As the longtime play-by-play voice of the Buffalo Bills, John Murphy knows what it means to live and breathe Bills football. Inhis new novel If These Walls Could Talk: Buffalo Bills, Murphy opens up about his life and career in Buffalo and provides insight into the team’s inner sanctum as only he can, from Jim Kelly to Josh Allen and beyond.
All Bills fans are invited for a book signing event at the Bills store on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 3-5 p.m.
Murphy, along with Scott Pitoniak and Eric Wood will be in attendance for the special signing.
An excerpt from the new book, If These Walls Could Talk: Buffalo Bills
By John Murphy with Scott Pitoniak
The National Football League has long been a quarterback-centric league—probably more so now than ever given the numerous rule and strategic changes that enable quarterbacks and receivers to put up Madden-like video game numbers. And in Allen, Buffalo has finally found its next Jack Kemp, its next Jim Kelly—a quarterback with the ability and moxie to take a team to the promised land, a quarterback who’s a perfect fit for these times and these Bills.
With Allen, history seems to be repeating itself, and it’s been a blast to describe it as it unfolds—especially after enduring so many mediocre seasons in a row. As I witnessed in my youth, Kemp became the missing piece in Buffalo’s run to consecutive AFL titles in 1964 and 1965. Kelly, of course, took over a team that went 2–14 and finished at the bottom of the NFL standings in 1984 and 1985 and then willed it to an unprecedented four consecutive Super Bowls. And now all these decades later, the ball and the torch have been handed to Allen.
It’s interesting when I think back to the parallels between these three glory eras of Bills football. Neither Kemp, who hailed from Southern California, nor Kelly, who grew up in a dot-on-the-map-coal-mining town north of Pittsburgh, wanted to come here. In fact, they fought tooth and nail not to come. But after they arrived and lived here for awhile, they saw what a truly great place this is. They became one of us and opted not to leave—even after their playing days were done.
Allen differed from Kemp and Kelly in one big respect. When the Bills shocked many by moving up in the 2018 NFL Draft to select him with the seventh overall pick, he couldn’t wait to get to Buffalo. Though he grew up in a rural, Northern California town, Allen, I think, related to us right away. He understood us and became one of us immediately. He really is built for Buffalo. It’s been a perfect fit between quarterback and town—the football version of beef on weck.
I suspect part of that has to do with the fact Allen, like we Buffalonians, carries a chip on his shoulder. He knows what it’s like to be overlooked and ridiculed. We do, too. For as long as I can remember, it seems like people have taken shots at us. I have vivid memories of Johnny Carson making fun of us on his late-night monologues, citing our Siberian-like winters and lagging economy. I remember being unnerved by a Sports Illustrated article in the late 1960s that ragged on us about our many warts and said Buffalo didn’t deserve to have an NFL team.
Admittedly, some of the criticism may have been justified. I mean, there’s no denying we have harsh winters. Heck, we had six feet of snow dumped on us in November of 2022, forcing a game against the Cleveland Browns to be moved to Detroit. And the economy did indeed tank after Lackawanna Steel shuttered its plants in the early 1980s. And our football team—the thing we hang our hats and collective self-esteem on—did go through that 17-year stretch when it didn’t make the playoffs, which is really tough to do, considering the NFL draft is set up to help bad teams become good if you pick the right players.
But we’ve always been a hardy, resilient lot. You may knock us down, but you can’t keep us down. To invoke a line from those defunct Buffalo factories, “from the hottest furnaces is forged the strongest steel.” We do have steely resolve. We’re known as the City of No Illusions and the City of Good Neighbors and we epitomize and embrace both of those phrases. The people here are genuine. There’s few airs about us. And, man, do we ever love our football. It’s a huge, huge part of who we are. It’s a big part of our identity.
Even in bad times, the Bills have been a source of community pride. Unlike big cities, we don’t have as many sports teams or other diversions to occupy our time. When you think about it, the fact Buffalo has an NFL franchise really doesn’t make sense given our small size compared to all other markets but Green Bay. But we do have an NFL franchise, and it gives us a certain gravitas, makes us big time. When the Bills beat teams from New York or Chicago or L.A., Buffalonians feel a sense of David vs. Goliath conquest. They puff their chests out.
There’s been a lot of chest puffing over Buffalo’s pride and joy in recent years, thanks to Allen. Like the mid-1960s, early 1980s, and early 1990s, this truly is a time for Talkin’ Proud. A time to shout. A new glory era.
Despite that 6–10 finish during his rookie season, I was encouraged about the quarterback position and the team’s future. As evidenced by their 5–6 record in Josh’s starts, the Bills were markedly better with him under center. I believed the interminable search for a worthy successor to Kelly might finally be over. The upside for Allen seemed huge. He clearly had all the physical tools and during his rookie season had precociously established himself as a team leader through example and deed. That’s not easy for a first-year quarterback to do, but he had won over everyone, including the veterans with his toughness and determination. His temperament seemed perfectly aligned with Buffalo’s. He got us, we got him, and in short order, he would become one of us.
“This excerpt from If These Walls Could Talk: Buffalo Bills by John Murphy with Scott Pitoniak is reprinted with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.TriumphBooks.com/WallsBills.”
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