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  • Budd Bailey

Buffalo Bills: The 1980s – The free turkey hoax

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

(Editor’s Note: Reedy Press has published “The Buffalo Bills: An Illustrated Timeline of a Storied Franchise.” The book was written by Greg Tranter and Budd Bailey; click here for more information. The authors wrote some potential chapters to the book that were not used, and didn’t want to put them to waste. Therefore, they thought people would like to read about those events from the team’s past on this site. It will give you a taste of what the text of the coffee-table book is like.)

This probably is the best running gag in the history of the Bills. Even better, everyone was in on it … except the victims.

It always started the same way, as reporter Scott Pitoniak tells the story. Officials on the team would tell the rookies that they could go to a local market to pick up a free turkey for Thanksgiving. They needed to show some identification, and then could grab the big bird for some good eating. But when the rookies showed up, the manager had never heard of the promotion. Come to think of it, he probably said he had never heard of the rookies – no matter how famous they were. The players went home a little embarrassed, but figured that was the end of the story.

Oh, but it wasn’t. After Thanksgiving, the rookies were told about the hoax and then asked how many fell for the scheme. No one admitted it, of course. Then the room was darkened for film study – only in this case, it was photos of the rookies in the market. Busted.

Joe Cribbs might have been the worst case in 1980. He denied falling for the joke, to the point where he bet other players that he was innocent. Then the film rolled, and the first face at the meat counter was Joe in his Auburn letterman’s sweater. Jim Kelly, Steve Tasker and Ray Bentley were also fooled.

The best part might have been that no one – media, fans, etc. – ever mentioned the gag in the weeks leading up to the actual prank. So when it was actually executed, it was as if the entire Bills fanbase was having a belly laugh together.

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