Once the AFL–NFL merger took effect, the Bills became the second NFL team to represent the city; they followed the Buffalo All-Americans, a charter member of the league. Buffalo had been left out of the league since the All-Americans (by that point renamed the Bisons) folded in 1929; the Bills were no less than the third professional non-NFL team to compete in the city before the merger, following the Indians/Tigers of the early 1940s and an earlier team named the Bills, originally the Bisons, in the late 1940s in the All-America Football Conference (AAFC).
The Bills began competitive play in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League led by head coach Buster Ramsey and joined the NFL as part of the AFL–NFL merger in 1970. The Bills won two consecutive American Football League titles in 1964 and 1965 with quarterback Jack Kemp and coach Lou Saban, but the club has yet to win a league championship since.
The Buffalo Bills are a professional American football team based in the Buffalo metropolitan area. They compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league's American Football Conference (AFC) East division. The team plays its home games at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. Founded in 1960 as a charter member of the American Football League (AFL), they joined the NFL in 1970 following the AFL–NFL merger. The Bills' name is derived from an All-America Football Conference (AAFC) franchise from Buffalo that was in turn named after western frontiersman Buffalo Bill. Drawing much of its fanbase from Western New York, the Bills are the only NFL team that plays home games in that state. The franchise is owned by Terry and Kim Pegula, who purchased the Bills after the death of original owner Ralph Wilson in 2014.
The Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) share an extended history with the Bills, both teams being original AFL clubs in 1960 and rivals in that league's East Division before the AFL-NFL merger. Matchups were intense in the 1990s with quarterback Warren Moon leading the Oilers against Jim Kelly's Bills. Memorable playoff moments between the teams include The Comeback, in which the Frank Reich-led Bills overcame a 35–3 deficit to stun the Oilers 41–38 in 1992, and the Music City Miracle, in which the now-Titans scored on a near-last-minute kickoff return with a controversial lateral pass ruling to beat the Bills 22–16 in 1999. The Music City Miracle was notable for being Buffalo's last playoff appearance until 2017. The Titans currently lead the series 29–19.
In 1962, the standing red bison was designated as the logo and took its place on a white helmet. In 1962, the team's colors also changed to red, white, and blue. The team switched to blue jerseys with red and white shoulder stripes similar to those worn by the Buffalo Bisons AHL hockey team of the same era. The helmets were white with a red center stripe. The jerseys again saw a change in 1964 when the shoulder stripes were replaced by a distinctive stripe pattern on the sleeves consisting of four stripes, two thicker inner stripes and two thinner outer stripes all bordered by red piping. By 1965, red and blue center stripes were put on the helmets.
The Bills won consecutive AFL Championships in 1964 and 1965, the only major professional sports championships from a team representing Buffalo. After joining the NFL, they became perennial postseason contenders during the late 1980s and 1990s. Their greatest success occurred between 1990 and 1993 when they appeared in a record four consecutive Super Bowls; an accomplishment often overshadowed by them losing each game. From 2000 to 2016, the Bills endured the longest playoff drought of the four major North American professional sports, making them the last NFL franchise and the last in the four leagues to qualify for the postseason in the 21st century. They returned to consistent postseason contention by the late 2010s, although the Bills have not returned to the Super Bowl. Alongside the Minnesota Vikings, their four Super Bowl losses are the most among NFL franchises that have not won the championship.
Since the earliest days of the team, the number 31 was not supposed to be issued to any other player. The Bills had stationery and various other team merchandise showing a running player wearing that number, and it was not supposed to represent any specific person, but the 'spirit of the team.' In the first three decades of the team's existence, the number 31 was only seen once: in 1969, when reserve running back Preston Ridlehuber damaged his number 36 jersey during a game, equipment manager Tony Marchitte gave him the number 31 jersey to wear while repairing the number 36. The number 31 was not issued again until 1990 when first round draft choice James (J.D.) Williams wore it for his first two seasons; it has since been returned to general circulation, with safety Damar Hamlin wearing the number in 2021.
