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Mike Schopp's Blog

SCHOPP: Meet the countrified Bills

I'll never forget the night my wife first heard my maternal grandparents speak.

I don't see my mom's parents much. They moved to Florida a decade or so ago, and they don't travel. We talk a couple times a year, and it wasn't until around my wedding -- maybe even after it -- that my wife and grandparents first spoke, by phone.

After the call my wife turned to me and asked, incredulous, "You're Southern?"

It's true. My grandparents grew up 40 miles apart in Eastern Kentucky. Look up rural in the dictionary and head southeast. I never spent long enough periods of time with them to adapt to their slower, country lifestyle but I do remember that a typical day with Grandma and Grandpa, who lived in Xenia, Ohio when I met them, was spent sitting on the patio playing board games and drinking lemonade. When we went out we didn't take a Metro to a museum, we took dirt roads to a petting zoo.

Maybe Bills fans of late have made the same stark observation about their football team. If you haven't, it's time: Your Buffalo Bills have been countrified.

The Bills speak with a drawl now. Their coach and general manager are both capable of a "dadgum". I'm guessing more than a few of these guys in the organization have the head of a dead animal mounted in their dens.

It might be a reach to say this reality speaks to how the Bills have a friendlier, gentler sound these days but to me it's not. There are a lot of nice guys here. Why does it matter? Well, I have an easier time connecting with a team that can articulate itself. On that front these guys are aces.

But it's more than that. As it happens, lots of football talent is grown in the south. And if the Bills, and Western New York -- with its many farms and fields that surround the city and inner suburbs -- appeal to that talent, that's a good thing.

It's already bearing fruit. Turns out the top free agent in football was turned on by the thought of having deer in his backyard. Ladies and gentlemen, Mario Williams. Kyle Williams told Bulldog and me last week that in talking about Buffalo with Mario Williams he mentioned how around here you can live any way you want. For Mario Williams of North Carolina that was in the hilly Southern outer-suburbs. As it is for Kyle Williams of Louisiana. And Jim Kelly of Western Pennsylvania. And Thurman Thomas of Texas. And Steve Tasker of Kansas. And so on.

Buddy Nix (hometown: Carbon Hill, Ala.,) and Chan Gailey (Gainesville, Ga.) are key players in this. The Bills right now are clearly and fully a Nix-Gailey operation. Ralph Wilson isn't around anymore. Russ Brandon and Jim Overdorf count the beans. Nix and Gailey are in charge, and they come across straightforward and sincere. Pass the biscuits and gravy.

When it comes to drawing players in, every sports team needs a hook. Some teams use their championship traditions as bait, others use glitzy new stadiums or arenas, and others can campaign through their popular coach or player as a draw. The Bills -- and the Sabres for that matter -- do not have these particular luxuries. So how do they do it?

Intentionally or not, the Bills are on to something. Come to Buffalo, where you can play in front of some of the sport's most loyal fans and then out of the office you can go hide, or hunt. Dallas and Washington and New England and New York each have a slickness to them.

And there ain't none of that here.

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