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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hoping the Bills don't run for the bus

So it’s come to this.  One last game, to end another disappointing Bills season.
And wouldn’t you know it, it’s against the Patriots.  In Foxborough.  Oh boy.
The Pats are playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Bills are playing for pride.
The Pats are still angry about the Bills beating them at the Ralph in September.  They just expect to beat the Bills every time. 
The Bills are coming off an honest-to-goodness win….an emotional and entertaining one at that.
Brady may not be 100%, but the Bills are more banged up.
So the big question is what to expect.  Do the Bills have anything left in the tank?  Even if they do, will it be enough to actually sweep the season series against the Pats?  Or at least keep it close?  And would that be enough to give them some decent momentum ending the season…..something to build on for next year?
That would be enough for me, after the way this season went from hopeful to hopeless.
As long as they don’t turn in another “run for the bus” effort, like they’ve done so many times at the end of a disappointing or downright awful season.  Including the last time they ended the season at Foxborough.  Here are a just a couple examples of Bills sad season enders.

January 2, 2011: New York Jets 38, Bills 7
Let’s hope Chan Gailey does a better job in his second season finale than he did in his first.  Remember how the Bills turned things around after starting last year 0-8?  Remember how they won four of the last eight games?  Except they ended the season badly.  Really badly.  They lost to the Pats 34-3 in week 16, and then went to New Jersey to play the Jets in the finale.  The Jets had clinched their playoff spot so they rested a bunch of starters and pulled Mark Sanchez after only nine plays (all runs).  But it didn’t matter.  114-year-old backup QB Mark Brunell threw for a pair of touchdowns, some guy named Joe McKnight ran for a career-high 158 yards, the Jets defense was dominant (of course, Brian Brohm was the Bills’ QB, so domination came fairly easy) and the Bills just plain ran out of gas, and ended their season with a serious butt-kicking.

December 27, 2003: New England 31, Bills 0
There were a lot of similarities between the Bills 2003 season and this year.  For one thing, 2003 was the last time the Bills beat the Patriots before snapping their 15-game losing streak this year.  We all remember that sensational 2003 season-opener when the Bills intercepted Tom Brady four times, Drew Bledsoe was still good, and the Bills won the game 31-0.  But by the end of the season the Pats were good, the Bills were bad, and the season ended in a complete reversal of the opener.   The Pats stomped the Bills by the exact same 31-0 score.  Instead of four picks, Brady threw four touchdown passes.  In the first half.  This time, the Bills had four turnovers.  Including an interception of Travis Brown in the end zone with 13 seconds left to preserve the shutout.  The Bills would close the season with a three-game losing streak.  The loss to the Pats would be Gregg Williams’ last game as Bills coach.  So at least one good thing did come out of this game. 
December 16, 1984: Cincinnati 52, Bills 21
There’s actually one good thing to say about this game.  The 52 points that the Bills gave up WASN’T THEIR WORST SEASON FINALE EVER.  More on that in a moment.  We’re Bills fans….we need to look at the positive whenever we can.  And there weren’t very many positives in the mid 80’s.   The 1984 & 85 teams may have been the worst teams in Bills history.  Which is saying a lot, considering two other times the Bills finished with only one win.  These two teams finished 2-14.  Looking back on it, that’s amazing….two consecutive years with only two wins.  No offense….the 1985 team only scored 200 points in 16 games.  The 1984 team did a little better (250 points) but was horrendous on defense, giving up a whopping 454 points, the worst in team history.  And the season finale pretty much summed it all up.  For one thing, Joe Dufek played quarterback for the Bills that day.  That’s probably all you need to know.  But here’s more.   The Bengals intercepted him twice, and returned both of them for touchdowns.  Ken Anderson threw three touchdown passes, Cincinnati ran for two more scores…..but it could have been an even worse blowout, except the Bills got a late touchdown on a one-yard run by Greg Bell, to “only” lose by 31 points.
Dec 12, 1976: Baltimore 58, Bills 20
Here’s the only season finale worse than the Bengals game in 1984.  Actually, it’s worse than that.  The Bills gave up THE MOST POINTS in any game in team history.  How’s that for a great way to go into the offseason?
The 1976 season started out with optimism….the Bills had made the playoffs in 1974, and were a decent 8-6 team in 1975.  But Lou Saban quit five games into this season, Joe Ferguson was injured and missed the last half of the season…..and the Bills lost the last 10 games to finish 2-12.  And you know the saying about the backup quarterback always being the most popular player on the team?  Back then, fans had a love-hate relationship with Fergy, and really liked backup Gary Marangi.  Until he became the starter.   And completed about only about a third of his passes.  And threw more than twice as many interceptions as touchdown passes.  Then we loved Ferguson again.   The Bills were actually fairly competitive in most of their losses, but it all went south on the last day of the season in Baltimore.  Even though OJ had a pretty good day (171 yards) the Bills lost four fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown…..Bert Jones threw for three touchdowns….the Colts ran for three more scores…..and the Bills ran for the bus.  Which set the stage for a 1977 season that wasn’t much better, only 3-11.  But Chuck Knox was hired in 1978, and things got better for a while.

