The first time Mike Wallace played a game at Buffalo, Bills fans used his ride as target practice.
“I remember them throwing snowballs at our bus,” Wallace said with a chuckle.
The last time Wallace visited Western New York, the reception was even chillier — from the opposition, if not the fans. Back in December, the Dolphins rolled into town in control of their own playoff destiny.
The Bills sent them home with a 19-0 blanking and helped keep Miami out of the postseason for the fifth consecutive season.
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Ralph Wilson Stadium is a lot of things — a throwback to a bygone era in pro football, a great place to tailgate, among them. But an easy place for the Dolphins to win, it is not.
The Dolphins have won in Buffalo (or technically, Orchard Park, N.Y.) just twice in the past decade. They won a “road” game against the Bills in 2008, but it was played in Toronto. They return to their house of horrors Sunday, in a matchup of surprise 1-0 teams.
Now that the Bills’ future along Lake Erie is secure — Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula agreed to buy the franchise last week for more than $1billion — the Dolphins will continue trekking north every year for decades to come. That means, if Miami is ever to regain its perch atop the AFC East, the result needs to change.
“We clearly have to play better to win than we have in the past, without a doubt,” coach Joe Philbin said.
Added cornerback Brent Grimes, who has never won in Buffalo: “They play well at home. They’ve got great fans. Their style of football, they force some turnovers and run the ball. Before you know it, they’re ahead. You’ve just got to play fundamentally sound football if you want to beat a team like that.”
But they haven’t in Philbin’s two visits to the chilly border town. Last year, the Dolphins turned the ball over twice, converted only 2 of 14 third-down tries and averaged 1.2yards per rush in their road loss.
The year before, Ryan Tannehill threw interceptions on the Dolphins’ final two possessions to fall 19-14 in prime-time.
Losses in New England are understandable, if not forgivable. The Patriots are the division’s only champion since 2009.
But Buffalo? This is a team that was won only 44percent of its home games in the past decade against teams not named the Miami Dolphins. The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since the Clinton administration. The only AFC East fan base that’s been longer-suffering than the Dolphins’ is the Bills’.
Granted, a lot of those Dolphins losses came late in the season, when the weather is putrid. The Dolphins have won just twice in Buffalo in November or December since 2003.
So in that regard, they catch a break. The temperatures should be in the low 60s at kickoff, with just a slight chance of rain. Although that might be downright bone-chilling for South Floridians, it’s perfect football weather for the rest of the country.
“It’s obviously going to be a little bit nicer than if we were playing in below-freezing weather,” Tannehill said. “It should be fun.”
And although Tannehill never has done it, there are a handful of active Dolphins players who actually have gone to Buffalo and returned with a win.
Wallace is one of them. On Thanksgiving Weekend in 2010, Wallace’s Steelers escaped with an overtime win after being greeted with snowballs.
“But not on the way out,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of early for snowballs [this year], but hopefully we can have the same results. You know how it’s going to be coming in, but hopefully it’s a nice quiet walk out for us.”