Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The basic problem

Here's the major issue involving the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League:

They don't seem to matter. And they haven't for years.

Yes, the Bills are one of 32 teams in the league, and that means many cities would kill to switch places with Buffalo in that sense. But when it comes to the national scene, the Bills are practically anonymous. Maybe not Detroit Lions anonymous, but certainly nondescript. They haven't been in the playoffs since 1999 -- remember the Music City Miracle -- and haven't won a playoff game since 1995.

Heck, even the Arizona Cardinals are winning this season. That's a franchise that hasn't mattered in decades, or in at least a city or two. OK, the Cardinals are in a division that is about as bad as the Norris Division of the NHL was in the 1980's, but that doesn't matter -- they are still winning it.

How does someone measure whether a team matters? You'd probably start with national buzz. The Bills never seem to pop up in the national media. There are few stories about their bright young stars or innovative coaching staff or quotable personalities. (I'm throwing early October of this year out of the discussion, since that 4-0 record proved to be something of an illusion.) They just quietly play from week to week.

Once in a while, media outlets make up a list of the top 100 players in the NFL. The Bills aren't in the top 20, or 30, or 50, very often. The Bills' best players probably are Lee Evans, who has stretches where the football is only a rumor to him, and Jason Peters, who held out of all of training camp without telling anyone including the Bills why. Trent Edwards might be good someday. Marshawn Lynch is pretty good and could get better. It's tough to predict superstardom for either of them, at least right now.

If you left Western New York right now, what would be the last (in terms of relevant year) Buffalo Bills jersey that you would be likely to see on a fan in another city? It's tough to picture Lynch or Evans jerseys without a personal connection. I don't think there are many J.P. Losmans, or Drew Bledsoes, or Rob Johnsons out there. Which probably brings us to Doug Flutie, who had a loyal fan base ... about 10 years ago. Otherwise, you'd probably see more jerseys of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas or Bruce Smith than anything else. There are 21-year-olds out there now who might or might not remember those players in their primes.

There's one more factor here, and it almost goes undiscussed around Western New York. The Bills are the NFL's top candidate to move to another city. Owner Ralph Wilson, in his late 80's, has said Buffalo isn't a big enough market to compete with the New Yorks of the world, even in the socialist NFL. Wilson has no heirs who want the team. Meanwhile, a regular-season game a year for five years will be played in Toronto instead of Buffalo. The team's lease runs out after those five years. The Bills might be worth $250 million more in Los Angeles than they are in Buffalo. What matters less than a lame duck?

Western New York still loves its team, selling out the stadium week after week. That's impressive. Still, there's a feeling that the clock is running, and the city doesn't have all of its timeouts left.

I'm not suggesting that anyone in Buffalo would trade places with fans in Detroit. I'm merely saying that a string of mediocrity has more than its share of frustrations as well.


cwendel said...

As a Bills fan living outside of Western New York, I'm annoyed but not surprised by the lack of attention the Bills receive in the national spotlight.

Anything involving the Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, and Jets (since the arrival of Brett Favre) is presented in repetitive detail. Blame the ESPN news cycle that focuses on high paid, high profile on high maintenance players and teams.

The long term prospects for the Bills staying in Buffalo are bleak because they are stuck in a cycle of on the field mediocrity and don’t attract (or cannot afford) marquee players.

Glenn Locke, The Tall Thin Guy said...

Sorry to be reading this so late. After the Miami game, as an out-of-towner, all I can say is, if Toronto wants them, they can have them. That way, I would stop caring and do something constructive with my Sundays. I have instructed my bartender to throw me out if I am at the sport bar to watch these lolligaggers again this season.