Wednesday, October 31, 2012


A few words of warning to our readers: If small-to-medium-sized zombies show up at your house tonight, please do not behead or otherwise dismember them, as recommended in most reputable texts on the subject.

All they want is candy. Give them some, and they will probably leave you alone.

Likewise, do not take attempt to repel, apprehend or otherwise take defensive action against the assorted super-heroes, football players, princesses, ninjas or political figures who accompany them. Unless they are, in fact, actual politicians bothering you on Halloween and not just children wearing uncomfortable masks who probably don't get the joke anyway. Then do what you must.

As you prepare for tonight's annual onslaught of sugary entitlement, take a few minutes to enjoy what may quite possibly be the greatest Halloween costume ever.

Yes, the Buffalo Bills return from their bye week to take on the Houston Texans on Sunday in what may well be a very different sort of horror show. But you, like the staff of We Want Marangi, have better things to do today than worry about that.

Monday, October 29, 2012

WWM Flashback: The Night Howard Came To Town

Tonight, if you still have power and cable, you can watch the Arizona Cardinals take on the San Francisco 49ers on ESPN's Monday Night Football.

If you choose to do so, you will be part of an audience made up of residents of Phoenix and the Bay Area, as well as serious football junkies and degenerate gamblers.

Otherwise, you're probably watching nobodies with good pitch trying to become famous on NBC's The Voice, or people you're faintly familiar with demonstrating their chutzpah on Dancing With The Stars on ABC, or being told when to chuckle by the laugh track on CBS's two-hour block of identical situation comedies.

It wasn't always so. Back in the 1970s, Monday Night Football was a ratings behemoth, introducing Americans to the concept of watching sports in prime time on a weeknight, as well as providing a national villain in Howard Cosell.

Thirty-nine years ago today, Cosell -- reviled by Bills fans throughout the 1970s for supposedly snubbing the team on his weekly round-up of the previous day's highlights, even though he had no role in choosing which games to feature -- was in Orchard Park for Buffalo's first appearance on Monday Night Football. The series, which also made stars of play-by-play man Frank Gifford and possibly inebriated former Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith, was midway through its fourth season on ABC. It was also the first MNF visit to Rich Stadium, which had officially opened less than two months earlier.

O.J. Simpson was the big story, for purely football-related reasons. After three lousy seasons on terrible Bills teams that won eight of 42 games between 1969 and '71, never rushing for more than 697 yards, Simpson broke out in '72, leading the league with 1,251 yards during the first season of Lou Saban's second stint as Buffalo's coach.

That performance was a warm-up for '73, when the former first overall draft pick opened the season with a then-record 250 yards against New England and barely slowed down from there.

By the time Kansas City came to town for the first prime-time appearance by Simpson and the Bills, he was already on pace to challenge Jim Brown's decade-old record of 1,863 yards on the ground.

The Bills were more than willing to keep Simpson in the spotlight, giving him the ball an NFL-record 39 times. He didn't run wild, but still picked up 157 yards and scored two first-quarter touchdowns, which proved an ample cushion as Buffalo won 23-14 to improve to 5-2. Buffalo's defense turned in what may have been its best outing of what became a 9-5 season, holding the Chiefs to 105 total yards in front of a raucous sell-out crowd.

Simpson finished the night with 1,025 yards for the half-season, turning his quest for Brown's record and, ultimately, the 2,000-yard milestone, into a national story.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Roethlisberger Thrives In Prison Garb

If you were watching Washington-Pittsburgh at 1 p.m. to see Robert Griffin III, you were disappointed for a couple of reasons.

The Steelers, not surprisingly, made the previously sensational rookie look like an average rookie. Griffin threw for just 177 yards and ran for only 10, while Ben Roethlisberger threw for 233 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers rolled 27-12.

That was just as well, because looking at anything except the Steelers' throwback uniforms was just about impossible.

The black-and-yellow-striped jerseys and socks supposedly recall the uniforms the franchise -- which is celebrating its 80th season -- wore in 1934, when it was known as the Pirates. Research done by the folks at, however, suggests that today's game was only the second time the bumblebee get-ups have been worn in a game, the first time coming in 1933.
From all of the research we have done of the Pirates for these two seasons, we can confirm only ONE time that the throwback jersey was worn, the 11/12/1933 encounter with Shipwreck Kelly’s Brooklyn Dodgers who, for the record, won 32-0.
Whoever made the sartorial choice for the far less interesting uniforms wore for the rest of the '34 season (the '33 city-shield numbers the Steelers brought back as their throwbacks for the 1994 season, the NFL's 75th Anniversary, were also sweet), should be ashamed. If they were still alive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Media Day: Hey, Buddy, Can You Spare $1.4 Billion?