Several former Buffalo Bills players earned a name in politics in the late 20th century after their playing careers had ended, nearly always as members of the Republican Party. The most famous of these was quarterback Jack Kemp, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Western New York in 1971—two years after his playing career ended and remained there for nearly two decades, serving as the Republican Party nominee for Vice President of the United States under Bob Dole in 1996. Kemp's backup, Ed Rutkowski, served as county executive of Erie County from 1979 to 1987. Former tight end Jay Riemersma, defensive tackle Fred Smerlas and defensive end Phil Hansen have all run for Congress, though all three either lost or withdrew from their respective races. Quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas have also both been mentioned as potential candidates for political office, although both have declined all requests to date.
The Bills introduced blue pants worn with the white jerseys in 1973, the last year of the standing buffalo helmet. The blue pants remained through 1985. The face mask on the helmet was blue from 1974 through 1986 before changing to white.
In 2002, under the direction of general manager Tom Donahoe, the Bills' uniforms went through radical changes. A darker shade of blue was introduced as the main jersey color, and nickel gray was introduced as an accent color. Both the blue and white jerseys featured red side panels. The white jerseys included a dark blue shoulder yoke and royal blue numbers. The helmet remained primarily red with one navy blue, two nickel, two royal blue, two white stripes, and white face mask. A new logo, a stylized "B" consisting of two bullets and a more detailed buffalo head on top, was proposed and had been released (it can be seen on a few baseball caps that were released for sale), but fan backlash led to the team retaining the running bison logo. The helmet logo adopted in 1974—a charging royal blue bison, with a red streak, white horn and eyeball—remained unchanged.
The standing bison logo was replaced by a blue charging one with a red slanting stripe streaming from its horn. The newer emblem, which is still the primary one used by the franchise, was designed by aerospace designer Stevens Wright in 1974.
The Bills and Jets were both original AFL teams, and both represent the state of New York, though the Jets (since 1984) actually play their games in East Rutherford, New Jersey. While the rivalry represents the differences between New York City and Western New York, it has historically not been as intense as the Bills' rivalries with the Dolphins and Patriots, and the teams' fanbases either have grudging respect or low-key annoyance (stemming more from the broader upstate-downstate tensions than the teams or sport) for each other when the teams are not playing one another. Oftentimes the Bills-Jets rivalry has become characterized by ugly games and shared mediocrity, but it has had a handful of competitive moments. The series heated up recently when former Jets head coach Rex Ryan became the Bills' head coach for two seasons, and had become notable again as Bills quarterback Josh Allen and former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, both drafted in the same year, maintained a friendly rivalry with one another. Buffalo leads the series 65–56 as of 2020, including a playoff win in 1981.
In 1984, the helmet's shell color was changed from white to red, primarily to help Bills quarterback Joe Ferguson distinguish them more readily from three of their division rivals at that time, the Baltimore Colts, the Miami Dolphins, and the New England Patriots, who all also wore white helmets at that point. Ferguson said "Everyone we played had white helmets at that time. Our new head coach Kay Stephenson just wanted to get more of a contrast on the field that may help spot a receiver down the field." (The Patriots have worn silver helmets since 1993, the Colts have since been realigned to the AFC South, and in 2019 the New York Jets have since switched back to green-colored helmets, after playing 20 years with white ones.)
A brief rivalry emerged between the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars after former Bills head coach Doug Marrone, who had quit on the team after the 2014 season, was hired as a coaching assistant for Jacksonville and eventually rose to become the Jaguars' head coach. Since then, the series has featured a Bills loss to the Jaguars in London, an ugly, low-scoring playoff game in 2017, trash talk from former Jaguars players such as Jalen Ramsey, and a brawl between the teams in Buffalo in 2018. Prior to this, Jacksonville had handed Buffalo its first playoff loss in Bills Stadium in 1996 before years of concurrent bottom feeding in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Number 1 has also only rarely been used, for reasons never explained. While there is no proper explanation, Tommy Hughitt was a player-coach for the early Buffalo teams in the New York Pro Football League and NFL from 1918 to 1924 and was both a major on-field success and a fixture in Buffalo culture after his retirement as a politician and auto salesman. Hugitt was reported to wear number 1 during this time. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders currently wears the number; prior to his arrival in 2021, it had been 19 years since it had been worn in the regular season, when kicker Mike Hollis wore it in 2002.
