If bad karma has been haunting the Buffalo Bills' franchise over the past decade, the return of special-teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven might help the worm finally turn.
DeHaven became the scapegoat and was infamously fired after the Bills snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing the Titans' "Home Run Throwback" and resulting "Music City Miracle" to beat them 22-16 in an AFC wild-card playoff game on Jan. 8, 2000.
Not only is that the franchise's most recent playoff game, the Bills haven't finished higher than third in their division since that fateful day, managing only one winning season in the past decade.
Meanwhile, during DeHaven's time away from Buffalo, he reached the postseason four times — with San Francisco in 2001 and '02, Dallas in '06 and Seattle in '07 — as special-teams coordinator.
That's not a surprise, since DeHaven is one of the more respected special-teams coaches in the league, having had great success in each of his previous stops, particularly the halcyon days when he was leading the likes of Steve Tasker and Mark Pike for a Bills kicking game that annually ranked among the league's best.
In fact, his addition to Bills head coach Chan Gailey's staff should be considered quite a coup. The only reason DeHaven was available was because he was part of the purge in Seattle after Jim Mora and his staff were surprisingly fired after only one season and Pete Carroll was brought aboard with much fanfare from USC.
"(Bruce) establishes a 'this is fun' atmosphere among the players who perform on the kicking teams, and he does this while still being able to focus on details and preparation," says Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy, who employed DeHaven as his special-teams coach in Buffalo. "He convinces players that the process of preparation is part of the fun because it sure is more fun to be successful on game day. His personality is upbeat and cheerful, and that, too, helps contribute to the 'let's have fun' feelings."
DeHaven says he had no hesitation about coming back to Buffalo, having long ago put behind him the bitterness of an unwanted, undeserved firing.
He felt even better about his decision to rejoin a club that had made four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, won six straight AFC East titles and earned 10 playoff berths in his previous 13-year stint in Buffalo after talking to Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.
"I saw (Mr. Wilson) the first time when he came over for the draft and I got to visit with him for a little bit," DeHaven says. "The first thing he said when he saw me was, 'Bruce, you got a raw deal here.' I said, 'Well, I appreciate that, Mr. Wilson, but it was probably the best thing for everybody. Now, after a few years, we've got a chance to get back together again and reprise all those great years here.' "
DeHaven inherits a strong special-teams unit that finished in the top half of the league in every category except punt-return average last season and had performed exceptionally well the past six seasons under former coach Bobby April.
With an unsettled QB situation and question marks at several spots, the Bills will need their kicking game to make game-changing plays. It should be comforting for Bills fans to know DeHaven has been there, done that, and is up for his newest challenge.
For authoritative coverage and analysis of NFL news, free agency and fantasy football, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.