Ted Marchibroda, the coordinator who runs the Buffalo Bills’ offense for Coach Marv Levy, remembers when he was a quarterback at the University of Detroit the year he took a date to the first pro game he ever saw.
“She was surprised when the (Detroit Lions) moved so easily down the field to win it in the last two minutes,” Marchibroda said the other day.
“When I told her that the Lions just did a good job of executing the two-minute drill, she asked: ‘Why didn’t they do that all day?’ ”
It was a good question--then.
“It’s a good question now,” Marchibroda said. “And, well, that’s what we’re doing. The Bills run the two-minute drill all day.”
Most of the day, anyhow. As the Super Bowl XXV crowd will see Sunday, the Bills keep a tight end on the premises at all times, and occasionally add a second back. Thus, they’re always ready to play power football, too, if the defense overloads against passes.
But their basic offense is the NFL’s normal two-minute offense, the one every team uses.
Accordingly, with a shotgun quarterback, Jim Kelly, and a continuous no-huddle, fast-break approach, the Bills are as radical as you can get in 1990s pro football. And Marchibroda was asked how it came about.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “I noticed last year that Jim Kelly always played better football in the two-minute drill than at any other time.
“Quarterbacks generally take over for pro clubs when you get into the last two minutes because there isn’t time to send in (the plays). And Jim is a guy who loves to take over. He perks up when asked to run anything.
“Some guys don’t want the ball in the last two minutes, and some do. Magic (Johnson) and Kelly are guys who do.
“So I told (Levy) that if the two-minute drill is what we do best, we should do it all the time.”
It was an out-of-character recommendation by Marchibroda, and when Levy went for it, that was also out of character. During most of their careers, both men have been almost as conservative as their opponent Sunday, Bill Parcells, coach of the New York Giants.
As recently as last season, the Bills often passed the ball as a last resort.
But when they got to the playoffs, they discovered last winter, for the second year in a row, that they still couldn’t win postseason games running the ball. Nor could they win throwing it. For they had whiled away the regular season whaling lesser teams with conventional Giant-type football instead of polishing their passing game.
Putting two and two together in his off-season reflections, Marchibroda abandoned the Giant approach and got the Bills into the no-huddle offense for the first series of their first game last September.
The rest is historic.
Marchibroda can relate to Kelly because he played Kelly’s position throughout his youth, starting in high school at Franklin, Pa., where his father was a steelworker.
An easy-going, mild-mannered football scholar, Marchibroda, 59, doesn’t look big enough to have played quarterback anywhere.
But his knowledge of football is profound, and his experience impressive. The 1975-79 leader of the Baltimore Colts, before they moved to Indianapolis, Marchibroda was one of eight coaches the Colts went through in a 15-year span--and the only winner. He finished 41-36 after Howard Schnellenberger, for instance, made a 4-13 record and before Frank Kush made an 11-18-1 mark.
George Allen brought Marchibroda to the Rams as his offensive coordinator in 1966 and took him to Washington in 1971. There, the Redskins reached the Super Bowl a year later with Marchibroda and Levy on Allen’s staff.
“I know something about Super Bowl pressure,” Marchibroda said. “I know this much. It’s great to have a Bruce Smith and a Jim Kelly on your team.”