Here are some pretty pictures of something that, to borrow from my junior varsity football coach, will “never, ever, ever, ever, ever, never, ever, never, ever” be built.

There is only one problem with the $1.4 billion retractable-dome football stadium/convention center/concert venue fantasy floated at Tuesday’s meeting of the Buffalo Common Council:

The lack of $1.4 billion dollars.

OK, two problems: There is absolutely no demand for an enormous state-of-the-art convention center in or near Buffalo, except by the people who figure on raking in public money to build and run it.

All right, three problems: There is already a 20,000-seat indoor concert venue a mile or so away from the Outer Harbor. It’s called the First Niagara Center. The Buffalo Sabres also play there.

Oh, and no one bothered talking with the assumed tenant, the Buffalo Bills, before announcing plans for their new home. Four problems.

Other than that, terrific idea.

And only the first drawback really matters.

Someone named Nicholas Stracick, who bills himself as the president and CEO of the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex (GBSEC – an acronym that really rolls off the tongue) showed the pretty pictures to the Common Council, which has no money to do anything that the city actually needs, much less fund a wholly unneeded public-works project.

Then again, Stracick isn’t asking the city for money to build his dream. He just wants it to acquire 400 acres that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has squatted on for more than half a century. Which would, presumably, involve money.

Once that dunk is slammed, Stracick figures New York State and the National Football League -- neither of which he has spoken with, either -- will each eagerly pony up with $400 million or so, leaving only about $600 million to come from … somewhere.

But then, Stracick does have a track record of getting high-end entertainment corporations to cough up.
From nearby Derby, N.Y., Stracick is a former major league umpire who enjoyed a considerable windfall in 2002 after he and a business partner successfully sued Walt Disney Co. for stealing their idea for its Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.
So there is that.

Despite the thorough lack of credibility, corporate media outlets throughout Western New York breathlessly reported this non-story as if it had actual merit.

At least one, Meaghan M. McDermott of Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle, infused a bit of sarcasm in her lede.
A proposed football stadium in downtown Buffalo could create as many as 10,000 construction jobs, invigorate the western New York economy and almost guarantee a Super Bowl game within two or three years after the project’s completion, developers say.

The only real hurdles to moving forward with the project are obtaining the land, getting the financing, getting the NFL on board and making sure the Buffalo Bills are even interested.

People who make these kinds of deals happen do not make their opening pitch at Buffalo Common Council Meetings. They get at least a few of the necessary elements, financial and otherwise, in line before going public, then leverage those commitments into additional private and, invariably, public invesment.

Alan Bedenko nicely runs down the sociopolitical reasons why it would be a crummy idea here, if there were any chance of it actually happening.

Which there isn’t.

I KNEW THERE HAD TO BE a reason the Bills kept Chris Kelsay around.

The veteran defensive end unloaded on the entire unit on the day after its collapse against Tennessee, sending some particularly pointed words the way of linemate Mario Williams.

“I’d take Mario Williams at full health and full speed probably over anybody else in the league,” Kelsay said. “At the same time I’d take Sean Ferguson, who we cut, over a guy that’s playing 50 percent, and I think our coaches would too. The playmakers have to make plays and the way you do that is giving all out effort every play.”

Williams seems to have taken at least the “full health” part to heart, undergoing what Chan Gailey called "a procedure" on his left wrist today. Gailey said Williams expects to be on the field when the Bills resume practice next week after their bye.

Kelsay has never been one to defer to his better-known, better-compensated fellow defensive end. After the Bills signed Kelsay in March, he declined to surrender the No. 90 he has worn since joining the Bills as a second-round draft pick in 2003.

Mari-ow Ponders The Knife

Mario Williams may have surgery on his balky left wrist this week, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News reported this morning.

