The long dreary days of winter have finally fallen upon me.
January is the longest time of the year for me. The weather is cold and the snow falls nearly every day (unless it’s just too cold to snow). The sun sets shortly after 4:30PM. Christmas is over and it’s time to focus on work – back to the grind after the holidays.
If this weren’t bad enough, the Buffalo Bills season is over – there will be no more football games and good times with friends while rooting for red white and blue-clad heroes until Labor Day. Even the draft is months away. The lack of something to be excited about creates a big void in my life – I’m sure other Bills fans feel it too.
The topper, of course, is to live near Boston, where moronic Patriots fans have gone hog-wild for their Super Bowl bound team. The same people who wouldn’t say a word to me in the week following the first game of the season now feel free to tell me how great their team is, how it’s their destiny to win the Super Bowl and how it’s going to be a long time before they see any real competition in the AFC East.
To hear people talk here, the NFL should dispense with the mere formality of the Super Bowl and should schedule the victory parade and ring ceremony in Boston for the afternoon of February 1, 2004. Yes indeed, everyone’s a Patriots fan, even if they know nothing about football – the difference between a legal chuck at the line vs. blatant defensive holding/pass interference completely ignored. President Bush is a Patriots fan – how else can you explain Tom Brady’s presence at the State of the Union address earlier in the week? Unless young Tom is an expert on the impact of a 4% growth in discretionary spending on the budget or knows the location of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, I’d say Bush was trying to show fans in John Kerry’s home state that he’s a Pats fan.
Under the circumstances I’m sure you can see why it’s been hard for me to find the energy to write another article on the Bills. Sure there’s been plenty of Bills news over the past few weeks, but not much has given me a strong opinion on which to base on article. When my editors at Bills Daily called and asked if I’d write something I knew I had to form an opinion on something – the end of the season, the firing of Gregg Williams, the coaching search, the hiring of Mike Mularkey, the selection of an assistant coaching staff, potential free agent moves, the upcoming NFL draft – anything.
I wouldn’t say I had writers block, it’s more of an opinion block. Try as I might, I’m just wasn’t enthused about any particular topic. With the season over, every little move by the Bills has been talked to death on Bills message boards and call-in shows. Not just what has happened, but what could happen prior to the start of next season.
Luckily, I know a Bills fan that has an opinion on anything Bills related. He’ll engage anyone in a heated debate or shouting match on something as obscure as what length spikes the Bills should have used in week 6 of the 1994 season in the rain at Miami. Give him a Bills topic and he’ll tell you what to think – he’s not only got an opinion, he’s always got the right opinion.
Here then, is a transcript of my conversation with Wally, my all-knowing, opinionated Bills fan friend:
Me: Hey Wally! Man, that was some season. I was expecting much better than 6-10 this year. To say this season was a disappointment would be the understatement of the century.
Wally: Tell me about it. This was our year! We had a Pro Bowl quarterback, a 1500-yard rusher, one of the best receivers in the game and we beefed up the defense. Jeff Posey, sack-master extraordinaire, was brought into team up with London Fletcher and we got the best linebacker in the game when we signed Takeo Spikes. Sam Adams, a guy who brought 2 teams to the Super Bowl, saw what we were doing and wanted in on the action, so he came over to play for the Bills. Then days before the season opened we stole Lawyer Milloy from the Patsies – how stupid was Belichick for letting him go, especially to a division rival? Hands down, the Bills had the best squad in the NFL. We embarrassed the Patriots and the Jaguars in the first two weeks and it was Super Bowl time, baby! I wonder if anyone in New England would buy the Super Bowl tickets and hotel reservations I got in September – the deal includes round-trip airfare from Buffalo…
Me: Yeah, we did look good early on and then we just crashed and burned – what happened?
Wally: I know exactly what happened – Drew Bledsoe happened. That guy’s washed up – he has been for years. He’s a friggin’ statue. He couldn’t run or avoid a sack if his life depended on it – it’s like he has his feet in concrete blocks. He was a turnover machine – if he wasn’t throwing a pick he was fumbling. He didn’t get rid of the ball and didn’t find any open receivers. Even Rob Johnson was a better quarterback. With terrible quarterback play like that it’s no wonder we didn’t even hit .500 this year.
