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The Quarterback debate rages on
An article by Bills Thunder webmaster.
by Rick Anderson
October 31, 2000

The Presidential election is just a week away. You wouldn't know it by the talk on the streets of Buffalo or listen to the local radio stations. All the buzz centers around who should start at quarterback for the Bills once Rob Johnson heals from his shoulder injury. With the nation in the middle of an energy crisis and a possible war breaking out in the Middle East, everyone is talking Flutie vs. Johnson in Western New York and Southern Ontario. WGR Sports Radio 55 is going so far as to distribute free campaign posters for people to put on their front lawns supporting their favorite candidate .... for starting Bills QB.

Doug Flutie came in for the injured Rob Johnson and engineered the winning field goal drive to beat the Chargers in overtime. Now he has positioned himself in his last two starts to be the Bills No. 1 QB for the rest of the season.
[AP Photo/Mike Groll]

It all started after the regular season game last year when the Bills blew out the Indianapolis Colts. Rob Johnson played an outstanding game against the Colts when he completed 24 out of 32 for 287 yards and tossed two touchdown passes. After that game, Bills coach Wade Phillips made the gutsy call to play Johnson in the wildcard game against the Tennessee Titans. The Bills lost that game on a controversial "Home Run Throwback" when the Titans scored on a last second kickoff return which involved a lateral that Phillips claims to this day was a forward lateral. Johnson left the field with the Bills winning the game, but the team lost anyway because the special teams could not stop the runback.

In January, Doug Flutie told a Toronto newspaper that the Bills would have won if he had started. The controversy continued when Johnson also came back with some uncomplimentary remarks about Flutie not being someone pleasant to work with. Johnson started first six games this season and was constantly hammered behind the line of scrimmage. The Bills offensive line just didn't seem to be getting the job done as Johnson was sacked an average of 4-5 times a game. Then came the overtime game against the San Diego Chargers. Johnson was sacked as he released the ball and did not get up - a separated shoulder. Diagnosis - out for 4-6 weeks.

Doug Flutie to the rescue

Flutie seized the opportunity and ran with it. He directed the Bills to an overtime victory against the Chargers and then almost directed the Bills to an upset over the then undefeated Minnesota Vikings. Then, last Sunday, Flutie finally defeated his old nemesis - the Jets. He proved that he could throw the long bomb when he threw a 53-yard pass to Eric Moulds and he also avoided the sack in the two games he started, getting only hauled down twice. The balls were being batted down, but the interceptions were almost nil.

Rob Johnson fumbles the ball after being sacked by Colts defensive end Chad Bratzke.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Meanwhile, the decision to be made by Wade Phillips is getting closer and the Bills coach seems reluctant to make a choice. When pressed by the media, he becomes vague and evasive. He says "the quarterback controversy in media generated." To him, no controversy exists. This fans the fires of dissension even more.

In most corners of this great country of ours, a raging debate goes on about George W. Bush vs. Al Gore for President. The future of the nation is in the hands of the voters. But it Buffalo, it seems as if the populace is saying "the Presidential race be damned." They're more interested in seeing who Phillips chooses as his quarterback to finish the season.

Even though the phenomenon of sports taking on more importance than politics is prevalent in Western New York right now, it is a common thread in America the past century. As Thomas Boswell, the famed Washington Post sports columnist, said in his book Game Day:

If you can't talk sports—national sports, local sports and even neighborhood sports—you may feel like a social outsider in many communities in this country. In fact, sports have become central to what remains of our American sense of community. In an age that is a political, religious, artistic and cultural kaleidoscope of relativist values, how can we feel united? What can we agree about? Or even discuss calmly, yet enthusiastically, with a sense of shared expertise and a glimpse of a shared ideal? Sports have never had so profound a hold upon people because they have never been so desperately needed.

Time is running short. The elections are to be held next week. The week after that, Wade Phillips has to elect the starting quarterback. Right now, both elections are toss ups.

Copyright © 2000 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.

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