The possibility shouldn't really be all that shocking, considering the cereal spokesman's comments after getting smothered for the fifth time in seven games since signing a six-year, $100-million deal in the offseason.
“I need to play better, and I need to get healthy,” Williams said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s No. 1 on my point.
“I can say this and you can take it however you want to take it, but it really don’t matter to me. I really don’t care what you think. At the end of the day I know I need to get physically back into things so I’m not hesitating.”
 Under most circumstances, losing someone of Williams' stature and salary, even for a week or two, would be the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Given the no-shows turned in by Buffalo's defense on three of the last four Sundays, though, it's hard to imagine things getting any worse.

UPDATE: Williams underwent "a procedure" on his left wrist today, said Chan Gailey, although the Bills coach apparently knew absolutely nothing about it, beyond the defensive end's expectation to return to practice following Buffalo's bye week.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wannstedt's Folly

On the decisive play of Sunday’s 35-34 giveback loss to Tennessee, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s defensive call placed two of the 11 players at his disposal off the field of play entirely.

On Buffalo’s most important offensive snap of the game, Ryan Fitzpatrick needed to pick up an all-but-clinching first down if possible, but moreover, to avoid a turnover at all costs. So he threw a risky pass incredibly poorly.

Spending a week off before returning to the two most imposing dates on their remaining schedule is depressing enough. Doing so secure in the knowledge that Wannstedt and Fitzpatrick will each get nine more games to demonstrate such incompetence is unfathomable.

At least Fitzpatrick had his best game of the season up until the moment he decided to fling the ball in the general direction of Donald Jones. He hit his receivers in stride, rocketed touchdowns to Jones and Stevie Johnson to give the Bills a 34-28 lead and generally avoided the sort of ineptitude that exemplified his performance for the first six weeks. For 57 minutes, anyway.

The same could not be said of Wannstedt. Through the first half and the start of the second, his defense looked every bit as pitiful as it had in its historically permissive outings against New England and San Francisco.

Chris Johnson, the bane of Titans fans and fantasy-football owners everywhere, ran like it was a non-contact training-camp drill. And for most of the day, it was. He piled up 139 yards on just nine carries, including an 83-yard touchdown sprint that made it 14-7, Tennessee.

Buffalo finally slowed Johnson in the third quarter, doing just enough to give Fitzpatrick’s offense a chance to take the lead. After his interception, though, it all fell apart again.

As bad as the defensive call on the winning touchdown was (and we’ll get back to that a minute), Wannstedt’s strategic instincts were just as bad earlier in the drive. With Tennessee facing third-and-1 from Buffalo’s 43-yard line and just more than two minutes remaining, you would think Wannstedt would have considered the possibility the Titans might send their suddenly scorching runner straight up the middle.

Apparently not.

With the Bills looking absolutely stunned at the development, Johnson shot up the middle, cut to his right and motored 27 yards. Still, after holding Tennesee to a single yard on the next three snaps, Buffalo could still pull it out with one more stop.

Instead of trying to get to 37-year-old backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, or at least jam up his receivers at the line, Wannstedt called a defense that might have been appropriate if the Titans were at their own 16 – a two-deep zone.

It is a defense made popular in large part because it makes throwing downfield difficult, with both safeties hanging back to prevent a long ball. The problem for Buffalo was that there wasn’t enough field remaining to allow for a long throw, anyway.

The two safeties in question, George Wilson and Bryan Scott, retreated into the end zone at the snap. Had Tennesee been focusing on picking up the nine yards needed to pick up a first down, they would have been of little help, too deep to make a play before the receiver crossed the goal line or the imaginary yellow one. As it was, Hasselbeck – essentially working with an 11-to-9 advantage, went for it all and the deep two proved equally useless, frozen in place as Nate Washington raced by to catch the game-winner.

Of course, Wannstedt can’t be blamed for all Buffalo’s defensive shortcomings.

Mario Williams had another paid afternoon off, registering all of one solo tackle and one assist. On many snaps, he failed to even cross the line of scrimmage, being held off by little more than some firm pushing by Tennessee’s offensive tackles.

Wilson dropped an interception that would have won the game two plays before being put out of position on the touchdown that won it.

Buffalo’s undersized-yet-slow linebackers were equally ineffective against the run and pass.

And the term “shut-down” should never be used in a non-ironic sense in the same sentence as cornerbacks Aaron Williams and Stephon Gilmore.

Other than tackle Kyle Williams, naming a Buffalo defender who had even a decent day is pretty tough.

