I know what you’re thinking…what on Earth could this article be about? But hear us out. It’ll all make sense by the time you’re done reading.
Yes, if you didn’t already know, we at the W&M Sports Blog are born and raised Buffalo Bills fans; although we grew up in the “NOVA” area, our dad hails from Tonawanda, NY.
For those unaware, Tonawanda is a suburb of Buffalo, New York. So, you could say, #BillsMafia is in our blood.
Perhaps that’s why we’ve taken notice of the deep-rooted ties that William & Mary has with the city of Buffalo — and more specifically — with the Buffalo Bills.
We’ve well-documented current Bills head coach and W&M alum Sean McDermott‘s story, but W&M’s ties to Buffalo go far, far deeper than that.
And it starts all the way back in 1960, when the Buffalo Bills were created by NFL Hall of Famer Ralph Wilson, Jr.
Buster Ramsey (W&M ’43) – 1st Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills
Who is the greatest player in the history of William & Mary football? For those well-versed in W&M football lore, the answer is undoubtedly Buster Ramsey.
Recruited by legendary W&M coach Carl Voyles, Garrard “Buster” Ramsey is one of the greatest college guards ever.
He was a standout offensively and defensively for William & Mary, utilizing remarkable speed and agility to run down opposition runners on defense and drive opposing linemen far down field on offense.
Ramsey played on teams that won a Southern Conference Championship in 1942 (going 9-1-1, losing only to an all-star service team composed of pro stars) and that beat Navy, Dartmouth, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma, among others.
His W&M teams enjoyed a record of 25-4-2. He was an Associated Press first-team All-American in ‘42 and made three first-team All-Southern and All-State teams.
Ramsey was the first W&M player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He was the first lineman picked on the Virginia All-20th Century Team.
After W&M, Ramsey became a top player with the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals).
Following retirement, he was eventually named to the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1940s.
So in 1960, when Ralph Wilson Jr. found himself in need of an NFL Head Coach, guess who he hired?
That’s right, it was W&M alum Buster Ramsey, who became the first Buffalo Bills head coach in franchise history.
Although Ramsey only lasted two seasons with the Bills (with a record of 11-16-1), he is credited with the creation of the 4-3 defense and the linebacker blitz.
Bet you didn’t know a W&M alum created the 4-3 defense.
Stud Johnson (W&M ’42) – 4th Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills
But Buffalo wasn’t done with W&Mers just yet. Next up: Buster Ramsey’s W&M teammate, Harvey “Stud” Johnson.
Another all-star recruit by W&M coach Carl Voyles in 1939, Johnson checked in at 5-11, 212 pounds, with good speed and tremendous leg power.
He was a prototype fullback and linebacker who also was an excellent clutch field-goal kicker.
Nicknamed “Stud” by his teammates, his three years at W&M produced a 23-5-2 record.
He scored both touchdowns in a 13-6 win over Bill Dudley-led UVA. He was the leading rusher in almost every game and on defense an aggressive back supporting W&M’s great defensive line.
He was especially effective rushing the ball against state opponents, scoring a dozen touchdowns in leading W&M to 17 wins and no defeats (with one tie) against teams in the state of Virginia.
Following his playing days, Johnson’s W&M teammate (the aforementioned Buster Ramsey), brought Stud on as the Buffalo Bills’ defensive coordinator.
Several years after that stint, in 1968, Stud became the Bills’ new head coach.
Because the team won just one game that season, Johnson was relieved of his duties.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Bills brought him back in 1971 as the head coach — where the team again won just one game.
Although he struggled for wins when positioned at the top, Stud worked with Buster Ramsey to revolutionize the NFL defensive game during his time coaching.
Most importantly to us, he became the second W&M alum to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
Marv Levy (former W&M head coach) – 10th Bills Head Coach
Did you know that the Buffalo Bills made four Super Bowls in a row?
Now, imagine. You’re a freshman at William & Mary. Every single year of your college experience, you watch the same team play in the Super Bowl.
