By Pete Barkelew
I first saw and heard of Frank Reich on a Saturday back in 1984. He was the backup quarterback for the Maryland Terrapins, coached by Bobby Ross (he replaced injured starter, Stan Gelbaugh). On November 10th, they were playing the University of Miami Hurricanes, with Bernie Kosar at QB, the week after Miami lost to Doug Flutie in that embarrassing “Hail Mary” upset.
Miami had a huge halftime lead of 31-0. With the anger and passion the Hurricanes were displaying, it didn’t look like anything good was going to come from the Terrapins in this game. But, in orchestrating the greatest comeback in NCAA history, Frank Reich led the Terrapins on multiple scoring drives. Three touchdowns in the third quarter and a fourth at the start of the final quarter turned what was a blowout into a close game. With the score 34-28 Miami, Reich hit Greg Hill with a 68-yard touchdown pass which deflected off the hands of the Miami safety to take the lead. Maryland scored once more to cap a 42-9 second half, and won the game 42-40. You can see the highlight play of that game in the one-minute video below.[SIDEBAR: 1. This comeback from 31 points down has since been exceeded by the Michigan St. Spartans 41-38 comeback win over Northwestern in 2006, after they trailed 38-3 in the 3rd quarter; 2. The week before, I called my father in Miramar, Florida, to share in the excitement of the “Hail Mary Pass” that Doug Flutie made to beat Miami and told him, “I sure would like to have a video of that game for my sports collection.” He said he would record it when it aired (as a replay on Tuesday) the following week. I received it by mail that Friday, a day before this Maryland at Miami game. Then, right after Frank Reich’s team won, I called my dad again to ask for a copy of that game. He said, “I recorded it live… it will go out on Monday.” I have both of those VHS recordings to this day. My dad passed away in 1998, but I think about him often, and all of the games we watched together… as a kid (at his side) and from afar, after I moved to Athens, Georgia, to raise my family. May you rest in peace, Dad… and thanks again!]
WAIT! The “Frank Reich Comeback Story” is not finished… by a long stretch. It gets even better.
Years later, January 3rd, 1993… I am sitting in my living room watching an NFL Playoff game with my wife. It featured Warren Moon at quarterback for the Houston Oilers (and their famous Run-and-Shoot Offense coached by Jack Pardee) visiting the Buffalo Bills on this cold day at Rich Stadium. The problem with this game was Buffalo’s starting QB, Jim Kelly, had to sit out with an injury from the week before. So, his backup, Frank Reich, was to start in the game.
Well, the Oilers shot out to a 28-3 halftime lead, doing everything right, and the Bills doing everythng the could to lose. That’s when an announcer at halftime said, “This game looks to be about over.” That’s when I jumped up and yelled at the TV, “You’re wrong! Frank Reich orchestrated the greatest comeback in NCAA history, and he can do it again!” (That’s when my wife reminded me, again, I should have been a sportscaster 😉
Of course, I lost some confidence when Reich was intercepted for a touchdown in their first series of the second half, to go behind 35-3. But, he won that game — the greatest comeback in NFL History (at the time – it’s still the greatest in NFL Playoff History). To see what happened, Watch this video recap – click here.
For more details, below is a written accounting of this incredible NFL Playoff Game, as provided by Wikipedia:
The January 3, 1993, (1992 season) NFL playoff game between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers (also known as “The Comeback”) featured the Bills recovering from a 32-point deficit to win in overtime, and it remains the largest comeback in a playoff game in NFL history. (The largest comeback in a regular season game still remains the San Francisco 49ers comeback from a 35-7 deficit in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints on December 7, 1980.) The game is also remembered for being won by the Bills backup quarterback Frank Reich.
Both teams qualified for the playoffs as wild card teams. The Buffalo Bills, the American Football Conference (AFC) champions for the previous two seasons, recorded an 11–5 record during the 1992 regular season and finished in second place in the AFC Eastern Division. Buffalo’s no-huddle offense led the league in rushing yards (2,436) and ranked second in the league in total offensive yards (6,114 yards).
Meanwhile, the Houston Oilers finished in second place in the AFC Central Division with a 10-6 record. Houston’s Run & Shoot offense led the league in passing (4,231 yards) and its defense ranked third in the league, allowing only 4,532 total yards. Overall, the team boasted nine pro bowl selections, including their quarterback Warren Moon (despite missing six games with injuries) and three wide receivers, Curtis Duncan, Haywood Jeffires, and Ernest Givins. The Oilers also had a powerful running attack with Lorenzo White, who rushed for 1,226 yards and caught 57 passes.
The Bills and Oilers had faced each other for the final game of the regular season, with Houston defeating Buffalo, 27–3 in Houston. During that game, Bills starting quarterback Jim Kelly suffered strained ligaments in his knee, leaving backup quarterback Frank Reich to finish the game in his place. With Kelly out, Reich took the reins starting in place of Kelly the following week in the wild card game. Buffalo hosted. Reich also started the following divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh in which Buffalo also won 24–3. The Bills advanced to the AFC Championship game the following week, versus the Miami Dolphins, where Jim Kelly returned to win and go on to the Super Bowl.
Frank Reich was a 14-year NFL veteran quarterback. He was a D3-85 draft choice (57th overall) by Buffalo, where he played from 1985-94, before signing with Carolina in 1995. Reich spent 1996 with the New York Jets and 1997-98 with Detroit.
Reich is now the Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, starting in 2019. He previously served as quarterbacks coach and as an offensive coaching staff assistant with the Colts in 2008 and was a coaching intern from 2006-07. Reich was born December 4, 1961 in Freeport, N.Y. He resides with his wife, Linda, and their three children in Indianapolis.
Frank is a fellow Christian, and an exceptional motivational speaker as well. Be sure to read “What God had Planned,” by Frank Reich, as he tells in his own words what happened to him that eventful day he led Buffalo to an amazing come-from-behind win over Houston.