Add it up, and in two months, the Bills have gone from being a preseason darling of the national football media to serving as the subject of what-went-wrong stories.

Which brings us back to Wannstedt. He can’t play for his defenders, but he is responsible for their preparation and focus, both of which have appeared sorely lacking in Buffalo’s four losses. His passive schemes and failure to make adjustments, like insisting on remaining in a nickel defense while New England’s previously anonymous runners made like All-Pros, have repeatedly put his unit in a position to fail. And fail it has, again and again.

Wannstedt’s boss, Chan Gailey, didn’t exactly cover himself in glory, either. Some of his decisions were questionable, from kicking the extra point after Fitzpatrick’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Johnson at the end of the third quarter to calling for just three running plays on Buffalo’s nine offensive snaps while clinging to a six-point lead in the fourth quarter.

Those choices did not lose the game, however. Nor did Fitzpatrick’s interception, as abysmally ill-timed as it was. Despite his turnovers, and Gailey’s sideline shakiness, the Bills scored 34 points. When you do that, you should win.

This one’s all on the defense. And the guy who runs it.

WWM MVP(S): Fitzpatrick may have earned this if not for the pivotal pick, which is a bit like saying Napoleon might have retired undefeated if he had just waited until spring to visit Russia.

So we’ll split it between Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, just as they split the burden of Buffalo’s offense for most of the day. The two, each apparently fully recovered from their respective injuries, combined to run for 141 yards and catch 14 of Fitzpatrick’s 27 completions for another 81. Their 222 combined yards from scrimmage was 26 more than Johnson, who had easily his best performance since, well, the last time Tennessee played Buffalo.

DOES DAN TANA KNOW ABOUT THIS? According to the incessant promos during the CBS telecast, the network has a hit show – whatever that means, in this era of streaming internet and narrow-casting cable networks – called “Vegas.”

This should not be confused with (though the show’s producers probably hope it will be) the 1970s private-eye series of the same name. The main character in that one, played by the late Robert Urich, was named for the owner of Dan Tana’s, a West Hollywood eatery known for its Italian food and movie-industry clientele, as well as for being the place legendary record producer Phil Spector dined before killing actress/hostess Lana Clarkson. Not because he was a private eye in Las Vegas, or anything, but because the creators of that show liked his name and his restaurant, and secured permission to use the former.

I was there a few years back and saw Dabney Coleman having dinner with a friend and their dates. He was a lot shorter than I expected.

Don’t really have a point here -- just wanted it to be known that I once saw Dabney Coleman.

AND YOU CUT BRIAN MOORMAN BECAUSE? For the second straight week, rookie punter Shawn Powell shanked a crucial punt, this time hooking his only boot of the day 22 yards to give Tennessee the ball in Buffalo territory with 5:33 remaining. Tennessee didn’t score on the ensuing possession, but gained a field-position advantage that, along with Fitzpatrick’s interception (hate to keep bringing that up, but … ) set up the winning touchdown.

The best punter the Bills have ever had, meanwhile, registered a 49.3 gross average on four kicks for Dallas, two of which left Carolina pinned inside its own 20-yard line. His net average, the area in which Bills management evidently found him deficient, was a robust 48.3.

Everything You Need To Know About Your 2012 Buffalo Bills In One Animated GIF

The editorial staff here at We Want Marangi is still working on finding the words to adequately describe our feelings about the Bills' how-did-they-manage-that 35-34 loss to Tennessee yesterday.

In the meantime, enjoy seeing a running back who spent most of the previous six weeks trying to get back to the line of scrimmage run 83 yards untouched up the gut of a supposedly rebuilt defense orchestrated by an alleged coaching legend, courtesy of Deadspin.

Looks painfully familiar, doesn't it?

We'll be posting another thousand or so largely superfluous words later today. So y'all come on back now, y'hear?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Your Titans-Bills Open Thread: Something Free, Something Old

As of Oct. 29, a week from tomorrow, you will no longer be able to peruse all areas of the online version of The Buffalo News for free. That's when the newspaper begins its experiment in seeing if enough of its readers are willing to pay for what they are already getting for free.

The list of businesses able to make a living by convincing internet users to pay for non-pornographic content is pretty short. At the same time, something has got to give.

