As the Buffalo Bills make their run toward their first Super Bowl berth in 25 years, one former Niagara-on-the-Lake resident watches with great excitement from his home near Bradenton, Florida, despite having already been there and done that.
With 1,101 career points, retired kicker Steve Christie is still the all-time leading scorer in Bills history. He’s been following the team’s amazing run and is excited about the possibility of this squad finally winning one for the Queen City.
This Sunday, Buffalo takes on the Kansas City Chiefs for the American Football Conference Championship, while Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Green Bay to meet the Packers for the National Football Conference title. The two winners will square off in the big game on Feb. 7.
“There’s some pretty good match-ups next week,” Christie says. “Considering the Bills have to go to Arrowhead (home stadium of the Kansas City Chiefs), that’s tough. If (Patrick) Mahomes goes through everything he has to do (the KC quarterback suffered a concussion in last week’s win over Cleveland), he’ll be able to play, but what makes it tough for the Bills is they have to make a game plan for any M.O., defensively.”
Christie’s 54-yard field goal in Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta, Georgia in January, 1994, is still the record for the longest successful kick in a Super Bowl. The shoe he wore that day sits in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But the Bills lost that game to the Dallas Cowboys, 30-13, capping off a four-year run of Super Bowl losses that stands today as a frustrating example of futility.
The end result on the scoreboard in that game wasn’t quite as bad as Christie’s first Super Bowl appearance the previous year, when the Bills lost to those same Cowboys 52-17. That one was played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
“The first one was nerve-wracking,” Christie reminisces. “We trained at USC, and coming from a small university (William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia) I couldn’t believe the facilities. But there’s so much hype, all the events, it’s a circus, a gong show. It’s hard at first to separate yourself and focus on the fact that there’s one game at the end of all this nonsense, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Christie says for both games he boarded the first bus with the training staff just to get away from all the commotion at the hotel. “That’s the thing that got me ready to play, getting rid of the circus,” he says. Christie connected on a 21-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on point-after conversions in that game, at which Michael Jackson entertained the 98,000 in the stadium and the millions watching worldwide.
“When you’re in the locker room, it seems like the half-time show is two
hours long,” he laughs. “You just want to get back onto the field. It’s a tough game to play in because it doesn’t flow like a normal Sunday game, with all the ads.”
Though he overcame his jitters, Christie says his first Super Bowl was disappointing. “Other than (Bills receiver) Don Beebe running down (Dallas defensive tackle) Leon Lett (just before he crossed the goal line on a fumble recovery), and (Bills’ special teams legend) Steve Tasker blocking a punt, that game was awful. It was so bad, after the game the press only wanted to talk to Marv (head coach Marv Levy). The rest of us came out of the locker room, and the buses weren’t there. I turned to everyone and said ‘that’s what happens when you get your butts kicked at the Super Bowl. We’re walking.’”
The buses did eventually show up, but it added insult to injury.
Christie’s career began with Tampa Bay in 1990, but his years in Buffalo are the ones that are most memorable. He kicked for the Bills until 2000, becoming one of the National Football League’s best at the position. In 2001, he moved on to the San Diego Chargers, along with Buffalo quarterback Doug Flutie and other Bills, where he played for two years. He closed out his NFL career after the 2004 season with the New York Giants, wrapping up 15 years with a field goal percentage of 77 per cent, and an extra-point accuracy rate of 98 per cent. The Oakville native came out of retirement in 2007 to play one game for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, then retired once again.
Christie and his wife Kelly no longer own the 1880s-era house they used to have on Prideaux Street in the Old Town. About six years ago he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Facing treatments to reduce the tumour, they decided to sell their property here and move to the U.S. full-time with their daughter Clare. Following treatments at hospitals in Buffalo and Cleveland, Christie’s cancer is in remission, and he’s feeling healthy and energized by his former team’s recent success.
He met current Bills coach Sean McDermott at a home game last year (Christie attended five games in 2019), and was impressed with the fellow William and Mary alumnus. “He’s a great guy, very personable and focused. He reminds me of Marv. He’s not really a yeller, a shouter. He’s the kind of coach that I’d like to play for.”
“Josh Allen (the current Bills quarterback) has a great arm, and you have to have a great arm to play in Buffalo,” he continues. “It’s phenomenal how they built that team on the shoulders of Josh Allen, and they’ve drafted very well. He could be better than (Bills legend) Jim Kelly. He can run, and he’s a big guy, he’s going to get better and better.”
Christie also thinks rookie kicker Tyler Bass will eventually break his own team record for longest field goal, a 59-yarder in the 1993 regular season. Bass hit a 54-yarder in the Bills’ first playoff game against Indianapolis, and was good on a 58-yard attempt at Arizona in a regular season loss.
“He had a tremendous season, and he’s got a great leg,” Christie raves. “If he’s hitting 60-plus yarders during pre-game, there’s no doubt McDermott will put him back out there during the game to pick up three points. There’s no doubt he’ll get it.”
During last week’s divisional round win over the Baltimore Ravens, Bass and Ravens kicker Justin Tucker each missed two field goals in the windy Buffalo conditions. That doesn’t surprise Christie or the Buffalo kicker he replaced, Scott Norwood, with whom he was texting while watching the game. Norwood’s wide-right kick at the end of Super Bowl XXV is to this day the most significant field goal attempt in Buffalo history, as it cemented the first of four straight losses in the big game.
“That was the darkest side of kicking,” Christie tells The Local. “The way he dealt with that, though, I learned a lot from him. I watched that game at home in Oakville, but that was in Tampa on my home field. There were a number of plays in the game where it shouldn’t have come down to Scott, where we could have done better to set him up for a closer kick.”
These days, he uses the lessons he learned from his predecessor while coaching young high school kickers in Florida. He and Kelly also sell real estate in the Bradenton area. And of course, he can’t wait to watch this weekend’s game, and to hopefully cheer on his favourite team in Super Bowl XLV, which will be played in nearby Tampa Bay, the city where his NFL journey began.