In 2005, the Bills revived the standing bison helmet and uniform of the mid-1960s as a throwback uniform.
The Bills are one of the favorite teams of ESPN announcer Chris Berman, who picked the Bills to reach the Super Bowl nearly every year in the 1990s. Berman often uses the catchphrase "No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills!" Berman gave the induction speech for Bills owner Ralph Wilson when Wilson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
The "Bills Backers" are the official fan organization of the Buffalo Bills. It has over 200 chapters across North America, Europe and Oceania. Also notable is the "Bills Mafia'", a collection of Bills fans organized via Twitter beginning in 2010; the phrase "Bills Mafia" had by 2017 grown to unofficially represent the broad community surrounding and encompassing the team as a whole, and players who join the Bills often speak of joining the Bills Mafia. Outsiders often treat the Bills' fan base in derogatory terms, especially since the 2010s, in part because of negative press coverage of select fans' wilder antics. In 2020, the Bills filed to trademark the "Bills Mafia" name.
Buffalo sporadically wore white at home in the 1980s, but stopped doing so before their Super Bowl years. On November 6, 2011, against the New York Jets, the Bills wore white at home for the first time since 1986. Since 2011, the Bills have worn white for a home game either with their primary uniform or a throwback set.
The Bills' uniform received minor alterations as part of the league's new uniform contract with Nike. The new Nike uniform was unveiled on April 3, 2012.
ESPN anchor Kevin Connors is also a noted Bills fan, dating to his time attending Ithaca College. Actor Nick Bakay, a Buffalo native, is also a well-known Bills fan; he has discussed the team in segments of NFL Top 10. Character actor William Fichtner, raised in Cheektowaga, is a fan, and did a commercial for the team in 2014. In 2015, Fichtner also narrated the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Bills' four Super Bowl appearances, "Four Falls of Buffalo". Former Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders (an in-law to former Bills kicker Todd Schlopy) has professed her fandom of the team. Actor Christopher McDonald, who was raised in Romulus, New York, is a fan of the team.
The rise of the division rival New England Patriots under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, along with numerous failed attempts at rebuilding in the 2000s and 2010s, helped prevent the Bills from reaching the playoffs in seventeen consecutive seasons between 2000 and 2016, a 17-year drought that was the longest active playoff drought in all major professional sports at the time. On October 8, 2014, Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula received unanimous approval to acquire the Bills during the NFL owners' meetings, becoming the second ownership group of the team after team founder Ralph Wilson. Under head coach Sean McDermott, the Bills broke the playoff drought, appearing in the playoffs for three of the next four seasons. The team earned its first division championship and playoff wins since 1995 during the 2020 season, aided by Brady's departure to Tampa Bay and out of the AFC East as well as the Bills' own development of a core of talent including Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Tre'Davious White.
On November 12, 2015, the Bills and the New York Jets became the first two teams to participate in the NFL's Color Rush uniform initiative, with Buffalo wearing an all-red combination for the first time in team history.
Persons notable almost entirely for their Bills fandom include Ken "Pinto Ron" Johnson, whose antics while appearing at every Bills home and away game since 1994 earned enough scrutiny that his tailgate parties were banned from stadium property on order of the league; John Lang, an Elvis impersonator who carries a large guitar that he uses as a billboard; Marc Miller, whose professional wrestling promo-style interview with WGRZ prior to Super Bowl XXVII (distinguished by the line "Dallas is going down, Gary!" and picked up at the time by The George Michael Sports Machine) was rediscovered in 2019; and Ezra Castro, also known as "Pancho Billa," a resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex who wore a large sombrero and lucha mask in Bills colors. Castro was diagnosed with a spinal tumor that had metastasized in 2017; he was invited on stage during the 2018 NFL Draft to read one of the Bills' selections. Castro died May 14, 2019.
A notable use of the Bills' uniforms outside of football was in the 2018 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, when the United States men's national junior ice hockey team wore Bills-inspired uniforms in their outdoor game against Team Canada on December 29, 2017.