I grew up a newspaper junkie and eventually went pro with my addiction, working in the business for the better part of two decades. Yet the only times I have purchased a print edition in recent memory have been when I needed four broadsheet pages with which to light my charcoal chimney (one of mankind's great recent inventions, incidentally) and when venerable News columnist Larry Felser wrote his final Sunday column.

And I'm part of the last generation for whom flipping through a paper over coffee, or spending a leisurely few hours with the Sunday New York Times, was an actual experience and not just something you see people do in old movies.

So We Want Marangi wishes the newspaper all the best in its pay-wall endeavor. In the meantime, head over there and get the free stuff while it lasts.

In today's sports section, Bucky Gleason nicely sums up the atmosphere heading into today's Clash of the Mediocrities, the 1 p.m. contest between the 2-4 Titans and the somehow 3-3 Bills:

In Buffalo, it takes a dozen years to tear down a decrepit sports arena, a generation and counting to get a bridge built and several lifetimes to develop a waterfront. Our economy is a mess, our city schools need an overhaul and let’s not waste any time haggling over red tape and local politics.

One thing people in this region do know, at least the 35-over crowd that remembers the Super Bowl years, is the difference between good and bad football. The Bills fail to pass the eye test. If fact, they look more like one of the teams that missed the playoffs for a dozen straight years than a first-place team.

Buffalo is 31st in total defense, last against the run, second-last in points allowed, 21st in total offense, 29th in passing yards per game. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the 21st-rated passer in the league. The two games against New England and San Francisco were pitiful. The win over Arizona easily could have gone the other way.

And yet they’re tied atop the division. Amazing.

Buffalo's unlikely place in a four-way tie atop the AFC East had me thinking about another visit by Tennessee, late in the 2006 season. While the 12 seasons and counting since the Bills last made the playoffs sort of all run together, I had almost forgotten that 2006, and not 2004, was the last time Buffalo had a shot at making its own way into the playoffs as late as its 15th game of the season. Which, of course, it lost in painful fashion.

The column (which appears in its entirety below because I have no interest in sending any traffic to the abomination that the newspaper that originally published it has become) is also notable because it stars not only Bills punchlines-to-be Dick Jauron and J.P. Losman, but also past and future disappointments Travis Henry and Vince Young.

So enjoy, and see you in the comments below.


By David Staba
At least the Jets won.

There probably haven't been too many times in the 46-year history of the two franchises that a victory by the green shirts from the metropolitan New York area was a good thing for the Buffalo Bills or their fans, but Monday's 13-10 escape against Miami spared their lifelong division rivals an even more agonizing bout of the what-ifs.

Had the Dolphins won on Christmas night and the Bills been able to protect a nine-point fourth-quarter lead at home against a rookie quarterback a day earlier, Buffalo's season finale in Baltimore would have constituted the simplest of playoff scenarios: Win and you're in.

After the Bills defense proved itself unworthy of meaningful January competition, though, a Miami victory to complete the trifecta of what-needs-to-happen games would have just been cruel.

The second-guessing would have been suffocating. To wit, Buffalo should have taken the wind in the fourth quarter, rather than the third, so kicker Rian Lindell would have had it at his back if needed. Dick Jauron should have sent Lindell out to try that long one into the gusts, anyway. The Bills should have gone for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 47-yard line early in the fourth quarter, when another score would have put the game away. Jauron should have ordered a two-point conversion attempt after J.P. Losman's 37-yard touchdown pass to Lee Evans in the third quarter, which would have put Buffalo ahead by eight.

If only Robert Royal had gotten both feet down late in the third quarter. If only Losman had found a receiver on Buffalo's last offensive play. If only Tom Donahoe hadn't dumped Travis Henry.

None of that matters much now, thanks to the Jets.

Which is just as well. The Bills aren't going to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season because of coaching decisions made or not made, but because, despite a season of remarkable development in some areas and overachievement in others, they aren't quite good enough.

The biggest deficiency glared most painfully during that fourth quarter, as Tennessee stomped inexorably down the field twice against a Buffalo defense that needed only one stop to seal the deal.

The defensive collapse would have been galling enough had it involved Vince Young prancing around like a video-game character eluding mere mortals, the phenomenon that kept the Titans competitive through three quarters.

