One Fan's Perspective: An All-Time Buffalo Bills Team: Non-Player Personnel
I ran out of title space so I couldn't really title this the way I want, however in honor of the Bills 50th season, they will be (or have, maybe?) introducing an All-Time team.
Last time I wrote about All-Time Teams, I waxed poetically about how players should be left in our hearts and memories due to the difficulty of correctly choosing and comparing players from different eras.
And so, completely ignoring my own advice, I introduce the The Best-Ever-All-Timiest-All-Time Buffalo Bills Forever and Ever Team.
It is important to identify the selection criteria when creating a list. I decided on this by myself using the criteria in my head.
Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.
Sure this could be an easy choice because the team has only had one owner through its entirety, however Ralph Wilson deserves credit for being a pretty good one. He has had numerous opportunities to cut bait from Buffalo and run, but he has remained true to the fans of Buffalo while maintaining a fiscal responsibility that seems to many large market owners crazy.
In his AFL-Early NFL days, Wilson was a founding AFL owner, a wise business man, a champion of the game and a constant innovator. In his old age, as the game has changed, so has Wilson.
Most recently he has been the sole champion of the issues and realities faced by small market owners trying to survive in a big market league.
While continually adapting his own approach (though not always to large market owners liking), Wilson has never changed his tactical business approach to operating the team (a.k.a. cheap).
Over the past 20+ years, Jim Overdorf has risen from team intern to one of the most powerful figures in the organization.
Due to his business acumen and like-minded thinking to the man in charge, today, anything financially relevant to the Bills runs through Overdorf; from his personal handling of player contract negotiations, the management of the salary cap, or the coordination of team legal operations at the Buffalo and Detroit offices.
Brandon is the central figure in the Bills’ regionalization efforts. He expanded the Bills’ reach east with moving training camp to Rochester, and north with the Toronto series. Both have turned into major revenue booms for the team.
Brandon is a multi-dimensional marketing machine, and brought the Bills into new-millennium advertising and revenue strategies; strategies critical for small market success in the multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL.
Despite lackluster records, mind-boggling transactions, a poor economy and fan-frustration after fan-frustration, the Bills came of 2008 with the highest number of season ticket holders in team history.
In short, Brandon convinced both Ralph Wilson and the NFL how the team can attempt to survive in today's NFL landscape.
It seems virtually inevitable that the Bills will leave for Los Angeles or Toronto sometime in the next decade, but for any Bills fan who understands they should have left years ago, thank Russ Brandon for the borrowed time.
Bill Polian, John Butler, AJ Smith
When Polian was fired by Ralph Wilson in 1993 over a dispute between him and team treasurer Jeff Littman, he stated of the team he built, "They're a very special group of men. Cherish them, you will not see their like again." He could have just as easily have been speaking of the front office he built.
This powerhouse triumvirate came together when Polian hired Butler and Smith in 1987, and their talent evaluation and deft managerial skills built the Bills teams which made four straight Super Bowls.
Saban had two incredibly productive stints as head coach with the team. In his first stint, he succeeded Buster Ramsey and in 1964 & 1965, the Bills won consecutive AFL championships.
Saban exited in 1965 by his own choice, but returned in 1972 to coach O.J. Simpson to his best, record breaking, season. Saban is credited with making deft moves which achieved the teams AFL championships and also getting the best out of tough personalities Cookie Gilchrist and O.J. Simpson.
In a somewhat cosmic twist, Saban also is responsible for recruiting Jim Kelly to the University of Miami when he was the head coach there. We all know how that turned out.
Levy is Polian’s only coaching hire, and he was the right one. With an underwhelming resume before coming to Buffalo, Levy proved Polian’s intuition to be correct. In 11.5 seasons as the Bills Head Coach, Levy maintained a consistent success very few head coaches have every seen, and the success placed Levy in the NFL Hall of Fame.
In just one-and-a-half years, he took the players given to him and reshaped the team from consistent losers to an offensive juggernaut feared by every team in the NFL. Levy, often spoken as a players coach, was more the true manager.
He often gave a power to his coordinators many coaches would never consider giving, and Levy preached delegation, excellence, knowledge and responsibility.
Levy also is often credited with being one of the first coaches to pay added attention to special teams. He used Steve Tasker almost solely as a special teams ace and preached often that football consists of three units—offense, defense and special teams—where many coaches would ignore the area.
Levy's Ivy League intelligence and his understanding of a person's humanity allowed him to handle numerous superstars with a father-like decency and candor. He he was able to always get the most a player had. Every player within his team understood the many elements and responsibilities of being an NFL player in a place like Buffalo.
Levy didn't just develop players, he developed individuals with a sense of responsibility and character that a player could carry with them for life. His players played for him, they played for each other, they played for the fans and they tried to be the role models athletes should be.
His players knew their role and Marv helped them to understand what being a member of the team, the Buffalo Bills, and even more importantly, the Buffalo community, truly meant.
Marv is the only head coach in NFL history to win four consecutive league championship games. That means something, Super Bowl victory or not.
Marv Levy’s smartest hire. While Polian and Levy gave and developed the parts, Ted Marchibroda took the parts and formed one of the most potent, daring, and exciting offenses in the history of football—the no-huddle K-Gun. Which gave Jim Kelly the ability to run the offense.
Kelly, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, Pete Metzelaars, Don Beebe, Keith McKellar, a host of offensive linemen and role players all saw their best offensive output as a member of the Bills under Marchibroda.
Marchibroda analyzed the talent, built the schemes, then unleashed the fury on gamedays. The NFL would never be the same.
Eddie Abramoski started with the Bills on day one. As Head Trainer for 36 years until he retired in 1996, Abramoski took care of virtually every player ever to pull on a Bills' jersey, icing tight muscles, checking for concussions and mending wounds. Abramoski became a trusted friend and mentor to hundreds of Bills players.
Two generations of players, including twelve Smiths, nine Joneses and six Browns, entrusted not only physical ailments but also life's problems to the wit and wisdom of Eddie Abramoski.
In the field of physical training Abramoski has had few peers, but it is his deep loyalty and love for the Bills organization for which Abe is an All-Timer.
While not technically personnel, Bills fans deserve recognition. Buffalonians go through a lot. Living in the area, I see first-hand how the Bills have shaped the personalities of the community. The team has helped develop both the worst and the best of the people of Buffalo.
Living in a downtrodden region which has been fiscally declining since the '50s and is best known for the weather will create an inferiority complex. Having a team which has been through too many devastating heartbreaks to list, in one of the most high-profile business in the world, only adds to that complex.
The Bills feed Buffalo’s unshakeable need to belong to something bigger and feel a part of something positive.
However there isn’t a person born in Buffalo who doesn’t learn there is something unique about being a Buffalonian. In many ways, Buffalo is a city time forgot. It is not necessarily stuck in the past, but it does not allow itself to overextend into the future.
It is a city most believe can only be read about in American folklore or sung about in some Americana folk tune.
Buffalo is a community of brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, all willing to pick each other up, dust each other off, and treat each other like family. When one of us goes down, we all go down, and when one of us needs help, we help. And we are all Bills fans.
To most, win or lose, we commit to the team, all in, every season. This undying, selfless loyalty transcends football, and spreads to each other. Buffalonians have unmatched understandings of hope, pride, loyalty, duty and responsibility.
Without the Bills, it is very possible the area may not be as starving for attention or as financially strapped, but it’s the passion and ideals which start with a team but extend across a region, which truly shows how the Bills have helped transform Buffalo into the City of Good Neighbors.
Next: The Offense
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