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Top 5 backup quarterbacks in Bills history

Top 5 backup quarterbacks in Bills history How about some Wall of Fame consideration for Frank Reich? (James P. McCoy / Buffalo News)


The Bills are searching in the dark without a flashlight at backup quarterback, with Tuesday’s release of Thad Lewis and the signing of Jordan Palmer.

When have the Bills been great at backup QB? Not that often, with a few notable exceptions.

Here are the five best Bills backup QBs. (And we’re not counting Doug Flutie, because he truly was a starter, even though he backed up early in 1998 and most of 2000.)

No. 5: Ed Rutkowski. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to come up with a fifth man worthy of the list. Gary Marangi almost led an upset of Miami in ’74, but we can’t pick him. On a day in 1976 when O.J. Simpson rushed for 273 yards, Marangi went 4 of 21 for 29 yards. No lie! Rutkowski, a receiver, threw a game-ending two-point conversion to give the Bills a tie in Miami in ’68. The Bills used four QBs that day. He almost pulled out a 34-32 decision at Denver that year. The Disaster QB: Long ago but not forgotten.

No. 4: James Harris. The Bills’ first African-American QB played three seasons in Buffalo and went 0-3 as a starter on bad teams. He backed up Dennis Shaw in 1970 and ’71, although Harris had more talent. Harris proved his talent when he joined the Rams in 1973. He posted a 21-6 record as their starter over four seasons and led them to the NFC title game in 1974.

No. 3: Alex Van Pelt. He’s the longest-tenured Bills backup ever, spending nine-plus seasons in Buffalo, from late 1994 through 2003. Van Pelt was smart and got along with most everybody, serving as a confidant to Jim Kelly early and Drew Bledsoe late. He played well in brief relief in a playoff game at Pittsburgh in 1995. Was 3-8 as a starter.

No. 2: Daryle Lamonica. Before the Flutie-Johnson Feud there was Kemp-Lamonica, and the latter was a MUCH bigger deal. In 1964, Lamonica rallied the Bills to win in Weeks 4, 7, 8 and 9, and the Bills were 9-0. Controversy? The collective hair of the fans was on fire! Then Lamonica won in Week 13. Kemp returned to win Week 14 and the AFL title game. You know the rest of the story. Lamonica was dealt to the Raiders in ’67, promptly won AFL MVP and took Oakland to the playoffs four of the next five years. Worst trade in Bills history.

No. 1: Frank Reich. Lamonica was a better player than Reich. But Reich did more in Buffalo and is part of NFL history, as the author of the Greatest Comeback Ever. Besides his playoff win over Houston in the 1992 season, Reich went 3-0 in 1989, won the division-clinching start over Miami in 1990 and won a playoff game in Pittsburgh. How about some Wall of Fame consideration for the Bills’ greatest backup QB ever?

  • Alex

    Reich should definitely be on the wall. When you lead the NFL's greatest comeback, still unmatched today, you need to be on that wall.

    • B H

      YES, and take down the slashing runner's name from the wall while you're at it.

    • Rollo Tomassi

      It was a great game,a tremendous comeback, unprecedented!

      I still remember how you could not hear yourself shout at the game it was so loud,the upper deck was literally shaking underneath us.

      However it was only one game

      It is as if Roger Maris should be in Cooperstown because of the 1961 season

      • UncleBluck

        Maris should be in Cooperstown, great player and record holder....

        • Rollo Tomassi

          No, he should not be.
          Great season
          Solid player
          But not a Hall of Fame guy
          He technically is not the record holder. Babe Ruth hit 60 in 6 fewer games. Maris did not have the record in the same amount of games. The
          MLB gave him the record with an asterisk, and then removed it later, which it should not have done.
          I don't count those unspoken individuals who rode that "Steroid Horse" to their individual accomplishments.

  • Rollo Tomassi

    He also played badly in the last two games of the 1994 season when he was the starting QB after Kelly was injured. That knocked us out of the playoffs.

    He was a solid back-up and had some big games,(Houston, the Rams Monday Night win, and the playoff wins, as Kelly's fill-in)but, overall, he does not deserve a spot on the wall. There are others more deserving.

    Steve Freeman, Cookie Gilchrist, Lou Saban

    • KG33

      Love the avatar. GO BULLS!

    • Polish Prince

      Steve Freeman, great choice

    • Fennario

      Saban for sure... best coach Bills ever had.