In 2018, the team signed an agreement with Nexstar Media Group to carry Bills preseason games across its network of stations in the region. As of 2020, WIVB-TV serves as the flagship station of the network, which includes WJET-TV in Erie, WROC-TV in Rochester, WSYR-TV in Syracuse, WUTR in Utica, WETM-TV in Elmira and WIVT in Binghamton. Steve Tasker does color commentary on these games; the play-by-play position is rotated between Andrew Catalon and Rob Stone. WROC-TV reporter Thad Brown is the sideline reporter. Since 2008, preseason games have been broadcast in high definition.
The Bills currently do not have cheerleaders. The Bills operated a cheerleading squad named the Buffalo Jills from 1967 to 1985; from 1986 to 2013, the Jills operated as an independent organization sponsored by various companies, most recently by Citadel Broadcasting. The Jills suspended operations prior to the 2014 season due to legal actions. The Bills and Jills are currently involved in a legal battle, in which the Jills allege they were employees, not independent contractors, and are seeking back pay. Complicating matters is that Citadel's buyer, Cumulus Media, declared bankruptcy and sought to discharge its remaining Bills-related debts in January 2018.
Number 32 had been withdrawn from circulation, but not retired, after O. J. Simpson. Former owner Ralph Wilson insisted on not reissuing the number, even after Simpson's highly publicized murder case and later robbery conviction. The number was placed back into circulation in 2019 with Senorise Perry wearing the number that year; as of 2021, it is worn by practice squad cornerback Rachad Wildgoose.
Despite their known boisterous behavior, Bills fans have also been noted for their generosity; after the Bills received help in breaking their 17-year playoff drought on a last-minute Cincinnati Bengals victory, Bills fans crowdfunded the charities of Bengals players Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd with hundreds of thousands of dollars as a gesture of thanks. Also in 2020, following a November 8 upset win over the Seattle Seahawks led by one of the best career performances by quarterback Josh Allen, news emerged that Allen had elected to take the field after having been given the option to sit out the contest as he had received news of his grandmother's death only the night before. Fans showed support for their team and community by donating nearly $700,000.00 to the Oishei Children's Hospital, an organization supported by Allen throughout his time in Buffalo. Following the Bills' defeat of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2020–21 NFL playoffs and an injury to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson late in that game, Bills fans crowdfunded his favorite charity, Blessings in a Backpack.
The Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs were also original teams in the AFL and have had a long history against each other, despite never being in the same division. This rivalry gained attention as the Bills and Chiefs met in nine of ten years from 2008 to 2017. Despite a 2-year hiatus in the series, two high-profile matchups occurred between the Bills and Chiefs in 2020, including the AFC Championship game, which Kansas City won 38–24 to advance to its second straight Super Bowl appearance. Buffalo currently leads the series 27–23–1, which has included four playoff meetings, three of which were AFL/AFC championship games. Prior to the 2020 game, Kansas City won the 1966 AFL Championship game that determined the AFL's (later AFC) representative in the first Super Bowl, going on to face the Green Bay Packers, while Buffalo defeated Kansas City in the 1993 AFC championship game to advance to its fourth straight Super Bowl appearance.
The rivalry with the New England Patriots first started when both teams were original franchises in the American Football League prior to the NFL-AFL merger. During the tenure of quarterback Tom Brady in New England, the Patriots dominated the AFC East, including the Bills. The Bills-Patriots rivalry in particular had become lopsided as the Patriots were 32–3 against the Bills with Brady starting under center. This has led many fans and players in the 2000s and beyond to replace the Dolphins with the Patriots as Buffalo's most hated rival. The Bills have fared well against Bill Belichick without his former franchise quarterback, however. While Brady was suspended for deflategate, the Bills shut out the Pats 16–0. After Brady left for Tampa Bay in 2020, the Bills swept the Patriots, including a 38–9 statement win at Gillette Stadium. Overall, largely thanks to Brady, the Patriots lead the series 76–45–1 as of 2020; excluding Brady, the series is 44–42—1 in the Patriots' favor.
On April 1, 2021, the team announced they will wear white face masks during the upcoming season and beyond.
Roster updated November 30, 2021