Few NFL rivalries measure up to the storied history of Dolphins-Bills, especially with regards to the decade between the two in the 1990's.
Both teams featured high-powered, explosive offenses led by future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Both had defenses littered with big names fueled by the emotional charges of their respective leaders. Roaming the sidelines were a pair of head coaches who would don the gold jacket after their first appearances on the Hall of Fame ballot.
While the teams on the field resembled one another to a degree, the polarizing geographical location of these two foes added another layer of intrigue to the rivalry. The sunshine and allure of South Beach tested the visitors of the Orange Bowl and Joe Robbie Stadium, particularly early in the season. But the payoff swung back to the guys in red and blue when the Dolphins had to travel north.
"The fan experience was unbelievably Buffalo, if that makes sense," former Dolphins linebacker John Offerdahl said. "I would see things I hadn't seen. I remember bus rides to and from the stadium where I saw things I probably shouldn't have seen, and things I wouldn't want to see again."
Things didn't get easier, or less psychotic once inside the building.
"The field was so close to the fans who were either throwing things at you, spitting at you or showing you things you didn't want to see," Offerdahl said. "It was a crazy environment for football. The cold weather, the fan experience, you either walk away loving it or you get intimidated by it."
The Dolphins were one of the few teams that could handle both the elements and the raucous onlookers. Miami was the only team in the NFL that won multiple games in Buffalo during the Bills' four-year run of consecutive trips to the Super Bowl.
"Two years in a row, games we were expected to lose, we beat them soundly in Buffalo," Offerdahl said. "Our defense came alive. We had a 103-yard return by Louis Oliver, we had Bryan Cox alongside me … although they were so explosive, we put together a package that kind of threw them off."
The most iconic moment of the rivalry captured on film put Offerdahl in a background role with aforementioned Bryan Cox taking center stage – a moment Offerdahl looks back on as his favorite in the rivalry.
"There's a photo with Bryan Cox talking to the crowd with his middle finger and I'm in the background just looking at him like 'what are you doing?'" Offerdahl laughed.
"Bryan Cox took football to another level that I wasn't used to," he continued. "It was a level of emotion I just couldn't match and he shared that emotion with the Buffalo Bills fans. It was great to be there with him in that moment."
That's not to say Offerdahl and the Dolphins needed any extra motivation to get up for the Buffalo games.
"I prepared for every game like it was life or death, but I always had a little extra for Buffalo," Offerdahl said. "I gave 99-100 percent regardless of who I played. Sometimes I might've taken advantage of certain opponents with the 99 percent, but those games with 100 percent was always against the Buffalo Bills."
Five of the Bills' mainstays for those early 90's teams were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame – four of them on offense.
"If you weren't on top of your game, you were going to get shredded," Offerdahl said. "I absolutely respected the Buffalo Bills. The organization, the talent they had, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, great receivers, unbelievable offensive line. They went to the Super Bowl four years in a row and I thought they had the best team in the NFL all four of those years even though they didn't win the last one."
While pass rushers Bruce Smith and Darryl Talley presented challenges to the Miami offense, it was the explosive, efficient attack of those Buffalo teams that kept the Dolphins Hall of Fame passer off the field.
"I look at those years as the prime years for Dan Marino and the offense," Offerdahl said. "As talented as those offenses were, Buffalo knew how to keep Dan and the offense off the field."
In 1990 and 1991, Marino's lowest pass-attempt totals in a given game occurred in the contests up in Buffalo.
That changed in 1992. Both teams entered the game unbeaten. The Bills coming off back-to-back AFC titles, the Dolphins scorching teams early in the season. In a year with several lopsided victories, no Dolphins win featured a greater margin than the Week 4 game in Buffalo when the Dolphins downed the Bills 37-10.
Marino delivered three touchdown passes and Oliver's 103-yard interception return put Miami out in front 31-10 in the third quarter.
"That game let us know we could go up there and beat those guys in that building," Offerdahl said. "We couldn't wait to see them again in Miami and then again in the postseason because we knew the road to the Super Bowl was going through Buffalo again."
He was right. The two teams met up for their second ever playoff matchup, this time in the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, just like in 1990, Offerdahl wouldn't be able to go in the rubber match with the Bills in that January clash.
"Again, I wasn't able to play. The defensive captain, the leader … I couldn't play," Offerdahl said. "That still sticks with me."
The defense missed Offerdahl's presence and leadership as the Bills went back to the Super Bowl with a 29-10 victory. Miami and Marino would finally exact their revenge with a win over the Bills in the 1998 playoffs.
The Bills took the 90's with 15 wins in 24 games over the Dolphins, but Miami still owns a 10-game advantage in the all-time series (61-51-1). The Dolphins and Bills will renew the rivalry Sunday in Buffalo at 1 o'clock in a game where the two sides have a combined 22 wins this season, the most in a matchup between these two since that AFC Championship game 28 years ago.