Me: I’d agree that Bledsoe had a terrible year, but I think there were other factors in the Bills poor performance this season. What about the terrible game plans that ignored the run? What about the inconsistent play by the offensive line and their inability to pick up the blitz? What about Eric Moulds being hobbled with a groin injury? What about the lack of another speed receiver to stretch the field? What about Josh Reed not living up to expectations and dropping a ton of balls early in the season? What about a highly rated defense that couldn’t generate turnovers? And not to touch on a sore topic, but didn’t you proudly wear a Bledsoe jersey until week 3 or 4?
Wally: That Bledsoe jersey was a gift and I stopped wearing it after week 6 of last season – that’s when I knew Bledsoe had nothing left in the tank. I was wearing a Brian Moorman jersey this season – he’s the best damn player the Bills have! Man, you’re nothing but a Drew Bledsoe apologist with all your excuses. Face it, the guy sucks – there’s no two ways about it. The Patriots knew it and got rid of him and now he’s dragged us down. For a guy that’s supposed to be such a great quarterback he played worse than Travis Brown given the same surrounding cast of offensive linemen and receivers.
Me: I’d disagree with you about Brown. He saw limited time and played pretty much in garbage time this season – when the Bills had to pass and the defenses were playing softer (prevents, etc.). In some instances the game was all but over and the other teams were resting some of their starters as well.
Wally: I’m not going to sit here and listen to you spout your love for Drew Bledsoe. Drew Bledsoe is the anti-Christ! If you don’t agree that he’s the direct spawn of Satan we have nothing to talk about!
Me: O.K. – I’ll change the subject – I didn’t know you felt so strongly about Drew. So, what do you think about the coaching search and the selection of Mike Mularkey?
Wally: Mike Mularkey, the good friend of Tom Donahoe? The guy responsible for the terrible offensive production in Pittsburgh? That guy hasn’t done much with the talent he had – Kordell Stewart, Tommy Maddox, Jerome Bettis. I hope our guys don’t end up like those guys – they suck. Mularkey was hired because Donahoe knew he’d keep Bledsoe next season – another Bledsoe lover! How could Donahoe hire one of his old Pittsburgh cronies? He had the opportunity to hire a proven head coach, one who had Super Bowl experience, and he didn’t go and get him – what an idiot!
Me: Yeah, I really thought Jim Fassel was going to be the guy – I didn’t expect Mularkey.
Wally: No! Not Fassel - Levy! Marv Levy wanted to come back and coach the Bills and Donahoe passed him up. Think about it – he’s the greatest coach we ever had and he was begging to come back and we turned our backs on him. Marv could have taken us all the way – the Super Bowl would have been ours! Marv Levy’s natural habitat is the Super Bowl…
Me: I don’t think Marv was ever seriously considered a candidate – what did you think about the others?
Wally: I liked Jim Haslett and think the ex-Bill would have been a great coach – his wife is from Buffalo, you know. Sure he was under contract to the Saints, but we could’ve at least tried to get him. I bet the Saints would have taken a 7th round pick in the 2008 draft as compensation – that would’ve been a great deal for both sides. Anyway, if we couldn’t get Marv or Haslett I would have settled for Fassel – he has head coaching experience, went to the Super Bowl and has a good attitude. It’s a shame that the Bills cheaped out and weren’t willing to pony up the money needed to get an experienced head coach.
Me: I don’t think it was necessarily about money, I just think Fassel wasn’t a fit. For a guy with Super Bowl experience nobody else selected him as their head coach either. Remember, one man’s experienced head coach is another man’s retread. OK, so you don’t like Mularkey because he’s got no head coaching experience – what do you think about his assistant coaching selections?
Wally: I’m not impressed. He didn’t land Dick LeBeau and let him go to Pittsburgh – big mistake. He kept Jerry Gray - how hard is that guy going to try to win games for a club that not only passed on him as head coach, but also didn’t make him their first choice for defensive coordinator? Tom Clements as offensive coordinator? They guy was responsible for Kordell and Tommy Maddox and now you’re going to entrust him with our offense? Bobby April is a terrible choice for special teams coach – his squad in St. Louis ranked near the bottom in all sorts of special teams categories. When it comes to assistant coaches I think Mularkey’s done a terrible job.