Young displayed both athleticism and poise during the fourth quarter. He made a nice third-down throw down the middle to Brandon Jones that turned into a 29-yard touchdown and had a 9-yard scramble on each drive. But he primarily handed off and got on the way on the decisive possessions.

And to make things even more irritating, he was mostly handing off to Henry.

The vengeful former Buffalo running back carried 10 times in the fourth quarter, slashing through what passed for the Bills run defense for 67 yards. Young and Lendale White picked up another 31 on the ground.

That's 98 rushing yards in one quarter. By a team that one week earlier managed precisely the same number of yards, running and passing, in an entire game.

But despite such debilitating weakness in a fundamental aspect of the game, with another break or two against Tennessee, or in close losses against New England, the Jets, Detroit, Indianapolis and San Diego, and the Bills would be playing for a playoff spot on Sunday in Baltimore. A couple more instances of good fortune, and they'd already be assured of a berth.

That's at least partly a commentary on the state of the National Football League. But that Buffalo, which started the season 2-5, played a game on Christmas Eve that mattered at all is also a statement on a young team that got better after reaching the depths in mid-October. And it also says plenty about Jauron, who began absorbing criticism from some quarters about an hour after he was hired last winter.

The loss to Tennessee guaranteed another non-winning season, Buffalo's sixth in the last seven campaigns. But the Bills, as managed by Marv Levy and coached by Jauron, have already won two more games than last year's model and at least that many more than most national prognosticators anticipated.

Most of all, they managed to make yet another season that ended before the playoffs feel like an unquestioned success.
BILLS MVP: Lee Evans may not have won the popularity contest that puts players in the Pro Bowl, but he's established himself as Buffalo's most dangerous offensive weapon since Eric Moulds' prime. And he can throw the ball, too.
THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: Travis Henry: 25 carries, 135 yards. Enough said.
RADIO DAY: Due to the blackout and the demands of the holiday, BillStuff wound up experiencing the game like just about everyone in Western New York, the announced attendance of 54,765 aside -- listening to the game on the radio.

In the interest of full disclosure, last-minute shopping took a bit longer than anticipated, so we took in most of the first half in between various retail experiences. Every time we turned the radio on, somebody had scored.

Two plays, each which seemed to last much longer than humanly possible when listened to, rather than seen, summed up the day.

The first was Young's 36-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half, which seemed to last for about seven minutes when related by play-by-play man John Murphy's disbelieving call.

Then came Losman's final heave, which followed another impossibly long scramble.
Young's wild dash ended with the ball in the end zone. Losman's finished with an interception. And Murphy's tone captured both perfectly.
WING REPORT: Shopping completed, we picked up a batch of mediums at M.T. Pockets on Hertel Avenue, along with one of their brilliant steak sandwiches. I figure the two doses of fat and cholesterol cancel each other out.

Last week, while in Corning on non-BillStuff business, we sampled the offerings at Captain Morgan's Sport 'n' Seafood. On a previous visit, one of the friendly servers mentioned that their wings earned multiple awards at past Buffalo Wing Fests. Unfortunately, this was after we finished an order of the crab-stuffed shrimp. So this time, in addition to an appetizer of bacon-wrapped scallops, we tried their mediums and a one of their award-winning variations -- honey-habanero.

I'd never tried that particular combination before. Never given out two As in one week, either, but both establishments were more than deserving.
BS FAN(S) OF THE WEEK: The Catania clan moved from BillStuff's hometown to South Florida a few years back, but took fierce loyalty to the home team with them.

Pete called shortly after the game and left a voicemail that indicated the big picture had yet to dilute the pain of Sunday's near-miss.

"My dad can't believe it -- he's going nuts here," Pete said of his father, a loyalist also named Pete.

It can't be easy being a Bills fan in Dolphins territory, but the Catanias unfailingly keep the faith. So to Pete, Pete, Marilyn, Jackie and Jesse: Just wait until next year.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

WWM Flashback: Rutkowski Helps Bills Catch O.J.

With the Bills coming off two gruesome losses and a victory that could easily be called wholly undeserved, it seems like a good time to remember that things could always be worse.

Much, much worse.

If you need convincing, watch the clip above, if you haven't already.

The 1968 Bills closed their season against the Houston Oilers, the ancestors of the 2012 version's opponent on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans.

