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Imagine playing your entire career without a playoff appearance

Posted Nov 20, 2016

We have a tendency in sport to over-romanticise certain things and to ignore perspective.

It is possible to look at Tom Brady's Super Bowl record of four wins and two losses and remember that both losses were pretty much decided by one play - David Tyres's impossible helmet catch and Wes Welker's dropped pass. If only he had better luck, Brady could be the only quarterback to have won six Super Bowls.

Before we feel too sorry for the blemishes on what could have been an astonishing perfect record we should remember that he has been lucky enough to win the Super Bowl four times and that in the process he has banked a fortune and lived a privileged life.

Maybe there is not too much reason to feel sorry for what might have been for the New England Patriots star of the past 17 seasons.

It is almost possible to feel a tinge of sympathy for Dallas Cowboys fans in recent years. It is sometimes hard to imagine that this club that was reared on success has not been to the Super Bowl in more than 20 years.

I am far from being a Cowboys sympathiser - an incident with one of their fans, alcohol and an extremely dangerous-looking knife made sure of that in the early 1990s.

But with the Cowboys holding the best record in the NFL this season and their fans starting to dream of new glory days, there is a feeling of the proper order of things returning.

The last time Dallas won a Super Bowl was also the last time the Buffalo Bills won a playoff game. That 1995 campaign saw the Cowboys win their third crown in four seasons while the Bills won a wild card game but fell in the divisional playoff round.

The first two of those three Dallas Super Bowl wins were against the Bills, the third and fourth games in that agonising run of defeat when Buffalo became the only team ever to lose four Super Bowls in a row.

It was painful to watch the Bills lurch from one defeat to another on that run, each year raising hope and expectation throughout the season yet each time shooting themselves in the foot when the crucial moment arrived.

I can scarcely remember a time in football when neutrals felt so sorry for a team as they did for the Bills as they clocked up such an unwelcome record.

However, taking a look at their current plight, just how much would Buffalo supporters give for a trip to the playoffs right now, never mind actually being in the Super Bowl.

The once-proud AFC powerhouse has not had a playoff game to get excited about since the second week of this century. Their last post-season trip, at the end of the 1999 season, saw them lose at Tennessee in the wild card round.

The famous names that carried them through those glory years still trip off the tongue with ease - Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Darryl Talley, Andre Reed, Cornelius Bennett and, of course, the man who led them, head coach Marv Levy.

The gravel-voiced coach used to rally his troops before kickoff with his famous battle cry of "where else would you rather be than right here, right now!"

I used to think those players would rather have been on the journey with Levy and lost than play on a winning side for someone else.

And let's not forget that although they lost four Super Bowls in a row, those players were still champions of the AFC four years on the trot. I don't care what players say at the time about it meaning nothing if you don't win the subsequent Super Bowl. With the passing of time, it means plenty to have achieved so much with what you regard as a band of brothers.

All of which brings me to Kyle Williams, a current member of the Buffalo Bills, who has spent all 11 of his professional seasons dreaming of one chance at a playoff appearance.

The 33-year-old defensive end has survived a long time in a ruthless business. While not earning Tom Brady money, he has done exceptionally well by normal standards. And he has had the privilege of playing in the NFL for more than a decade.

But while he has carved out a nice life through the game, he is representative of the many foot soldiers in football who don't get the money, or the titles, or the recognition, or the cosy chats with national talk show hosts or presidential candidates.

Williams doesn't want any of that now. He can see the end in sight and longs for one thing.

He said: "As a Buffalo Bill, I've had opportunities to make the playoffs, they've passed me by. We have the opportunity right now. We need to seize the moment."

We are in thrall to the highs and lows, the agony and the ecstasy that sport provides but regardless of who wins or what transpires on the football field, it really is just a game.

And to coat the whole issue with a layer of perspective, consider this. Football fans felt sorry for Jim Kelly when he was the Buffalo QB who lost those four Super Bowls.

After his retirement, we felt sorry for him because disease took his eight-year-old son and cancer almost claimed Kelly in his early 50s.

Kyle Williams, like any player, doesn't want to end his career without a playoff experience but in the grand scheme of life, there are bigger things to worry about.

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