December 1, 1969: San Diego 45, Bills 6
This is how it all started.  The first season-ending blowout loss in Bills history.  The Bills weren’t very good in the late 60’s.  They were great in the mid 60’s…winning the AFL title in 1964 & 65, then losing the AFL title game to the Chiefs in 1966…..but then the wheels started coming off the bus.  Lou Saban was gone, great players were gone or got hurt or just got old….and the Bills won only four games in 1967 and only one in 1968.  But there was hope in 1969.  We had OJ.  We had a new coach, John Rauch, who had won an AFL championship with the Raiders.  But the Bills still only won four games.   And some of the losses were pretty bad.  That was the year they lost to the Raiders, 50-19, when Daryle Lamonica threw six touchdown passes.  In the first half.  So they were a pretty discouraged bunch when they went to San Diego for the season finale.  And it showed.  The Chargers scored early and often.  They actually led the game 45-0, but the Bills got a fourth-quarter touchdown, so it was just a blowout, not a shutout.  (they missed the extra point, which was the perfect capper on the game)  By the way, this was Jack Kemp’s last game as a Bill.

January 1, 2012: ????
Which brings us back to this season.  What can we expect at Gilette Stadium?  Brady has a bum shoulder (Hear that, Bills defense?  Maybe we could sack him a couple times, or just hit him?) but there’s nothing wrong with his throwing arm.  He doesn’t need many yards to hit 5,000 for the season.  For that matter, he doesn’t need many to join Drew Brees in breaking Dan Marino’s record.  Wouldn’t that be great?  The quarterback we hate breaking the record set by the quarterback we used to hate, and doing it against us.  Let’s just hope Brees gets enough yards Sunday to stay ahead of Brady.  But let’s get back to the game itself.  Can Chan be creative enough with what’s left of the Bills offense to do well against a pretty bad Patriots defense?  Can CJ run like OJ?  Can Fitz prove the contract extension was worth it?  Can the Bills defense play at least a fairly decent game against Brady?  How about some interceptions?  Some sacks?  How about not missing tackles and not making stupid mistakes?
We know the Patriots have a lot to play for.  We know they’ll be motivated.
Will the Bills show up for the game?  Will we be encouraged, or will we be embarrassed?
The team bus will be parked outside the stadium.  Walk to it guys, don’t run.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Buffalo: City of Good Drinkers

