ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For Buffalo Bills quarterback Frank Reich, the events of just over eight years ago in one of college football's most memorable games didn't cross his mind yesterday until a halftime talk with backup quarterback Gale Gilbert.
"[Gilbert] came up to me and really encouraged me, saying, 'Hey, you did it before in college. There's no reason we can't do it again now,' " Reich said. "I think that there is no doubt that gives you a little bit of hope to know that something like that can be done."
Feeding off his role in 1984 as the Maryland quarterback who led the Terrapins from a 31-0 deficit to a 42-40 win over Miami in the greatest comeback in Division I history, Reich duplicated his effort in yesterday's 41-38 win over the Houston Oilers -- the greatest comeback in NFL history.
In that Maryland comeback, Reich led the the team to scores on six straight possessions in the second half. Yesterday, he was equally as impressive, connecting on 16 of 23 passes for 230 yards and four touchdowns after halftime -- including scores on four straight third-quarter possessions -- to help the Bills overcome a 32-point, third-quarter deficit.
"When it happened in college, what went through my mind was, 'This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,' " said Reich, who completed21 of 34 passes for 289 yards overall yesterday. "To experience it all over again, I just can't describe it."
San Diego Chargers coach Bobby Ross, Maryland's head coach in 1984, said: "To tell you the truth, it doesn't surprise me about Frank.
"He is an astute guy when it comes to studying the game. I'm very happy for him. He is really a class individual. He got his chance, and he was ready for it."
Former Terps head coach Joe Krivak, quarterbacks coach at Maryland before succeeding Ross, said: "No doubt about it, what he did was very impressive. . . .
"I called him Tuesday, and he was getting some film time in, which didn't surprise me. The way he prepares, there was no doubt in my mind he would succeed. . . . He knows his role, and he doesn't get caught up in all the glitter."
Yesterday's win marked the end of a trying week for Reich, who became the starter after Jim Kelly suffered a sprained knee in last week's 27-3 loss at Houston. As a replacement in that game, Reich lost 49 yards while being sacked six times, and completed just 11 of 23 passes for 99 yards. Not exactly a performance to build on for playing the same team a week later.
"It was just a real nerve-wracking week for me," said Reich, who made the first playoff start of his eight-year career. "I've never gone through a week like that before, with all the pressure."
Reich said he was calmed by listening to a Michael English song called "Christ Alone." After being told of the song by his sister, Cyndee Harbold of Lancaster, Pa., Reich wound up listening to the song and its uplifting message more than 100 times.
"The first time I played it, I cried," Reich said. "The message I got from the song was that I wasn't playing the game for glory for myself, or for the money. I was playing because God had given me the opportunity."
In the second half, after Bubba McDowell picked off his pass and raced 58 yards for a touchdown that gave Houston a 35-3 lead, Reich took the opportunity to shine. After going five of 11 passing for 59 yards in the first half, Reich completed his next three passes to help set up a 1-yard run by Kenneth Davis for Buffalo's first touchdown of the day.
From there, Reich demonstrated a tremendous amount of poise, hitting Don Beebe on a 38-yard scoring pass and then connecting with Andre Reed on scoring passes of 26, 18 and 17 yards -- the final one giving Buffalo a 38-35 lead with 3:08 left in the game.
"In the locker room, I said, 'Frank, you have to get the ball to me -- it's time,' " Reed said. "I told him the chips are down, and you need everybody playing."
After a field goal by Al Del Greco tied the game for Houston in the closing seconds, Steve Christie won it for the Bills with a 32-yard field goal just over three minutes into overtime. And Reich, the holder on Christie's kick, was the last man to have a hand on the ball.
"I didn't see the game he had with Maryland, but he definitely has No. 1 and 2," Reed said of football's greatest comebacks. "Frank Reich did one of the best jobs by a backup quarterback in the history of this game."
Probably no one involved in yesterday's game was as disappointed as McDowell. The Houston safety was a member of the Miami team that lost to Reich and Maryland -- although he was redshirted in that season and didn't play. He watched that Maryland-Miami game on television.
"I don't remember much about that game in Miami, but all I know is that [Reich] did it to me then, and he did it to me [yesterday]," McDowell said.
King of the comebacks
Frank Reich has been the quarterback behind the two biggest comeback victories in NFL and NCAA Division I football history. Yesterday, he brought the Buffalo Bills back from a 35-3 deficit for a 41-38 win. A little more than eight years ago, Reich led Maryland over Miami, 42-40, after the Terps trailed 31-0 at halftime.
On Nov. 10, 1984, Reich relieved starter Stan Gelbaugh at the beginning of the second half, and Reich's nearly perfect passing led to the upset of then-No. 6 Miami at the Orange Bowl. The Terps scored 21 in both the third and fourth quarters, and Reich completed 13 of 15 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
Greg Hill caught two of the touchdown passes, including a 68-yarder that was tipped by a Miami defensive back. The 68-yard score and ensuing extra point by Jess Atkinson gave Maryland the lead, 35-34, with 5:29 left in the game. The Terps shortly added a touchdown after Miami fumbled the kickoff.
That final score enabled Maryland to hold on after Bernie Kosar drove the Hurricanes to a touchdown with 1 minute left. Miami attempted a two-point conversion, but Maryland's Keeta Covington tackled Melvin Bratton at the 2.
Third quarter G. Hill 39 pass from Reich (Atkinson kick), 12:35 remaining. Drive: 52 yards, 3 plays. Miami 31, Maryland 7.
Reich 1 run (Atkinson kick), 6:53. Drive: 60 yards, 9 plays. Miami 31, Maryland 14.
Blount 1 pass from Reich (Atkinson kick), :05. Drive: 80 yards, 11 plays. Miami 34, Maryland 21.
Fourth quarter Neal 14 run (Atkinson kick), 9:20. Drive: 55 yards, 9 plays. Miami 34, Maryland 28.
G. Hill 68 pass from Reich (Atkinson kick), 5:29. Drive: 85 yards, 2 plays. Maryland 35, Miami 34.
Badanjek 4 run (Atkinson kick), 4:42. Drive: 6 yards, 2 plays. Maryland 42, Miami 34.
Final score: Maryland 42, Miami 40.