Itâ€™s time to confess: Sports writersâ€”although not all of usâ€”are fans or become fans of the teams they cover. Oh, they might not admit it and it rarely, if ever, shows up in their workâ€”that is, if they are responsible journalists.
A colleague I worked with years ago said it was unethical for a reporter even to want a certain team to winâ€”never mind that the silent cheering never influenced oneâ€™s writing. The truth is, though, it is almost impossible to not pull for a team, at least deep down, when youâ€™ve spent years covering it and getting to know the players. Of course, some of the players can be total turnoffs.
I covered the Buffalo Bills for 10 years and most of the players were convinced that I hated their guts. From 1984 through 1986â€”Jim Kellyâ€™s first season in Buffaloâ€”the Bills had a combined 8-40 record. I once wrote: â€œIf the meek are going to inherit the earth, the Bills are about to become land barons.â€
It really wasnâ€™t much fun covering a football funeral every Sunday, but I never saw two guys in the press box high-fiving each other after another Bills loss. We were all bummed.
Then, in 1987, the players walked out and the NFL played three games with just about anybody who could fit into a uniformâ€”scabs, if you will. I wrote that the striking players might as well go to the Adirondacks and howl at the moon, that there was no way the league would give in to them. When they ended their strike and came back I walked into the locker room one day and one of the players shouted, â€œHeâ€™s here! Nobody talks!â€
They had no idea how much I wanted to see the Bills go 40-8 over three seasons. That didnâ€™t happen, but Kelly and company did turn the team around and after the 1989 season the Bills made it to the first of their four consecutive Super Bowls.
I was ecstatic they were there, then totally bummed out when Scott Norwoodâ€™s now-infamous 47-yard field goal attempt went wide right and the Bills fell to the New York Giants, 20-19. Then they lost the next three Super Bowls as well.
After back-to-back 7-9 seasons in â€™06 and â€™07, there was optimism that 2008 would be a turnaround year for the Bills, and perhaps they would make the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
They had Trent Edwards at quarterbackâ€”calm, cool and collected. And Marshawn Lynch, powerful and fast, running the ball. Plus, receivers who can get open and catch BBs in the dark. A better offensive line. An improved defense. Solid special teams. Dick Jauron the head coach and Turk Schonert calling the plays. You know, the whole package.
Western New York was abuzz. Now, here we are late in 2008 and the Bills are up to their shoulder pads in misery. Again. We all got excited over their 4-0 start and stayed excited even when they were 5-1. Nobody expected them to run the table. But since October, the Bills have been nil. It became official Sunday after losing at home to San Francisco, 10-3: Theyâ€™ve all but crashed and burned, and that could be next.
Buffalo is 6-6 with the Miami Dolphins (7-5), New York Jets (8-4), Denver Broncos (7-5) and New England Patriots (7-5) left to play. In other words, unless the Bills get their act togetherâ€”assuming they still have one to get togetherâ€”a 6-10 record isnâ€™t out of the question. And yes, I hope Iâ€™m wrong.
And Iâ€™m sick to my stomach. The people of Western New York deserve better. Much better. They have suffered through season after season with the Billsâ€”except for that four-year stretch way back when.
Compared to most NFL teams, the Bills are in a relatively small marketâ€”a metro population of about 1.25 million, barely in the top 50 in the United States. Its numbers are somewhat better than Green Bayâ€™s, but without the Packersâ€™ winning tradition. As I have said before, no one ever left his heart in Buffalo, itâ€™s not the City by the Bay and thereâ€™s never been a Buffalo Tea Party.
Owner Ralph Wilson, now 90 years old, is a classy gentleman. There are just two things missing from his career: winning a Super Bowl and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And both should happen while he can still remember them.
Now, Jauron has gone from loved to loathed, at least by some. And offensive coordinator Schonert has gone from Turk to jerk. Edwards? As we speak, Trent seems more spent. And J.P., the guy who replaced Edwards (groin pull) in the second half Sunday, is still more lost man than Losman.
Who knows what the answer is. For that matter, who knows if there is an answer. Letâ€™s just hope the Bills organization does whatever it takes to give us diehards cheers instead of tears. It has been too painful too long.
Rick Woodsonâ€™s column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journalâ€™s Web site at www.rbjdaily.com. His book, â€œWords of Woodson,â€ is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, â€œThe Golf Tee,â€ at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280.