Truth be told I'm holding my breath all week. While the blitz hasn't quite begun to bury yet another Bills team -- this time only one week in -- the fans and media have eight men in the box and are looking fierce. I still want to think the team will be alright. Seasons for me are small sample sizes; what might I think about games? Many objective and good football minds backed the Bills this year. Ignore the ugly opener and stay calm, keep quiet, no sudden movements. Right? It's one game.
No matter how good a mood you can talk yourself into about these guys, no matter how much you've figured Mario Williams' killer body and Ryan Fitzpatrick's big brain and the Nix/Gailey Southern swagger would add up to a playoff season, the long view remains that the Buffalo Bills really shouldn't be any good at all.
Because if you don't draft well, or hire top-flight coaches and executives, or luck into the best quarterback in the draft, or do some combination of these things, then how good can you be?
Think about it. Their most important players are men other teams didn't want -- and that includes Williams. The Bills may be the only team in the NFL with only quarterbacks that have been dumped twice -- and that doesn't include the departed Vince Young, who also fits. Not only were Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen and Tarvaris Jackson ejected by two other franchises, look at the quality of those teams. The Bills' players at the sport's most important position are men the Rams, Bengals, Chiefs, Dolphins and Seahawks didn't want.
The only teams that ever should live that way play in the CFL.
It's incredible to me how many key players and coaches the Bills have brought on over the last 6-7 years that were probably otherwise at a professional football dead end. Fitzpatrick. Young. Buddy Nix. Chan Gailey. Dave Wannstedt. Shawne Merriman. TO. Dick Jauron. And the most amazing move of all, Marv Levy. And these are just the leaders.
I trace it to January 5, 2006. The day the Bills fired Tom Donahoe is the day they stopped competing the same way most other teams do, if not all. They stopped trying to be the best team in football, not that they ever succeeded at that. Since, they've merely tried to be the best team they can be without tapping into first-tier talent. To use a basketball comparison teams are setting picks and running screens and trying to make baskets. The Bills are taking the ball in from out of bounds and heaving it from half-court.
This year we've thought maybe they'd make the shot. And maybe they still will.
Donahoe didn't win here but at least in his five years the Bills availed themselves to top talent. However mistakenly, Donahoe saw Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey as coaches with potential. Since then we've gone backward with Jauron and Gailey, forgotten coaches plucked from yellowed obscurity. Donahoe tabbed Drew Bledsoe as a former star with years left. After Bledsoe it's been a collection of reached-for draft picks and men from the waiver wire. Donahoe brought Kevin Gilbride and Dick LeBeau here. Doesn't that read like an upgrade over the assistants that have come along since? Fact is, the Bills' best teams in this woebegone era were Donahoe's 2002 and 2004 squads.
Since Donahoe left the Bills have only been bad. And not yet is 2012 any different.
I'll say it again -- I'm still hopeful for this year's team. They do have a soft schedule and their visit to the Jets in Week 1 wasn't part of that. In the past decade while the Bills have been driftwood we've seen numerous NFL teams rise up for one good season and then return to their rightful place among the mediocre. (The 2010 Chiefs. The 2008 Dolphins. The '08 Cardinals ...) Maybe you can trick your way into a playoff year but time will expose you and your methods.
Every fan knows how the good teams get built. Hire highly credible coaches and executives (New England, NY Giants). Draft impact players and build around them (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay). Or, fall so far that the best quarterback in college football lands in your lobby (Indianapolis, Detroit, Atlanta).
Any of these someday would be nice.
One more time, I'm not giving up on the season yet. But deep down I know that in pro sports like in life you really can't fake competence. The Bills still may crash this year's playoff party and end the league's longest drought but if they do you can bet that a bouncer will be there to toss them back on to the street with the other wannabes and riffraff and Browns and Raiders. And he'll be wearing a hoodie.