    • UncleBluck

      Been sayin it for years Lou Saban, the only coach in Bills history to win a league championship...and he won 2! Now that Ralph is gone a group of the 60's Bills players are preparing to lead a drive to have Lou's name put up on that wall where it should have been for years....

      • Lloyd M. Jr.

        Hear hear!

    • Buffalo Bill Nelson

      As soon as ownership changes, Saban should go up and so should Cookie. What a pair of tough-as-nails, macho eccentrics. Both as stubborn as mules. Would have loved to have been a fly in that locker room. Is Fergy on the Wall? I can't recall. He was a good QB and Fergy tough makes Kelly tough look like Charmin. Marlin Briscoe's should be #5. What a show he put on scrambling. He was actually the first African American to play QB for the Bills. His primary position was WR, though, so Harris is recognized as the first African American whose primary position was QB.

      We need to start a "Urinal of Shame" and our first inductee should be Lloyd M, Jr. For his incessant calls for Tebow.

      • Rollo Tomassi

        Yes Fergy is on the wall. He was one tough nut!!!!!

      • Lloyd M. Jr.

        What happened to my past posting here, BuffNews? Let's try again...
        Actually, Nelson... the "(Waste Receptacles) of Shame" should be named for the myriad of poor decisions on player/GM/coaching personnel by the Bills over the years...
        D. Jauron
        Mike Mularkey
        Gregg Williams
        Tom Donohoe
        JP Losman
        Willis McGahee
        Peerless Price(2nd go-around)
        Rob Johnson
        Buddy Nix
        Aaron Maybin
        Paul Posluszny(sic?)
        Mike McCargo
        The Whaley fellow
        Russ Brandon
        Chan Gailey
        Marv Levy(as a GM)
        (And there are scores more, I am sure.)
        The first such receptacle of shame, however, should be named for Ralph Wilson himself. It is he who signed off on such questionable hires; such stinginess(sic?) in not going after better-qualified people is why the Bills are in the fix they continue to find themselves in.

        • Sweet Pea

          LMAO!!!! Well said just terrible and poor decisions by managment and that list can go further.

        • Buffalo Bill Nelson

          Lloyd, outstanding post! It brings back very traumatic memories, but as they say, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I agree with all of your nominations except for Wilson, Brandon (his regionalization of the team has proved successful in keeping it here), Nix (the trust that a feeble and suspicious elderly owner had in him stabilized a franchise that was imploding), and Whaley (he has done a great job of putting athletes on the team). Others that could be added, include Whitner, Flowers, Cousineau, Patulski and Cowlings (drafted solely because he was OJ's best bud). I hereby officially withdraw my nomination of you for the U of Shame and may nominate you for the Blog of Fame if only you refrain from the frightening Tebow stuff.

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            Since I am not a member, past or present, of the Buffalo Bills organization, I can't be nominated for any of those "honors."
            Which leads me to this: I must stay true to myself, and keep the call for the Bills to sign Tebow.
            Are there really any other viable QB alternatives for the Bills at this time? Be honest.
            What do the Bills really have to lose by taking the leap of faith and going for Tebow? Again, be honest.

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            Actually, Ralphy indeed deserves such a recognition... maybe with an outhouse or set of outhouses in his honor. His cheapness when it came to hiring people for key positions such as coach or general manager is the main reason why the Bills have been mediocre at best, and putrid at worst.

  • Bob

    How about going after Tim Tebow? Couldn't be worse than Jeff Tuel.

    • Lloyd M. Jr.

      They should've kept Thad Lewis and dumped Tuel; Lewis appeared to have more playmaking prowess.
      And yes, I also say the Bills should go after Tebow; he brings an element of excitement to the game. WHO CARES about "other teams haven't gone after him"? Why are THE BILLS not going after him? What's THE BILLS' excuse?
      For fans who would like to see a competitive team on the field, the Bills organization owes their fans this much, and more.

      • Cannibal King

        TO brought excitement too... lots of good that did. I call BS on bringing in another doofus. The Bills need to get real and go get a QB. They aren't going to use Spiller correctly and they're not going to sign him either, so why not trade Spiller and go get a QB?

        • rome middlesex

          Agreed send ej with him 4 players or picks but they wont because that would be admitting they made a mistake therefore the Bills fan is going to be punished by front office because of their poor choices....I like Marrone but jus like EJ who will lnot be the 2015 opening day starting qb we all know this 2 be true so why are they forcing this on us in 2014 !!!!! I would love to hear from all of you EJ supporters on this which I notice that club is becoming extremely smaller....... that's the club that listens to fn Mel Kiper haha an listens to culture club while they do aerobics ........ im out

          • Cannibal King

            Keep EJ, get rid of EJ... whatever. He's not ready to be a starter and by the looks of it needs a few years learning with the headset on. Personally, I don't see him making it. He just looks like he doesn't know what to do with the ball and is afraid. You don't have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest arm if you can read a defense and put the ball on the money... which EJ can do neither with any consistency right now.