The early moments of the highlights from that game, embedded below courtesy of YouTube, the preeminent copyright-infringement clearinghouse on the internet, feature Ed Rutkowski, the former wide receiver and future Erie County Executive. Injuries to future Bills coach Kay Stephenson, future two-time Super Bowl-winning Raiders coach Tom Flores, Dan Darragh and every other ambulatory passer in upstate New York forced Rutkowski into action at quarterback two weeks earlier.

The Bills, 1-9-1 at the time, lost relatively close games in Denver and Oakland over a four-day span. The latter was on Thanksgiving Day. The first meeting between the two teams (most American Football League teams met twice each season) resulted in a 48-6 Raiders win at War Memorial Stadium, ending the coaching tenure of Joe Collier, and ushering in the first Harvey Johnson Era.

Collier, the architect of the Buffalo defenses that backboned the 1964-65 AFL championship teams, had fallen from favor with Ralph Wilson after ordering a full-contact scrimmage during training camp after a poor exhibition game, during which Jack Kemp suffered a season-ending knee injury.

In the return match in Oakland, which most Western New Yorkers could watch as their turkey dinners settled, the Bills kept it close, thanks in large part to an off-day by Daryle Lamonica, who had left Buffalo after four seasons backing up Kemp to lead Oakland to the previous year's Super Bowl. The Bills had a chance to win or tie in the closing moments, but Rutkowski fumbled it away near the goal line.

So, it almost goes without saying, he became a folk hero in Buffalo. The fact he was Polish and Catholic certainly didn't hurt (and, being half the former by blood and somewhat the latter via immersion, I'm allowed to say that). Or maybe it was the novelty of seeing a quarterback wearing the number 40 on his jersey.

It certainly was not because he played the position very well. As the clip above shows, Rutkowski wasn't much at throwing the ball. Or holding onto it as it was snapped to him, for that matter. Imagine the current Bills resorting to Brad Smith at quarterback for an entire game, and you've got the idea.

Whatever the case, Rutkowski -- who was already a popular backup receiver and special-teamer, more for the reasons mentioned above than for anything he did on the field -- parlayed his brief bit of fame, as well as his friendship with soon-to-be Congressman Kemp, into a single term as Erie County Executive in the 1980s, followed by a much longer stint on the state parks commission.

The '68 Bills did not fare nearly as well in their season finale in Houston, but there was one bright spot resulting from the 35-6 loss, as pointed out by the final lines of the clip.

In case you haven't figured it out, the first overall pick they secured by getting thumped was a running back from the University of Southern California named O.J. Simpson.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Media Day: Hunting Pink October

Do you, too, find the pink tsunami that engulfs the National Football League each October vaguely annoying, but feel sort of guilty about your unease?

After all, who could be against such a humanitarian gesture as grand as altering the NFL’s otherwise sacrosanct uniform code in order to promote awareness of an insidious disease that shortens the lives of millions of Americans? Only someone who harbors a dark inner core of misogyny, or closeted homophobia. Maybe both.

Well, you can stop feeling bad about the relief that comes with November, when the fashion nightmare of combining pink with the mucho macho colors that normally dominate uniforms finally subsides.

Turns out the whole thing is a massive and cynical fraud perpetrated by the robber barons who bring you your primary source of entertainment each autumn Sunday and Monday night, abetted by the media hordes who serve as their advance army.

Pink October has become an accepted annual tradition, as has the media flock’s praise of the league – and by extension itself – for such selfless nobility.

What a bunch of crap.

Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel, the sister site of Deadspin, diluted the homogenous praise of Big Football’s observation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month this week with a piece subtly headlined “The NFL’s Campaign Against Breast Cancer Is a Total Scam.”

Seems only 5 percent of the proceeds from the pink-tinged jerseys, hats, earrings and other officially licensed schwag sold by the NFL each year winds up going to the American Cancer Society, with 70 percent of that amount getting spent on actual breast-cancer research:

So, if you spend $10 on pink stink from the NFL, only about 35 cents is going to finding a cure for breast cancer. And $4.50 goes right back to the NFL, where I like to imagine that it's spent on gas for a Lake Minnetonka pleasure cruise. For the cure.

Such skimming is reprehensible enough, especially considering that the NFL is little more than a sporting cartel consisting of men wealthy enough to qualify for millions of dollars in public subsidies across the country in the form of stadium bonds and other goodies (Fun Fact: Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who turned 94 Wednesday, receives $7 million annually from NewYork State and Erie County for “stadium operating and capital improvement costs”).