Yes, that’s how great the Bills of the early 1990s were. And guess who was leading these great Buffalo teams of yesteryear?
That’s right, former W&M head coach Marv Levy.
Although Marv himself is not an alum of the College (he’s an alum of Coe College), he gained notoriety during his time in Williamsburg as head coach of the Green and Gold.
In fact, before Levy made the move to the NFL, his last collegiate coaching gig was as head coach of the Tribe.
Over 50 games at the helm for W&M, Levy compiled a record just under .500 — but most impressively, he twice earned Southern Conference Coach of the Year honors (back when W&M played in the Southern Conference).
Levy’s biggest accomplishment at William & Mary was his 1967 team’s defeat of the powerhouse Naval Academy.
Levy, in his fourth year as head coach at William & Mary, took his team on the road to Annapolis, Maryland.
There, the Green and Gold would take on the #1-ranked team in the East. This Navy team had beaten big names, including Penn State, Michigan, and Syracuse.
And here came Levy’s squad from little ole Williamsburg. The game was supposed to be a blowout; to add insult to injury, this was Navy’s homecoming game.
Instead, the Tribe came back from a 16-point third quarter deficit to defeat the Midshipmen 27-16 in an absolutely monumental and historic upset for the Tribe.
“I spent 12 years with the (Buffalo) Bills,” Levy, then in his 80s, is quoted as saying from his home in Chicago. “Other than that, what I remember most is my five years at William and Mary. They were the greatest group of overachievers, whether it was on the athletic field or in the classroom, that I’ve ever been associated with.”
Of course, the rest is history. After winning four-straight AFC Championship titles and taking the Bills to four Super Bowls, Levy is now in the NFL Hall of Fame.
But wait…there’s MORE? Answer: we haven’t even gotten to Sean McDermott yet.
Marvin Bass (W&M ’43)
- Buffalo Bills Assistant Coach (1969-72, 1977-78)
- While at William & Mary, Bass, a 6’2″ 230 pound offensive lineman and defensive stalwart, was All-State and All-Southern Conference while helping the “Indians” defeat the Oklahoma Sooners 14–7 in 1942.
Mark Kelso (W&M ’85)
- A safety for the Buffalo Bills teams that appeared in four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993, Kelso played all eight seasons for Buffalo, notching 30 career NFL interceptions.
- Kelso still holds the 2nd-highest career interception total in William & Mary program history. In 1983, his 141 tackles led the team and ranked #3 in school history for a single season total.
Steve Christie (W&M ’90)
- From 1992 to 2000, Christie kicked for Buffalo. With the Bills, he would become one of the game’s top kickers. He was a key contributor in the Bills comeback win against the Houston Oilers, in which Buffalo rallied from a 32-point deficit to complete the largest comeback victory in NFL history.
- A first-team All-American in 1989, Christie was also a three-time first-team all-conference placekicker and punter. He scored a then-record 279 career points, and held W&M program records for field goals (57) and field-goal percentage (68.7).
Sean McDermott (W&M ’98)
- William & Mary walk-on. His senior season, he was named a William & Mary team captain — finishing third on the team in total tackles; that same year, McDermott garnered All-Atlantic 10 and All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honors.
- Buffalo Bills head coach (2017-present)
Dan Darragh (W&M ’68)
- Played quarterback for the Bills (#10 pictured above) for three seasons, primarily known for backing up Bills great Jack Kemp.
- At W&M, played under future Bills legend Marv Levy. Darragh quarterbacked the great 1967 William & Mary team that knocked off the East’s #1 team, Navy, on the road. Darragh is in the W&M Football Hall of Fame.
Brian Daboll (former W&M assistant coach)
- W&M grad assistant coach (1997)
- Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator (2018-present)
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2 thoughts on “W&M and Buffalo, NY — A Match Made in Heaven?”
A friend reminded me that Dan Darragh, class of 1968, backed up Jack Kemp, I believe.
Sent from my iPad
W&M Class of 92! Born/raised and currently living in Buffalo! So proud of the Tribe influence in Bills history!
GO BILLS‼️ 💙🦬❤️