Rivalries often provide the long-lasting memories for a sports fan, especially on the gridiron. When it comes to the Dolphins' AFC East foes, different eras produced heightened levels of hatred from fans and even the players.
Most likely, if you're nostalgic for the 80's, your favorite teams were the Dolphins and whoever was playing the Jets that week. Since the turn of the century, the Patriots' success helped shape a generation of Dolphins fans who grew to loathe the team from Foxborough.
Between those two eras, in the 90's, the Dolphins had a twice-annual brawl with the boys from Buffalo. Dan Marino versus Jim Kelly. Don Shula versus Mary Levy. The sunshine of South Beach in stark contrast to the woeful winter weather of Western New York. Everything about these two teams was different, and that's what brought the intensity of that rivalry to a whole other level.
The two met in the postseason four times in the decade, bringing the 90's game-count to 24 epic battles. Buffalo got the upper hand with a 15-9 mark including three of the four postseason matchups.
A two-time All-Pro and member of the AFC Pro Bowl squad for seven consecutive years, tackle Richmond Webb was in Miami for the entirety of the decade.
"It was always an intense game," Webb said on the Drive Time podcast. "They were loaded on both sides of the ball; just a notch above our level but we always brought our A game."
Despite facing one of the NFL's top five all-time pass rushers two times every year, Webb ripped off seven trips to the Pro Bowl to start his career (1990-1996).
"Bruce Smith – him and Reggie White were always kind of 1-2 as far as the top defensive ends," Webb said. "I was happy that Reggie was on the opposite side because I've got enough to deal with, with Bruce. That was the toughest guy I had to play against year-in and year-out."
As if preparing for a man with 200 career sacks wasn't enough of a challenge, blocking that ferocious pass rusher on the infield dirt at Joe Robbie (and later Pro Player) Stadium added to the obstacles Webb faced against the Hall of Famer.
"It wasn't fun at all," Webb said. "I remember we would get down close to the end zone and trying to line up on that infield, your cleats wouldn't dig in. It was a challenge you had to deal with and you don't want to be focused on that when you've got Bruce Smith on the opposite side of you."
"You had to make sure you get your footing on their initial move," Webb said. "If you try to shift too quick, you would slip and fall down which could be a nightmare for a guy like Dan Marino if he didn't see it coming."
Going to Buffalo presented an entirely different challenge, especially later in the season. Regardless of the time of year, one thing remained consistent – the lack of love lost between the Dolphins players and the Bills fans. And the Bills players, for that matter.
"I don't know how it got started, it was a long time before I got here, but these two teams don't like each other," Webb said. "It was the game of the year every time we played."
"The fans would really give it to us," Webb said. "They let us know that they didn't welcome us at all. They took pleasure any time they could stick to us, so I just said if this is the way it is, then that's the way it is."
Nobody embodied the disdain for the division rival better than linebacker Bryan Cox. One fateful Sunday afternoon, the Dolphins were coming onto the field at Rich Stadium (now named Bills Stadium). As Cox led the Dolphins onto the field, amidst the screaming Bills Mafia, he flashed the two-finger salute down the ramp – a move that unleashed rage among the blue and red faithful.
"Of all the people on that team, if anybody would've done it, Bryan was the man to do it and he wasn't going to apologize for it," Webb said. "He let them know he felt the same way about them. I was chuckling to myself and kind of had to get myself back together."
Cox didn't mince his words when it came to the Buffalo Bills. The hate-hate relationship started with a quote the Miami linebacker dropped in the papers prior to the first meeting between the two in the 1993 season.
"I will retire from football if I'm ever traded up there," Cox said.
As much as the Bills fans loved to hate Cox and the Dolphins, the hometown fans in Miami shared an equal level of passion for their Dolphins – a passionate affinity.
"After that game, somewhere in South Florida, we were doing an autograph session and a little girl came up and asked him to sign that photo," Webb said. "So we had support from the Dolphins fans. They're going to ride with you to the end no matter what."
Just as the Bills had to adjust to the heat and humidity of South Florida in those early-season trips, the Dolphins had to layer up for December trips up north. Before Webb arrived to the NFL in 1990, Dan Marino was the spokesperson for Isotoner Gloves. His 1987 commercial became something of a cult classic for Dolphins fans, even to this day.
Even though the Dolphins players ribbed Dan for his acting exploits and the glove endorsement, they never forget where their bread was buttered.
"We might joke with him a little bit, but when we went to a cold weather city, those gloves came in handy," Webb said. "Everybody on the team got some of those Isotoner gloves."
The biggest reason nobody gave Marino too much grief was because they got to witness the show up close and personal every day.
"Teams just didn't know how to defend Dan," Webb said. "If you sat back, he was going to make you pay. If you blitzed he was going to make you pay. It was pick your poison."
One of Marino's most epic and memorable moments came in Buffalo, but not during a game. Pre-game Marino was showing off his trick shot skill set with an around-the-back dime 40 yards down the field to Mark Clayton.
That moment stands out in his mind, but it was one of Marino's many come-from-behind drives late in a game that made Webb – then a rookie – recognize exactly how much talent there was behind him at the quarterback position.
"My rookie year we were playing the Browns in front of the Dawg Pound," Webb said. "They would get really loud. We had to go 70-80 yards in a two-minute drive. It was my first time going through that in a game and it was just a surreal moment. It happened so fast and he made it seem way too easy. That was when I knew, 'this is a bad man.'"
After three playoff defeats in the decade at the hands of the Bills, the Dolphins exacted their revenge in the postseason following the 1998 campaign. Entering the fourth quarter knotted up at 14 a piece, Miami twice drove deep into Buffalo territory. A 23-yard Olindo Mare field gave the Dolphins a lead, but it was a 12-yard touchdown pass from Marino to Lamar Thomas that put the game on ice.
Dolphins Head Coach Jimmy Johnson forecasted the victory with a quote reported in the Associated Press just three days prior to kickoff.
"We're more effective throwing the ball," Johnson said. "We're better at protecting the passer. We led the NFL in scoring defense. We're better on punt returns. We're better on kickoff returns. We're better on interceptions. We're better at rushing the passer.
"So I think we're a better team."