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Flashback Friday: Beck To The Future: The Buffalo Bills

By Mark Solway | September 24th, 2021

On Sunday, Washington square off against the Buffalo Bills. They don’t play each other very often. They are in different Conferences, and often at different ends of the table. This will be just the fourth time they have faced each other in the last decade. And while nobody really wants to remember, it was almost ten years ago that Washington lost to the Bills in a most spectacular fashion.

In Canada.

I was there. Though I have regretted it ever since.

On October 30th, 2011, Washington played an away game in Toronto, Ontario, Canada at the Rogers Centre. It was part of the NFL’s International Series that put games in other world cities, and Buffalo played five home games in Toronto from 2008-2013.

It was not a popular choice with the Buffalo fans, as can well be expected. Buffalo is fairly close to Toronto geographically – 75 miles – but there’s still a border crossing to contend with. It wasn’t exactly an average home game for a fan to get in their season ticket package. The crowds at Rogers Centre would still be predominantly Bills colors, but there was a lot of foreign colors at those “home” games too. Seats often obtained from Bills season ticket holders, who had sold off that game. Who can blame them really?

We were the foreign colors that day. Or colours as we say in Canada, eh?

Pre-Game Rituals

I believe there were eight of us. Forgive me if that number is incorrect but it was ten years ago, and it was an alcohol-fuelled day of fun.

Five of us made the trek from London to meet the others in Toronto. We were very excited. We had all been to Washington together to see games, and to training camps, but getting to see a game in Toronto was a real treat. The first time any of us had been to a regular season NFL game, without crossing the border.

We went to some guy‘s house. We drank a lot. We got our obnoxious on.

We were all decked out in our favourite Washington jerseys of the time… classics like Chris Cooley, Santana Moss, Fred Davis and Jabar Gaffney.

Okay, nobody had a Gaffney jersey except for maybe Steve Spurrier, but still.

The only thing I remember about the guy whose house that we went to before the game, was that he lived close to the stadium. That was important since you can’t tailgate at the Rogers Centre.

That allowed us to get a few extra rounds in. Work up that liquid courage to walk us through a sea of Bills fans, while singing Hail to the Redskins on the way to the stadium.

Setting The Stage

Now to set the stage for the football aspect of the day. Coming in, Washington were 3-3 and the Bills were 4-2.

Washington had the wheels fall off two weeks before, when they had to yank starting quarterback Rex Grossman. He threw four interceptions against the Eagles, and was well deserving of the yank.

Rex Grossman at Washington TC 2011

John Beck

In came John Dalton Beck. Do you remember him? You can be forgiven if you don’t remember, as his Washington tale was short and pretty unremarkable. Unremarkable except for the game that we were about to be “treated” to.

Beck had played the end of the game against Philadelphia, and done alright. He was a vanilla 8 for 15, but he hadn’t turned the ball over and he had run for a touchdown. The next week, he had come up short against Carolina in a defeat, but he had played okay again.

So heading to Toronto, he hadn’t played that badly. And here is the thing that makes this story fun when you look back at it ten years later.

John Beck actually thought he was pretty good.

He wasn’t, but he thought, and acted like he was. It seemed he even convinced others he was starting calibre material. He wasn’t, but he got the gig right?

So when we walked into that stadium to face off against a Bills team that was being quarterbacked coincidentally by one Ryan Fitzpatrick, we legitimately thought we had at least a shot at going home winners. We weren’t being homers. We looked a solid match-up. The Bills defense was struggling at the time, and it was a game with little home field advantage.

But it was an unmitigated disaster from the start.

The Dung Heap Sized Ten

Sav Rocca was easily Washington’s best player that day, with a 57-yard punt.

It was that ugly.

John Beck all of a sudden seemed to realize that he wasn’t actually very good. He was afraid to even throw the ball. He just kept standing there in the pocket and getting pole-axed.

Like a deer in the headlights. Not just staring at the oncoming traffic, but getting pasted by it as well. Deer guts all over the Rogers Centre turf.

Washington scored exactly zero points. It finished 23-0. It could have been 123.

Early in the second quarter, the Bills fumbled on their own 31-yard line, and Washington still couldn’t score. After getting down to the 16-yard line, Beck dropped back and took a 6-yard sack. Then on third down, he took another sack – this time a 9-yard loss. That put Washington back at the 31-yard line, and Graham Gano’s 49-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

That was definitely a precursor of what was to come.

Washington had two more possessions in the first half. Both of them were 3-and-outs, and involved John Beck sacks.

Half Time Adjustments?

In the second half, it got uglier somehow.

Washington had five possessions and two of them ended in John Beck interceptions. He also turned the ball over on downs at the Buffalo 24-yard line. His confidence looked completely shattered.

Washington finished with a paltry 178 total net yards.

They managed just ten first downs.

You know what else happened ten times?

John Beck got sacked ten times.

You didn’t read that incorrectly – I’ll type it again – John Beck was sacked ten times.

How is that even possible you might be asking yourself.

We were asking ourselves that in the crowd. Alcohol-fuelled or not. And it didn’t take ten sacks for us to start asking the question either. It was obvious that Beck had not only forgotten how to throw, but was absolutely shellshocked in the pocket.

Beck threw for 208 yards that day, but lost 56 yards on sacks for a net total of 152 yards.

NINE different Bills registered a half-sack or more.

It was an absolute Gong Show.

The Aftermath

It would be fitting if I got to tell you that Beck never played another down of NFL football. But he did.

He somehow got the nod the following week against San Francisco. He only got sacked twice, and went 30 of 47 for 254 yards with a touchdown and one interception. Washington had started 3-2 with Grossman, but after losing to the 49ers, had now lost the last three with Beck.

So they yanked him in favor of Grossman.

Washington were set to face the 1-7 Miami Dolphins – the team that had traded Beck to Washington. He had a legitimate shot at his first NFL win.

It would never come.

He would never play again.

He finished his career appearing in nine NFL games.

And he was sacked ten times on October 30th, 2011.

Our Aftermath

After the game and leaving the stadium, suddenly the guy‘s house didn’t seem so close. Any degree of obnoxiousness that we served up on the way to the game, was served back to us in spades on the way home.

Of course we stood loud and proud; but talk about walking with your tail between your legs.

We went back to the guy‘s house, and had a couple of drinks to try and drown our sorrows. Misery loves company, and we still managed to have a good time.

We acted like we hadn’t just been punched in the face.

But we had just been punched in the face.

The only NFL game any of us ever saw in Canada.

A flaming heap of John Beck dung.

Hail!!!  🙂


Beck’s ten sacks were, and still are, a Washington record.

Previous to that, Joe Theismann was sacked nine times in a game against Pittsburgh in 1978.

2021 Washington Football Team Regular Season Schedule

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