By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — ORCHARD PARK — Only with the Buffalo Bills can a punter get a curtain call.
That was the scene late in the second quarter of Sunday’s wacky loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a wild ride that took Bills fans from mildly depressed to uncontrollably excited and back to somewhere in between.
Brian Moorman served as the Bills’ punter for 179 consecutive games from 2001-12 before he was released for the stronger, younger leg of Shawn Powell three weeks into the 2012 season. While Powell had power, he never mastered control of hang time and was cut after contributing to Travis Benjamin’s monster return day during Buffalo’s loss to Cleveland last week.
In a bit of karmic justice, Moorman was brought back to Buffalo replace his replacement. Sarcastic Bills fans, already jaded by their team’s 2-3 start, celebrated as if Moorman were a disappeared prince returning to claim his rightful thrown.
For almost an entire half, Moorman’s right leg was shackled to the Bills’ bench, awaiting a chance to be unleashed. Jokes were made in the press box about how upset some fans would be if Moorman didn’t get the chance to give a ball the ol’ boot.
With the Bengals leading 17-10, Jim Leonard — Buffalo’s other returning off-the-street veteran — picked off Andy Dalton and returned it 41 yards to the Cincinnati 38. With momentum swinging, the Bills offense managed to lose 10 yards, eliminating the opportunity for a score and setting up Moorman’s moment in the spotlight.
As if written for a script, Moorman booted a beauty that bounced inside the Cincinnati 5 and landed (clearly) out of bounds somewhere between the 1 and the goal line. The stadium erupted, its long-lost son returning home to make good.
But the dastardly referee, dressed in evil black and white, inexplicably missed the call, despite being no more than 5 feet from the play. Fans cried angrily at the official, their contempt growing with each replay. Finally, a booth review forced the lead ref fixed the call.
The crowd’s excitement elicited a visible fist pump from Moorman, which pushed the crowed toward raucous.
Moorman’s five punts netted an average of 42 yards, including the 29-yard return that set up Cincinnati’s game-winning field goal. For his 35 punts this year, Powell’s net average was 38.2.
In reality, Moorman is just a 37-year-old punter, a veteran fill-in at an afterthought position simply signed not to screw up. But when your team misses the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, fans learn to appreciate the little things.
Moorman’s Buffalo career seemed to have fizzled out last season. At 36, he looked like a player who’d held on too long before being cut unceremoniously.
As the longest-tenured Bill of the last decade, it was only fair that Moorman got a chance to write his own finale in Buffalo.
“I’m thankful to be here, to be a part of this organization, have the opportunity to be a Buffalo Bill again and finish my career here,” he said after Sunday’s game. “That’s my plan and I’m looking forward to that.”
With a 2-4 record, it should give Bills fans something to be excited for, too.
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