Me: O.K., you don’t like the coach and his staff. What about the players? What do we do in free agency this year?
Wally: I’m glad you asked. This is where I’ve got it all figured out. I know everyone’s cap number from my Madden football game and I think I’ve punched the numbers better than Donahoe ever could. If we make the right moves we bring in all the talent we need! First off, we cut Bledsoe – that’ll save us $8 million next year. We replace him with Billy Volek at QB or sign someone else for league minimum (Mark Brunell, Jeff Garcia, etc.). We use the money to sign Terrell Owens – can you imagine Owens and Moulds together? T.O. is a good friend of Moulds, so I think he’ll play for league minimum, maybe only slightly above. Now you still have some money, so you go sign Damien Woody at center and get rid of Trey Teague. Cut Ruben Brown and replace him with a rookie from the draft. Use that money to go get Ty Law to replace Antoine Winfield – we need another corner when he goes. There are actually a bunch of different scenarios, and if you really have your heart set on having a top quarterback we should be able to bring in Peyton Manning (provided he and Ty Law both agree to play for league minimum).
Me: I don’t think you’ll be able to do all of that. In fact, I don’t think any of those moves will happen – I think the Bills will make only small moves in free agency – nothing close to any of the blockbuster deals you mention. I don’t want to get you all hyped again – let’s say we don’t agree on what will happen and leave it at that. So, what do we do in the draft this year? We have needs at a bunch of positions – defensive end, offensive line, #2 wide receiver, cornerback, young quarterback to groom for the future, maybe even a kicker.
Wally: We need a new quarterback and we need him now. Bledsoe sucks and we’ll never win with him. There’s not much available in free agency aside from Peyton Manning, and we need a stud guy right away if we don’t get Peyton. We also need a great receiver and a top tight end. There are two top quarterbacks, a stud wide receiver and a great tight end in the draft this year, but I think the Bills will need to trade up to get any of them. Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Larry Fitzgerald and Kellen Winslow will certainly all go in the top 10. If we trade our first round pick plus Bledsoe to the Raiders we could get their spot at number two. We could also trade away Willis McGahee plus our first round and move up – I think Arizona, Washington and Detroit would take that deal because each needs a stud running back.
Me: I thought you said Bledsoe sucked – now he’s going to help us move up in the draft? And why would we trade away McGahee before he even plays a down for the Bills? Who’s going to take him without seeing what he can do on the field? It would be stupid for the Bills to make either of those trades, it would have big cap implications for us, and nobody would take them…
Wally: What are you talking about? McGahee is high first round talent! We don’t need him because Travis Henry is the man. McGahee is expendable and has great value – he’s healthy and a top 5 pick when he’s healthy – we might trade up in the first and be able to get a second round choice for him as well. As far as Bledsoe is concerned, we sign him to a trade-friendly contract and a team in desperate need of an experienced quarterback will scoop him up. Hey, we overpaid for him – time for someone else to make the same mistake.
Me: Looks like we don’t agree on much, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree. What do you think we’ll see next season?
Wally: Next year is our year. I think if we make the moves I planned out we’ll be unbeatable. I see the Miami Dolphins 1972 unbeaten season finally being matched. The Bills go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl. As soon as they open the bets for the 2005 Super Bowl I’m going down to lay $1000 on the Bills to win it all. Give me 75-1 and I’ll be in the money – I’ll probably buy a luxury box out at Ralph Wilson Stadium with some of it.
Me: That’s a great thought, and I really hope it happens – I admire your spirit and positive outlook. Thanks for giving me your two cents on all of these topics – you’ve been very helpful.
As I walked away from Wally I realized I did have an opinion on lots of Bills related news. I disagree with anything Wally says – that guy has lost touch with reality. In fact, I don’t just disagree with Wally, I strongly disagree with Wally. Looks like my opinion block is history! While Wally spouts off his crazy ideas on the radio and the Internet I’ll be sitting here just shaking my head…