandably was among Reich’s biggest boosters.

“Frank is a person of high character,” Marv explained. “He’s a well-rounded family man who is deeply religious. Sometimes a guy who has other things in his life doesn’t [choke]. It makes him be able to retain his equilibrium.”

Against the Oilers, Reich completed 16 of 23 passes for 230 yards in the second half after going just 5-for-11 before intermission in just his seventh NFL start in eight seasons.

“I never thought, ‘Oh, gee, we’re out of it,’” he said. “I had thrown some bad passes, but I felt I was seeing the field well. I just took it one play at a time. When [you’re behind] 35-3, you don’t really feel a lot of pressure.”

Obviously.

The next season, Reich resumed his customary backup role, starting two games when Kelly again was injured. He was plucked by the new Carolina Panthers in the 1995 expansion draft but lost that starting job to Kerry Collins. Then he had sips of coffee with the New York Jets and Detroit Lions before retiring at 37 following the 1997 season.

Most of his college and pro careers were unexceptional. For two brilliant afternoons, however, he was extremely exceptional - and so were his accomplishments.

Nowadays Reich travels widely, giving motivational talks and always mentioning the two historic comebacks as an example of how people should never give up. Yet even Frank himself sometimes marvels at the wonder of it all.

“There have been times,” he said, “when my wife and I would look at each other, kind of shake our heads and ask, ‘Did [those games] really happen?’”

Indeed they did. Just ask those stunned victims who played on the 1984 Miami Hurricanes and 1993 Houston Oilers.

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