Every once in a while, something comes along that really boosts my civic pride.
Maybe a nice article about Buffalo in a national publication.
Or a big event held here that attracts national attention.
Or a list of America's drunkest cities.
Here’s somewhat surprising news, if you attended at least one Bills game or spent any time on Chippewa Street this year.
Buffalo is “only” the 16th drunkest city in the country.
Just in time for New Year’s Eve, the Daily Beast is out with a list of the top 25 cities for boozing it up.
It’s based on scientific data obtained in a survey.  Of course, it’s a survey of drinkers….so you have to wonder just how many of the people surveyed answered accurately.  Or even remembered their name. 
Here are the factors that went into the survey: average monthly drinks consumed per person, percent of population that are heavy drinkers, and percentage of population that are binge drinkers.
Here are our numbers:
13.1 average monthly drinks per person
8.7% heavy drinkers
19.4% binge drinkers
The first number seems a little low, unless Bills fans were so blitzed they couldn’t take part in the survey.
The second number seems about right.
But I have my doubts about the third number.  If that many Western New Yorkers are binge drinkers, Chris Lee wouldn’t have needed Craigslist.
Anyway, when all the numbers were added up, the number one drunk city in the country was Boston.  And if you’ve ever driven there, that makes perfect sense.   Plus, they had a Stanley Cup parade this year.
Just up the Mass turnpike, Springfield is number two….and if you’ve ever been to Springfield, you know there’s nothing to do there but drink.
Other rankings that made sense....a couple of big beer towns were high on the list.  Milwaukee is number three, and St. Louis is number eight.
Chicago is also in the top 10, and Las Vegas is 14.
But we were also beaten out by Burlington, Vermont at number 11.  Which could explain some of the flavors they come up with at Ben & Jerry’s.
And Fort Myers, Florida is number 15.  Have you been there?  I think the average age is 102. Apparently a lot of snowbirds are too drunk to fly.
But back to Buffalo. Let's be proud.  We're not nearly as drunk as you might think.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Welcome to Walmart. Ouch!

There are many things that can make Christmas Eve special.
A family dinner.
A party with friends.
Midnight Mass.
Spending the night in jail for punching a 70-year-old Wal-Mart greeter in the face is not one of those things.
You really can’t make this stuff up.
It happened at the Batavia Walmart.  According to State Police, the greeter….a woman, by the way……asked a 26-year-old woman (you just knew it was going to be another woman, didn’t you?) to show receipts for items she was carrying in store bags.
So naturally the shopper popped her in the kisser and knocked her down.
After doing her impression of Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby, the shopper ran out of the store, but didn’t get far….troopers say employees and customers surrounded her until police arrived.  (fortunately for her, the cops arrived before anyone decided to administer a little frontier justice)
The greeter suffered some facial fractures…..not an easy thing to go through at any age, let alone 70.
The shopper was charged with two counts of assault (the second count is because the victim was older than 65) and taken to the Genesee County Jail, where she was held on $20,000 bail.
In case you're wondering, troopers say she had receipts for everything in her bag.
No matter how her case plays out in court, I think it’s safe to say she’ll be on Santa’s naughty list for quite a while.  And the guy who wrote "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" is working on his next hit.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Bills-Dolphins: saddest day of a sad season