        • Rollo Tomassi

          Who do you have in mind?

          • Cannibal King

            You know, for once you ask a fantastic question. So, I pull up the list of all the QBs in the NFL, and while there are some names, I'm asking... who the heck is worth Spiller that you can actually get? Once you look at the list, it sure does look sucky. Good question, Rollo... everybody throws names like Cousins, Glennon and Mallett around as young QBs that might be had. Then I think, there's no way anybody is letting a legit young QB slip away after looking at that list. Then I realize you might only have a shot at Derek Anderson, Drew Stanton or Matt Moore types... yuck... and certainly not worth Spiller. The dearth of starting capable NFL QBs is scary. How about Drew Willy? LOL... you know, spark up the Buffalo crowd. Better yet, the Bills should reach out to Toronto, because the pundits all say the Bills need TO's corporate money... let's go get Ricky Ray! I dunno...

          • Rollo Tomassi

            "You know, for once you ask a fantastic question"
            Drew Willy!!!!..yes!!!!..pry him away from Winnipeg!
            I am afraid there is not much out there to trade Spiller or anyone else for.

          • Troy Berkely

            Actually, it might work with a trade with Washington. Remember they traded for Clinton Portis a few years back, and they are currently in need for a guy like Spiller. Cousins would be IMO a worthwhile investment. Yeah Spiller was a 1st rounder, but anybody thinks that the Bills would get that in a trade is smoking something funny. Besides, Snyder is also known to make some questionable trades as well, and could be easily convinced in making this happen. Will it happen? I doubt it, but it is just fun thinking about the possibilities.

        • Lloyd M. Jr.

          I can give you the main reason why TO's time in Buffalo stunk: When it came time to cut Mr. Jauron loose after the 2008 season, Ralphy decided that "continuity" with said poor excuse for a head coach was better than searching (and paying more money) for a better, more-qualified head coach. Had the Bills brought in a better head coach after the 2008 season ended (then again, the best time for this change to be made was the morning after the 2007 Monday Night debacle with Dallas), TO's time here with the Bills might have had more to show for it.

          Poor decision-making by the "brain trust" at One Bills Drive... it's no wonder the Bills have royally stunk for the past 14 or 15 seasons. Is there not someone there who has even a CLUE?

      • Rollo Tomassi

        Tebow again!
        Stop with that insanity!!!!!!!!!
        How would signing Tebow make the Bills competitive?.He sucks as a QB. There is more than a few reasons why nobody has signed him.
        He can't throw,he is lousy in and out of the pocket,can't read a defense,and the list goes on and on.
        The only reason he got all that publicity was because of his very public and opportunistic way he praised his faith.The games they won for the Bronco's he did not win.Their kicker and their defense did.

        • Lloyd M. Jr.

          Yes... stop the excuses at One Bills Drive and just do the right thing, which means: do right by the fans and go after Tim Tebow. Nuf sed.

          • Rollo Tomassi

            Ridiculous!..He is a terrible QB!...Nuf sed!!!!

          • Cannibal King

            Why would the Bills want him? I know you have some conspiracy theory that he is blackballed from the NFL, but I think nobody wants him because he just plain sucks. Frankly, he reminds me of EJ in a lot of ways. Can't read a defense, can't throw on time, stares down receivers, throws late into patterns and hesitates... Tebow, in a pass happy league, has 9 INTs, 7 FUM, 6.71 ypc and 47.9% comp rate in 361 regular season attempts. Blackballed or not, he sucks. EJ has 9 INTs, 3 FUM, 6.44 ypc and 58.8% in 306 attempts... and you want to dump EJ for Tebow? So far, THEY BOTH SUCK. The Bills need to find a real QB... seriously, Drew Willy can make these crappy numbers.

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            If you ask me, Tebow is like Vick when he first came to the league. He can pass, he can run. If you don't force him to be a pocket passer, and just let him do it HIS way, he can oftentimes make amazing plays.
            Do the Bills have any other viable options?

        • Lloyd M. Jr.