You might think profiting from the general public’s grief and good intentions is plenty reprehensible on its own. But wait – there’s more. Ms. Ryan, back to you:

But what about awareness?! Surely the NFL is helping keep people aware and alert and vigilant that at any moment, breast cancer could be lurking around a corner in a dark alley waiting with a hot pink switchblade to steal your purse and boobs. The thing about awareness is that it's all but impossible to quantify — and everyone knows about breast cancer. If you asked 100 people if they're aware that breast cancer is a thing and that it's almost impossible to predict and most often affects women, I'd bet that most of them would nod before slowly backing away from you. Breast cancer awareness is so ubiquitous that if deadly diseases attended the same high school, breast cancer would probably be voted prom queen. The "awareness" that comes from the NFL's sales of pink branded items doesn't justify the extent to which the league is taking advantage of consumers' good intentions to pad their wallets. Even if no NFL player ever touched another pink thing again, Americans would go right on being aware of the disease. Unless the Buffalo Jills or New Orleans Saintsations cheerleaders are holding up signs that show women how to give themselves breast self-exams or tickets come with 5 page printouts of places low income women can obtain breast health screening for low or no cost, the type of awareness the NFL is providing is useless, vague garbage.

Of course, when it comes to monolithic entities like the NFL, there’s not a lot you can do about it. Except maybe, if you want more of your charitable giving to benefit the actual charity involved, donate it directly to the American Cancer Society itself. Write Roger Goodell a strongly worded letter. And adjust your television’s settings to monochrome while watching pro football for the rest of the month.

APPARENTLY, THE BILLS have not yet given Shawne Merriman enough of their money.

With free-agent defensive end Mark Anderson out after undergoing knee surgery, Buffalo re-signed the 2005 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year on Monday. After signing with Buffalo in the middle of the 2010 season, Merriman was paid $9.95 million before being released in August. During that time, a balky Achilles tendon limited him to five games and a solitary quarterback sack, making Mario Williams appear to be an absolute bargain in comparison.
At least Buddy Nix didn’t throw another seven-figure contract extension at him, signing the linebacker-turned-defensive end to a one-year deal reportedly worth $700,000.

ONE CHRISTMAS when I was 11 or 12, we were exchanging gifts with our extended family. This was not cause for much excitement in those pre-teen years, since presents from aunts and uncles at that age invariably meant clothes. Yawn.

My hopes rose a bit when my Aunt Shirley handed me my gift from her and Uncle Lloyd – a book.

Certainly, the possibility for disappointment still existed. But Aunt Shirley had clearly learned of my burgeoning love of football from Mom, because I tore off the wrapping paper to expose a hardcover edition of “Even Big Guys Cry,” the autobiography of Alex Karras.

Just as clearly, Aunt Shirley had not opened this book before purchasing it.

It was far from the typical, ghost-written athletic hagiography. Sure, there were sections dealing with Karras’ time as one of the most dominant interior linemen in the game’s history, as well as his transition to actor and Monday Night Football comedian.

But Karras, who died last week at 77, also talked about watching his father die when he was a kid in Gary, Indiana. And struggling to find his place in the world surrounded by bigger, more athletic brothers, two of whom also later played in the NFL. And getting laid on the steps of the Parthenon. And drunkenly riding with an even drunker Bobby Layne at the wheel after a night of curfew-busting with the legendary Detroit Lions quarterback. And getting suspended for a full season, along with Green Bay’s Paul Hornung, for betting on games.

I was too young to have seen Karras play or hear him on Monday Night Football and too old to have caught much of his acting on "Webster." So, to me, Alex Karras is Mongo in "Blazing Saddles" and, moreover, the guy who wrote "Even Big Guys Cry."

It was honest, profane, and very, very funny. I had never read anything like it about anything, much less football, which at that point was the dominant force in my life. Along with “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton’s epic chronicle about a pitcher’s waning life in the major leagues, and “The Great Shark Hunt,” a collection of Hunter S. Thompson’s magazine pieces from the 1960s and ‘70s, Karras’ memoir was one of the seminal literary influences of my pre-adolescence, a book that helped form my view of sports, popular culture and the world. Not to mention my sense of humor.

So, RIP, Alex. And thank you. I think.