Let’s face it.  Those of us who are longtime Bills fans have had way too many times when we’ve been discouraged, or depressed, or just plain sad.
That’s what I’m feeling this weekend.  A profound sense of sadness.  And not just because of yet another wasted season.  Although I can’t remember a team that went from so exciting to so embarrassing so quickly.
No, it’s more than that.  The reason it’s hitting home this weekend is because of the opponent.  It’s Bills-Dolphins.  At home.  In December.  In the snow.  AND NO ONE CARES.
How many times over the years did we circle this game on the schedule?  When the Bills were good, it was our chance to see them Squish the Fish.  A chance to stomp our most hated rivals in front of 80,000 screaming fans who….as Marv Levy would say…..couldn’t think of any place they’d rather be than right there, right then.
Even when the Bills were bad, it was still important.  Look how many times we said if the Bills could only win one game, this was the one.
Think about the rivalry.  The Streak.  The Juice.  Kelly-Marino.  Shula-Levy.  Bryan Cox.  Jimmy Johnson & the Flutie Flakes.
The Bills hated the Dolphins.  The Dolphins hated the Bills.  Bills fans hated Dolphins fans.  Dolphins fans hated Bills fans.
Not any more.  Yes, it’s a game between division rivals….and every once in a while it matters in the standings….but with the Bills into their second straight decade without the playoffs, and the Dolphins only occasionally making them…..and the Patriots taking over as the team everyone hates…..we’ve gone from important to irrelevant.
What’s the best we can hope for?  A Bills win?  Not likely.  Not being embarrassed?  Hopefully.  Speaking of which…..admit it, aren’t we relieved that Matt Moore is starting instead of J.P. Losman?   Didn’t we have that sinking feeling that Losman was going to beat the Bills and make this awful season complete?  Of course even if he isn’t starting, it still could happen.  We’re Bills fans.  We expect things like that.
But maybe….just maybe….the Bills have one more good game in them this year.  One more good effort.  Maybe they’re actually embarrassed about the butt-kicking they got in Miami.  Maybe they have some pride.  Maybe they’ve heard just a little about Bills-Dolphins history.
I want to talk about two of those games.  Not the ones you might be thinking of.  The 1980 season opener….the one that ended Oh for the 70’s, and is still the single greatest season opener in Bills history.  Or the 1989 season opener in Miami….the one where Jim Kelly stunned everyone and won the game on a last-second quarterback draw.
I want to talk about two games at the Ralph.  (actually, it was still Rich Stadium then)  One in the regular season, one in the playoffs.  One a Dolphins win, one a Bills victory.  But to me, they both symbolize what used to be the significance of this rivalry.

 September 26, 1993:  Bird is the word
The Bills lost this game.  One of only four losses that year.  But this game featured one single moment that pretty much summarized the entire Bills-Dolphins rivalry.  Bryan Cox and his fingers.  The middle ones.  Both of them.  You remember Bryan Cox, don’t you?  The Dolphins linebacker is probably our most-hated Miami player of all time…and that’s saying a lot.  We hated him, and he hated us. The week leading up to the game, Cox talked a lot about hating Buffalo.  He had received hate mail from Bills fans.  A lot of it.  And a lot of it was pretty nasty.  And when he entered the stadium, fans let him know what they thought of him.  So he responded.  With a double-barreled salute.  CAPTURED ON NATIONAL TELEVISION.  He apologized for that part of it.  Not for flipping the bird to Bills fans...for being caught on TV.  He said he was sorry it "went beyond his intended audience".
The league fined Cox 10 grand.  He appealed.  It was reduced to three thousand dollars.  But Cox sued the league, claiming they forced him to work in a hostile environment.  (when was the last time anyone said that about playing at the Ralph?)  Cox continued to be hated by Bills fans.  In fact, a few years later, when he was kicked out of a game after a fight, a security guard booed him on his way out!   
By the way, Cox returned to the Dolphins this year as an assistant coach.  So the poster boy for this rivalry, is back in Buffalo for a Bills-Dolphins game.   I wonder if he’ll keep his hands in his pocket. 
December 30, 1995:  End of the line
 The Bills and Dolphins met several times in the playoffs in the early 1990’s.  In the Bills’ first Super Bowl season, they beat the Dolphins in the divisional playoffs, in a 44-34 shootout at Rich Stadium.  In the 1992 season, they met in the AFC Championship….the Dolphins were the home team, but the Bills stomped them 29-10 at Joe Robbie.  But the 1995 wild-card game at the Ralph was my favorite.  The Bills ran the ball.  A lot.  They broke the league record for rushing yards in a game, with 341.  They ran right over the Dolphins.  Even Don Shula.  In a play that pretty much summarized the game, when Thurman Thomas ran out of bounds he ran right into Shula.  The Bills won the game 37-22.  They haven't won a playoff game since.
But this one was special.  And the icing on the cake?  It was Shula’s LAST GAME as coach.  His last time on the sideline in an NFL game was right here.  And he lost.
Look, I don’t expect anything memorable in tomorrow’s game.  But if there was ever a game for the Bills to give their fans something to cheer about, this is the one.  It’s Bills-Dolphins.  Bryan Cox is back!  
This game used to mean a lot.  Maybe it can mean something again.  Maybe we don’t have to be so sad.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Obama channels Teddy

