Before Colts Head Coach Frank Reich Led the Greatest Comeback in NFL History With the Bills, He Led the Greatest Comeback in College Football History Against Jimmy Johnson

Frank Reich is seen by many as one of the greatest backup quarterbacks in NFL history. Now the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Reich spent 14 years in the NFL as a player, 10 of those with the Buffalo Bills.

He was taken in the third round of the 1985 NFL draft out of Maryland, where he once engineered the greatest comeback in college football history, which was a preview of what was to come for Frank Reich in the NFL as he led the greatest comeback in league history in January 1993.

Frank Reich led what at the time was the biggest comeback in college football history in 1984

A two-year starter in high school in Pennsylvania, Frank Reich accepted a scholarship to the University of Maryland ahead of the 1981 college football season but didn’t get much of a chance to play for the Terrapins in his first three years as he was backing up Boomer Esiason. But when Esiason took his talents to the NFL in 1984, Reich finally got his chance to start.

However, about a month into his senior season, Frank Reich injured his shoulder. When he was ready to return a few weeks later, he was told he’d be staying on the bench as Maryland head coach Bobby Ross was sticking with the man who’d replaced him, Stan Gelbaugh.

However, on November 10, 1984, with Maryland down 31-0 to the sixth-ranked Miami Hurricanes, who were coached by Jimmy Johnson, at halftime, Reich got one more chance and certainly made the most of it. He engineered three touchdown drives in the third quarter, throwing two touchdown passes and running another in himself to close the gap to 34-21 heading into the fourth quarter.

In the final frame, Reich led three more touchdown drives to give Maryland an improbable 42-40 victory. At the time, it was the biggest comeback win in college football history. Since then, four teams have tied the mark by overcoming a 31-point deficit to win and the record was broken in 2006 when Michigan State overcame a 35-point deficit to beat Northwestern, 41-38.

Reich took back the starting job following the comeback win over the Hurricanes and led Maryland to an ACC title and a 28-27 win in the Sun Bowl over Tennessee, a game in which the Terps trailed at halftime, 21-0.

He played 14 seasons in the NFL and started just 20 games

Frank Reich was the true definition of a career backup quarterback in the NFL. Drafted in the third round in 1985 by the Bills, he spent his rookie season backing up Vince Ferragamo and Bruce Mathison and then spent the next nine seasons backing up future Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. He did make eight regular-season starts for Buffalo in his time there, going 4-4 in those games.

After leaving the Bills ahead of the 1995 season, Reich played one season each for the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets before playing his final two seasons with the Detroit Lions. He started 12 regular-season games in those four seasons and posted a 1-11 record on some very bad teams.

Reich also made two career starts in the postseason, both with the Bills following the 1992 NFL season, and one of those appearances came in the biggest comeback in league history.

Frank Reich and the Buffalo Bills overcame a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers in the NFL playoffs in January 1993

Frank Reich
Frank Reich | Frederick Breedon/Getty Images; Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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With Jim Kelly out with a knee injury, Frank Reich was the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills when they hosted the Houston Oilers in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs on January 3, 1993, at Rich Stadium.

The Bills, who had made two consecutive Super Bowl appearances up to that point, got off to a horrendous start and were down 28-3 at halftime as Warren Moon had carved up the Buffalo defense by completing 19 of 22 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns in the first 30 minutes. Things weren’t looking much better when Frank Reich threw a pick-six early in the third quarter, which gave the Oilers a 35-3 lead. But the Bills simply refused to quit and things just started to click.

With many people filing out of the stadium, Reich led an improbable comeback. He threw four touchdown passes in the second half, one to Don Beebe and three to Andre Reed to help the Bills to give the Bills a 41-38 victory. To this day, it remains the biggest comeback win in NFL history, regular season or playoffs.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference