The Eagles haven't played many games in Buffalo – seven to be exact – but one of the most memorable was a Thursday night game in September, 1981. The Eagles were the defending NFC Champions and the Bills were a resurgent team, much like the current team that is 5-1 under coach Sean McDermott.
That year the Bills were on the rise under coach Chuck Knox. They opened the season with blowout wins over the New York Jets (31-0) and the Baltimore Colts (35-3). The Eagles were also 2-0 with wins over the New York Giants (24-10) and the New England Patriots (13-3). So this was a marquee matchup for the prime-time audience.
It also was a homecoming for Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski who grew up in nearby Lackawanna, New York, rooting for the Bills at War Memorial Stadium. The Bills had moved to their new home in Orchard Park and Jaworski left Bills Nation for a new home in Philadelphia, but the game had enormous meaning for the Eagles' quarterback because he had so many friends and relatives in the stands.
"We have a real close family and a lot of friends," Jaworski said. "There are a lot of people here who never get a chance to see me play live and in person. I felt like I owed them a good performance. It was a special night in that respect, but it was also a big game for our team. We know how good the Bills are, especially on defense.
"They play that 3-4 scheme really well. They have good linebackers and they really fly around. They flow to the ball. We put some new stuff into the game plan this week – different sets, different looks – and we ran a few reverses to give them something to think about. We took an aggressive approach and it worked."
Jaworski completed 20 of 32 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns as the Eagles earned a hard-fought 20-14 victory. He walked off the field with one arm around his older brother Bill and the other around his nephew Jeff who was following in Ron's footsteps as the quarterback at Lackawanna High. The Steelers – that was their nickname – had not lost a game in three years. In upstate New York, good things seem to happen when you have a Jaworski at quarterback.
Uncle Ron did his post-game press conference surrounded by family and friends. His brother Bill smiled proudly as he watched Ron bask in the spotlight. Bill was a foreman at the Bethlehem Steel Plant just three miles down the road. He was surrounded by Bills fans every day at work and he knew what it would be like the next morning if the Bills won the game.
"I told Ron he had to win this game, I won't be able to go to work if he didn't," Bill said. "I said, 'Look, I don't want to put any pressure on you but ...'
"Was I nervous? I could never explain just how nervous I was. My stomach was turned inside out 100 times. My hands were shaking. It's a good thing Ronnie was out there, not me. He was beautiful, wasn't he? Right on the money all night. How many millions of people watch these games? He showed 'em some quarterbacking tonight.
"I bet he will tell you this was his biggest game ever," Bill added. "I guess the Super Bowl was a bigger game but this was the most emotional. He was coming home to play in front of his family on national TV against a good Bills team. I know he was fired up. I could tell that.
"We had 300 tickets for the game. We had 50 relatives plus 250 friends. We were all sitting together cheering for the Eagles. The (Buffalo) fans were looking at us funny but then they saw some of the Jaworski jerseys, so they figured it out. We're Bills fans, too, just not tonight."
Ron Jaworski played the game like he was back playing at Lackawanna High, scurrying around the field, hugging his teammates, patting them on the back. He even led the blocking on a double reverse, tossing his body into the path of Bills linebacker Isiah Robertson to spring Rodney Parker for a big gain. He was on target all night, especially on a 34-yard pass to Wilbert Montgomery, a pass that floated onto Montgomery's outstretched fingertips, soft as a snowflake.
Jaworski also took a late hit from defensive end Fred Williams who decked the quarterback well after he released a 15-yard touchdown pass to Harold Carmichael. Jaworski rolled over and looked for the penalty flag. When he did not see one – it would have certainly drawn multiple flags today – he chased after referee Dick Jorgensen, jumping up and down and flailing his arms.
"It was ridiculous," Jaworski said. "I watched Harold catch the ball and step into the end zone, then I got hit. I'd say that's pretty late. I'm tired of guys taking shots at me and not getting anything for it. That's what I told the referee. I don't mean to be a crybaby, but come on ..."
"It was screaming, too," Bill said. "It was definitely a cheap shot. I don't know how the ref missed it. It takes a lot for Ron to complain. He's as tough as they come. I've watched him all the way up, through high school and college. I'm so proud of him. Not just for the player he is but for the person he is.
"Ronnie has never changed. He's the same now as he was when he was in high school, the same as when he went to Youngstown State. He never let success go to his head. He's a regular guy. He's like anybody else from Lackawanna. He likes his friends, he likes to have a good time. He doesn't play the role. He can go out with the guys from the steel mill and be right at home.
"That's why I'm glad to see him in Philadelphia. Philly is his kind of town. It's an ethnic place. He fits in. He never fit in in Los Angeles (when he played for the Rams). It's like fantasyland out there. It's not Ronnie's scene at all. I know the Philly fans are rough but I understand it. Those people want to win, so does he."
Bill watched his brother finish up one last TV interview and head for the showers. Ron had a shampoo bottle in one hand and a hair dryer in the other. Bill told him to hurry up, the whole family was waiting outside.
"We got some partying to do, brother," Bill said. "This is your night."
An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of hisEagles History columns here.He is also the author ofThe Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.