Hey, maybe I should be a presidential advisor!
Did you hear President Obama's speech today?   He went to Osawatomie, Kansas, where Teddy Roosevelt gave his "New Nationalism" speech in 1910, and he channeled Teddy in a speech that took dead aim at the Republicans and their assault on the middle class.
Now I don't want to imply in any way that the president reads my humble little blog (although some of my posts have made it onto some websites which are definitely read by politicos) but a few months ago, on the 100th anniversary of the day Teddy Roosevelt became president here in Buffalo, I did kind of encourage Mr. Obama to become a little more like TR.
For what it's worth, here's that post again:
(Originally written on September 14, 2011)
You know that “bully pulpit” that we hear so much about?  We heard it just last week when President Obama gave his jobs speech.
You know who coined the phrase?  That’s right, the president known for saying “bully” when he thought something was great.  Teddy Roosevelt.
Who became president 110 years ago today.
Right here in Buffalo.
Yep, September 14, 1901 was quite a day in American history, and the history of Buffalo.  You remember your history, don’t you?  Back then, Buffalo was the 8th-largest city in the country.  And that year, the city went all out.  It played host to the Pan-American Exposition….kind of like a world’s fair, only bigger.  It was huge.  Spectacular buildings were built for the event.  Lit up at night….they called it the “City of Lights”.  Many visitors were seeing electricity for the first time.
And in September, the president of the United States came to town.  William McKinley.  Unfortunately, so did an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz.  Who…on September 6th, as the president greeted the public at the Exposition’s Temple of Music…..fired two shots at McKinley.  One just grazed him, but the other went through his stomach, pancreas, and kidney.  At first, doctors thought the president would survive….but on September 12th he took a turn for the worse.
Roosevelt, who was vice president, was rushed to Buffalo.  But in those days, rushing didn’t mean quite what it does today.  McKinley died at 2:15 am on the 14th.  Roosevelt arrived about 12 hours later, and was sworn in that afternoon.
At the age of 42, he was the youngest president in history.  He may have been young…he may not have been elected….but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of our greatest presidents.
Siena College, which periodically surveys presidential scholars to rank all US presidents, had Teddy number two on its last list, behind the other Roosevelt, FDR.  Teddy has been in the top five on that list every time.
I’ve always been a big TR fan.  Not just because of the Buffalo connection, and not because of the Teddy Bear thing.  Because he was an interesting president.
He helped settle a United Mine Workers strike, with the workers getting more pay for fewer hours.  He believed in regulation….passing the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act to protect Americans from unsafe food.  He believed the government should regulate interstate corporations.  He believed in conservation.  He believed in the “Square Deal”…a fair shake for everyone.  In other words, he was a progressive.  Oh, did I mention he was also a Republican?  Imagine what he would think of his party today.
And imagine what he would think of the presidency today.  Remember, Teddy was known for the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick”.   When was the last time a president did that?
Imagine Teddy Roosevelt dealing with John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell.  Compromise?  Bipartisanship?  He’d give them a rough ride.
Back to Buffalo for a minute.  There are those who say the McKinley assassination was the beginning of the city’s downturn.  A lot of bad things have happened to Buffalo since then.  Who knows….maybe if McKinley had lived, the Bills might have won one of those Super Bowls.
And who knows…maybe President Obama can channel a little Teddy.  Maybe he can find that big stick. 
So happy anniversary TR.  Bully!