Like most rabid Bills fans, I’d had Saturday, August 16th circled on my calendar for months. After a grueling 7-½ month hiatus without a Bills game (230 days to be exact, but who’s counting?), I would be able to see my heroes take the field again thanks to the good folks at ESPN. It had been a long and tedious spell since beating the lowly Bengals on December 29, 2002 and I was ready to go. Sure, there had been the NFL playoffs in January, the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl and the draft, but for a true junkie there is no fix like seeing your team take the field and play a real game. Or an almost real game. After such a drought, even a meaningless preseason game was going to be great to see.
Unless you live in western New York or had a satellite dish to rival anything NASA has, chances are that Saturday’s contest against the Tennessee Titans was the first game you’d been able to see with your own two eyes. If you were really desperate you might have paid those bloodsuckers at the NFL $35 to purchase the “Field Pass” rights to listen to Van Miller call the Baltimore game (it was free last year, but I suppose everyone has to make a buck in times like these). I won’t even get into how pathetic you’d have to be to use your cell phone as a modem so you could read the text of the play by play on your laptop last weekend so you could follow a preseason game against Baltimore. I don’t know anybody that desperate and addicted, but my wife claims she does…..[note to self - denial is step one in a series of steps]
Ah, the pre-game. Yessiree, nothing like the hour long pre-game to a preseason game. Now there’s some quality stuff for a junkie like me. With 60 minutes to go I was amped up to see the game. Way too amped up. I sat in my jersey watching NFL Live - although they wouldn’t have much to say, the football oracles (Boomer, T.J. and Irvin) would be talking about the Bills.
My first thought upon turning on the TV was that Michael Irvin looks like more of a pimp than Sterling Sharpe. All he needed to augment that horrific shiny checked suit was a big hat with a 3-foot peacock feather coming out of it and fur cape with a gold chain clasp and he could have been right out of Shaft. Or Wilt Chamberlain. Or Denis Rodman. No matter, this guy bugs me and was doing nothing to calm me as the anticipation mounted.
My agitation grew as ESPN rolled out the prepared video pieces on the Bills and their thoughts for the team this year. In the segment titled “Position Battles” they talked about the #2 receiver position being up for grabs between Josh Reed and Bobby Shaw. That got me a bit steamed - is there anyone out there who even remotely follows this team that doesn’t know Reed is the #2? Unless Bobby Shaw’s mother was the producer for that segment, isn’t it a bit disconcerting that ESPN doesn’t know that there is no battle for the #2 spot?
Cut to the “Bold Prediction” segment on the 2003 Bills. Sean Salisbury, in his infinite wisdom and fearlessness to call ‘em like he sees ‘em regardless of the fallout, actually predicted that Travis Henry would beat out Willis McGahee for the RB spot this year. Yes, you heard correctly - Salisbury thinks a guy who ran for over 1400 yards last season and went to the Pro Bowl is going to hold off a rookie coming off major reconstructive knee surgery who won’t practice until week 6 and won’t be eligible to play until at least week 10. Bravo, Sean Salisbury - nobody has guts to make “bold predictions” like that. Hey Sean - my grandmother has a better chance to unseat Henry - at least she won’t be on a list that prevents her from even attempting to take the field until more than half the season is over. Wow, now I’m even more amped up - when will this game start?
You knew it had to happen, and although you probably prepared yourself for it mentally, it was jarring to see that damn “Music City Miracle” play again. If I live to be 100, I’ll never understand why some people, including a trained officiating staff with the benefit of instant replay, can fail to see that the damn thing was a forward pass. Listening to the ESPN crew talk about it being a great lateral, I’m starting to wonder whether the recent blackout has put me into another dimension like Bizzaro World. IT WAS A FORWARD PASS!!! I have now broken out into a sweat and am yelling at the TV. The wife has gone down to the basement and the cat has disappeared. Will this game never start?
The National Anthem - the game has to be close. Enter Kevin Carter and his saxophone. In a city known worldwide as “The Music City”, they’ve drafted a defensive end who played the sax in fourth grade to do the Star Spangled banner on national TV and in front of a live crowd of better than 68,000 people. The results were as painful as they were predictable. The vein in my forehead popped as he hit some sour notes - a 6 foot 5 inch, 280 pound defensive end with the musical ability of a 12 year old was mangling the Anthem and still we were minutes away from kickoff. Sweet Mother of God, why can’t we just get this game rolling?
Blissfully, the game finally started a few minutes later. For the next 3+ hours I sat and watched my team get thumped 37-24. The starters looked flat. The once-powerful offense had two punts and a turnover on downs while collecting one first down in their first three series. Bledsoe was sacked twice and pressured countless other times. The much-heralded and newly-retooled defense didn’t fare much better - they gave up three touchdowns, forced a punt and picked off a terribly under thrown ball. They had no sacks and put no pressure on the quarterbacks. Backup Billy Volek looked like Brett Favre hitting Justin McCareins for a 35 yard touchdown after he ran right by Antoine Winfield. Then there were the 16 penalties for 178 yards - the starters racked up 5 for 73 yards - that made you wonder whether it was such a great idea to forgo 2-a-day practices after all. Flags fell like rain - the Bills looked like they did years ago.
By my unscientific tally, the starting units were defeated 21-10, although the line is hard to draw as neither the Bills nor the Titans pulled all of their starters at once - in the second quarter both teams had a mix of first and second string personnel on the field at the same time.
Indeed, the Bills looked pretty bad, and they did it all in front of a national TV audience. There were few bright spots. Thankfully, this was only the second preseason game. There are still two more such contests before the games count in the standings. Yep - this game was meaningless. It has no bearing on the standings or our chances for this year. We can still go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl 65-0. Our entire offense and defense can still make the Pro Bowl and everyone can get a trip to Hawaii. It amazes me that folks can put so much stock in a game that has as much meaning as Fred’s Muffler Shop beating the Ted Lawrence Funeral Home in Pop Warner.
Let’s not get crazy here, people - this is the preseason - who really cares? Nobody should get worked up over a meaningless game! [note to self - see previous note to self about denial]
Comments on this article