          "There is more than a few reasons why nobody has signed him."
          Nobody cares about what other teams think about signing him; what matters is this: why are the Bills not doing so themselves? Is the Bills' "brain trust" so conceited that they can't admit they need to take a courageous step and try to change course for the sake of the fans?
          In any other area of business, companies realize they need to put forth a satisfactory product for their consumers. It's time the Buffalo Bills organization starts operating by the rule of SATISFACTION GUARANTEED as well.

          • Rollo Tomassi

            Tim Tebow would do NONE of that!

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            Let's see... a two-part question... answer the questions only as they are asked.

            1) How many post-season games did the Broncos win with Tebow as QB?

            2) How many post-season games have the Bills appeared in since Y2K came along?

            These are your questions. Again, answer them ONLY AS ASKED.

          • Rollo Tomassi

            "Let's see... a two-part question... answer the questions only as they are asked."

            "Answer them ONLY AS ASKED"

            Give me a break!!!!!!

            .What are you a freaking lawyer!.

            If so, the first question would be answered..The Bronco's won 1 game in post season,and it had nothing to do with Tebow,they won that game in spite of Tebow.He threw a dump pass that the TE ran all the way in for a score.(In fact several plays before he pulled the horseshoe out of his arse,he bounced balls on the ground.The following week he was horrible(as usual) against the Patriots.

            The second question,if you want to act a s a lawyer would be...Objection your honor, inadmissible!, not pertinent to the discussion!.Objection sustained.

            What in the Hell does Tebow have to do with any of that question?

            One more time,before you go off to your basement to stare at naked picture of this guy you are so obsessed with,no one wants him.

            You have teams that have nobody,lousy,inexperienced QB's as back-ups and they are all better than Tebow is or was.

            No go away your a pest!

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            (Sound of the "Fail" sounder from THE PRICE IS RIGHT)
            Thank you, Rollo, for playing; nice consolation gifts(including a big bag of Rollo candy I left with your mama after our get-together last night) await you at the basement landing.
            (MUTE, BLOCK, or other like IGNORE device applied)
            NEXT player, please!

          • Rollo Tomassi

            Good response Lloyd!

            Original and humorous!(The Price is Right!,basement and Momma quips!.. Your standard M.O.)

            Your attempt at humor is as concise as your evaluation of QBs.

            Tebow was,is and will be remembered as a bad NFL OB.

            You are now ,have been and always will be looked upon as,juvenile,overly opinionated ,and obnoxious.

            I have read again and again on this site and Wgr550 about you and how much people dislike you. One mention of you is maybe someone their issues.Two is maybe a coincidence.Three is a pattern. The amount of references to you is do numerous as to say , you are a DOUCHEBAG!

          • B H

            Lloyd, ROLLOVER is a Buffalo BUFFOON with a keyboard. He knows half of nothing of what he posts here.

            He started personally attacking me when I posted da Bills can move in the year 2020 for only a 28 million dollar penalty. ROLLOVER called me a idiot, and said why would da Bills pay anything in the last year of their contract with the county and NYS. When I copied and pasted the details of that contract showing that 2020 is only the 7th year of a 10 contact he would NOT acknowledge that I was correct but instead went into his childish behavior of attacking me personally again.

            So I am done with this CLOWN "ROLLOVER" because you cannot reason with immature juvenile and I recommend you do the same.

          • Rollo Tomassi

            Congratulations B H , you have found your soul mate!

            I hope the two of you are very happy, and I wish you a lifetime of love and companionship!

            Here is to the happy couple!..To Mr and Mr. CAPITAL LETTERS!

          • Lloyd M. Jr.

            "(Rollo) knows half of nothing of what he posts here."

            That, B H, is quite obvious.

  • Mike Michaels

    It's pretty depressing when Bills talk going into a new season has write-ups on the best backup QB's. No Dan Manucci??

    • Cannibal King

      Oh, nice Manucci reference! Brings back memories... kind of. I'll see your Manucci and raise you Joe Dufek!

  • rome middlesex

    wow this is pathetic, we need starters lol the bills dreaming about great backups while ej is going to ruin another season in buffalo.......... keep distracting the masses from the horrificly ugly truth!!!!!!

    • Cannibal King

      BINGO! Spiller is being wasted and won't be signed... TRADE HIM FOR A DAMN QB!

  • MLS

    50 plus years and this is it!

  • BAndriatch

    I will never forget Reich leading "the other comeback," against the Rams on Monday night in 1989. One of my favorite Bills' memories.

  • UncleBluck

    Lamonica should be #1....

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Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.