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Sports Then and Now

Could it be the Buffalo Bills vs. the Detroit Lions in Super Bowl XLVI? 17

Posted on September 25, 2011 by John Wingspread Howell

Could this be the year that the Buffalo Bills return to the Super Bowl?

The Super Bowl matchup has been set. Maybe not in the minds of NFL management, but in the stars, in destiny, in all the places that matter.

It will be a Detroit versus Buffalo Super Bowl. You’ve heard of the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius?” This is the dawning of the Age of the Incredulous!

Both teams have not only been shut out of the playoffs for more than a decade but have also been shut out of hope, expectations, respect for nearly that long.

But something happened in the alignment of the universe over the off-season. Perhaps the Lock Out had something to do with it. Perhaps it was something completely unrelated. But this year, if  you’re intuitive, psychic, clairvoyant, you can already sense it. You don’t suspect. It isn’t a hunch. It is a future fact as certain as the rising and setting of the sun and the changing of the seasons, yet as unsettling to the natural order as Global Warming.

For three consecutive weeks, these teams whose defeats are assumed, whose prospects are failure until proven successful, whose prospects have been as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet, are suddenly clicking. These teams that have in the past frequently played a good game, come back from a deep deficit, only to fall behind again at the last minute of regulation time, or lose a sudden death shoot out, are suddenly coming back and staying ahead. They are suddenly assuming victory and playing as if they will and must win, as if failure is not only not an option, it isn’t even a plot line. Read the rest of this entry →

Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions Take the NFL Back to 1980 14

Posted on September 25, 2011 by Dean Hybl

With a 3-0 start, the Buffalo Bills seem to be pointing in the right direction to start the 2011 season.

Considering that each team has posted only one winning season since 2000, dual 3-0 starts by the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions has the NFL turned upside down and fans in both cities celebrating like it is 1980 all over again.

Indeed, it was 31 years ago that both franchises started the season with perfect records during the first month of the season to become the darlings of the NFL.

The NFL was a little different back in 1980 as both teams relied on rookie running backs to spark their team. The Bills featured former Auburn Tiger Joe Cribbs while the Lions had a budding star in former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Simms.

Of course as we fast forward to 2011 the focus is no longer on the running game, though solid runners have helped both teams to their early starts.

The focus in today’s NFL is on the passing game and the Bills and Lions rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Stafford much more than the 1980 squads relied on their starting quarterbacks Joe Ferguson and Gary Danielson.

Entering the 1980 season, both the Lions and Bills were coming off four straight losing seasons.

Following a 2-14 campaign in 1979, the Lions drafted Sims with the first pick in the NFL draft. Under third year head coach Monte Clark, the team won their first four games in dominating fashion. They outscored the Los Angeles Rams 41-20 and then combined an explosive offense with a dominating defense to allow their opponents seven points each in the next three games as they outscored the Packers, Cardinals and Vikings 76-21.

Unfortunately, the Lions couldn’t maintain the momentum and finished just out of the playoffs with a 9-7 record. However, the winning season was their first since 1972 and started a four year stretch in which the Lions posted a 30-27 record and twice advanced to the playoffs. Read the rest of this entry →

Shan or Chan: In Sports as in War, We’re Always Fighting the Last Battle 4

Posted on December 18, 2010 by John Wingspread Howell

Neither Chan Gailey or Ryan Fitzpatrick was the first choice of Buffalo fans, but they could end up being the right fits.

Here in Buffalo, Monday morning quarterbacking has become the dominant sport, since what happens on the gridiron and on the ice isn’t close to what it used to be in this town. The big fear, especially where the Bills are concerned, is that it won’t be like that again.

I define “Monday morning quarterbacking” broadly for purposes of this discussion, to include prescribing and second guessing personnel decisions as well as game day decisions. Once the woebegone era of Dick Jauron finally ended, there was a flurry of wishful speculation about somehow acquiring a marquis coach and a marquis quarterback. When the dust all settled and we had Chan Gailey as our coach and nobody new as our quarterback, the “nabobs of negativism,” to quote Spiro Agnew, were burning up the airwaves and the blogosphere.

How quickly things change. Today I saw a tweet that said, “Remember when we wanted Mike Shanahan as a coach and Donovan McNabb as our quarterback?”

And there you have it. When a crisis comes, we humans are always inclined to fight the last war, whether it is literal war, or the symbolic kind waged in arenas. Truth is, if we were to analyze the success rate of big name coaches or players reborn or recycled in new venues, especially when the new assignment is a losing franchise, it is more bust than boom. Even the big Tuna, Bill Parcells couldn’t match his New England success in Dallas and couldn’t match his lesser Dallas success in Miami.

The problem—or opportunity, depending on how you see it—is, that most of the best coaches in the NFL come up through the coordinator ranks. More often than not they have been the understudy to a great coach, but not always. Read the rest of this entry →

Memo to Buffalo Bills Fans: Don’t Give Up on Fitzpatrick Yet 2

Posted on December 09, 2010 by John Wingspread Howell

Ryan Fitzpatrick has experienced both ups and downs since taking over as quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.

Many Buffalo Bills fans were quick to jump on the Ryan Fitzpatrick bandwagon after he won the starting position from Trent Edwards. Many of the same fans are also the first to throw him under that bandwagon, after his first bad game in seven starts. The focus on drafting a franchise quarterback is on again in Bills Country, after being muted for a while as the Harvard quarterback created offensive numbers not seen in Buffalo since the early days of Drew Bledsoe’s ill-fated tenure. Fitzpatrick joins Bledsoe, Johnson, Losman, and Edwards on the scrap heap of premature faith blown up.

It is true that by his performance against the Vikings in the 31-14 debacle in the MetroDome (oh, excuse me, “Mall of America Field”) Fitz took a step backwards. But was it simply that—a step backwards after six consecutive brilliant and inspired performances– or is it more that he was playing over his head for a while and the Vikings game exposed the man behind the curtain?

It is certainly true that Fitz’s play in Minnesota often resembled that of his predecessor, derisively dubbed “Captain Check Down” by Bills fans, when he made little dump passes after being unable to find any targets downfield.  Yes, he may have seemed intimidated by the Minnesota defensive line at times, and his fumble on the Minnesota one yard line was less than we have come to expect from Fitzpatrick’s leadership since he assumed the starting role.

You can’t blame Bills fans for being quick to judge, the moment the first little hole pops up in the blue superhero tights. It is a self-defense mechanism often observed in people who have been burned in relationships a series of times. The more often people are burned in love, the more quickly they anoint the new squeeze as the love of their life, but in turn the more quickly they dispatch said person after the first crack in the veneer is spotted. Falling fast is usually followed by falling hard. Read the rest of this entry →

  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Hall of Famer Tony Oliva
      July 17, 2022 | 2:15 pm
      Tony Oliva

      After waiting for 45 years after his retirement, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is finally taking his rightful place as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

      Before injuries cut short his Hall of Fame worthy career, Tony Oliva was one of the best hitters in baseball and combined with Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmen Killebrew to make the Minnesota Twins a perennial American League contender during the late 1960s.

      Discovered on the baseball fields of Cuba by a Minnesota Twin scout, Oliva came to the United States in 1961 and within three years the American League Rookie of the Year. There have been many great MLB players from Cuba, including a new generation of stars today, but it is hard to argue that there has been a better player from the island in MLB than Oliva.

      Read more »

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