The Bills Have Rejuvenated This Old Football Fan

I know what you’re thinking. This is supposed to be a baseball site! Well yes, it is, but for those who don’t know – I am a lifelong fan of the Buffalo Bills.

For those of you who have followed me on Twitter, you may associate me with my obsession for baseball. But I have to tell you, these Buffalo Bills have reawakened my love for football. Long before Twitter, even a few years before the internet itself became a thing, the Bills were a powerhouse of a football team. The late 1980s/early to mid 1990s teams were regulars in the postseason.

Of course, the Bills are widely known for losing four consecutive Super Bowls.

 

During the Super Bowl years and most of the 1990s, the Bills OWNED Western New York State. Fans wore player jerseys, Zubaz pants, Starter jackets, caps and winter hats. It was an exciting time! Going to Bills games was an all-day event. This was when tailgating really became a big thing for us fans what would eventually become “Bills Mafia”. Many family outings on weekends included Sunday football at different houses to watch the games.

Late in the 90’s, things began to change in terms of team quality. Legendary quarterback Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season, and young Todd Collins took over as the team’s starting QB. To say things didn’t go well for the 26 year old heir apparent to Jim Kelly would be an understatement. Collins started thirteen games for Buffalo in ’97, the team lost eight of them. Collins was in a no-win situation replacing Kelly and the collective roster was aging at this point. He did eventually carve out a nice career as a backup QB years later in Kansas City, Washington and Chicago.

Realizing Collins wasn’t the answer at QB, then-General Manager John Butler traded for young hotshot quarterback Rob Johnson in exchange for 1st round and 4th round picks in the 1998 NFL Draft. Butler also brought in Doug Flutie. He had been discarded by the NFL because of his small stature (listed at 5’10”, but a couple inches shorter in reality), but thrived in the Canadian Football League) for a number of years.

After Johnson was injured in his very first start with the Bills (injuries were a theme with him in Buffalo), Flutie pretty much took over for most of the ’98 season and was the team’s starter for the first 15 games of 1999. A confident veteran, Flutie’s presence lifted the team and gave opponents fits with his mobility and improvising. He was the polar opposite of Johnson, who was a prototypical pocket QB at 6’4″.

Wade Phillips, who succeeded Marv Levy as head coach after 1997, rested Flutie and a number of other regulars for the season finale. The Bills couldn’t advance in playoff seed, so the team wanted to give the 37 year old QB a breather before the playoffs. Johnson started the final game of the year and went 24-32 for 287 yards, throwing a pair of touchdown passes in 31-6 blowout win vs. young Peyton Manning and the Colts.

At this point, fate intervened. After watching Johnson pick apart the Colts in an all around meaningless game (Indianapolis won the AFC East and had a first round bye), Phillips (in later years, he told NFL Network he was ordered by owner Ralph Wilson) benched Flutie and started Johnson for the Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. Then the “Music City Miracle” happened.

 

I still vividly remember the dumbfounded feeling of disbelief more than 20 years later. Nothing was the same after this bitter playoff loss.

The fortune’s of this franchise were flipped upside down roughly a month later on “Black Thursday”. On February 10, 2000, the Bills parted ways with Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed. That was one of the darkest days I can recall, including the loss to the Titans just weeks before. These were all fan favorites, and the news didn’t go well with fans. Tim Graham wrote about this day in The Athletic. After these cuts, all that remained of the Super Bowl teams were defensive end Phil Hansen, punter Chris Mohr and kicker Steve Christie.

The year 2000 began the period of time I refer to as “The Abyss”. Wilson fired Phillips after an 8-8 season. Ever frugal, Wilson paraded a cast of characters including Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick “7-9” Jauron and Chan Gailey. Naturally, all were unsuccessful. Collectively, the Bills went 82-126 under these coaches. As losses mounted, these were painful times and there wasn’t anything to celebrate. The Bills had gone from a perennial playoff powerhouse to a laughingstock under Ralph Wilson’s ownership. The few proud moments were the three occasions when we beat the Patriots and Tom Brady (yes, I can remember where I was each time).

The franchise fared a little better under Doug Marrone, who wiggled out of his contract when Bills ownership transferred from Wilson’s estate to Terry and Kim Pegula.

The Pegulas brought in Rex Ryan to coach the Bills. The results were less than desired, but the team made it known years of a losing culture are to end. Clearly, things were going to be different. A pair of events in 2017 have reversed Buffalo’s fortunes.

First thing, hiring Sean McDermott as head coach.

Secondly, hiring Brandon Beane as the team’s general manager.

Lastly, in April 2018, the Bills selected Josh Allen in the 1st round of the NFL Draft to as the franchise quarterback.

 

Over three seasons, Allen’s had some bumps, bruises and growing pains, but his growth is apparent. Allen’s play, McDermott’s coaching and leadership, and Beane putting the team all together has restored the Buffalo Bills back into a powerhouse. The long ago feeling I experienced in the 1990s is back and reinvigorated me. We have a team that can go deep into the playoffs! I watched the last few seconds tick off the clock in Monday night’s win against the Patriots in Foxborough, I noted these feelings and reminded myself – enjoy this.

 

What Will Santa Bring Yankees for Christmas?

It’s the first full day of Winter, Christmas is almost here, and everyone is excited in anticipation of gifts they will soon be receiving. Fans of Major League Baseball are also excited to see who their favorite teams will sign as a free agent or make a trade to solidify their lineups or pitching staffs.

Of course, the New York Yankees are in the market to add to their team, as they are every Winter. The big name in play is D.J. LeMahieu, who’s spent the last two seasons with the Bronx Bombers. Bringing him back is imperative, as I wrote back in November. Over his pair of seasons with the Yankees, LeMahieu put up a slash-line of .336/.386/.536 with 36 HR’s and 129 RBI in 195 games. Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM, maintains he is doing everything he can to retain the popular and surehanded 2nd baseman.

YES Network’s Jack Curry thinks LeMahieu will return. Certainly, this would bring a collective exhale from Yankees fans strong enough to qualify as a gale wind.

If LeMahieu leaves, the wise move would be to move Gleyber Torres back to second base, and sign a shortstop. Old friend Didi Gregorius could be an option. Fully recovered from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow late in 2018, Sir Didi played all 60 games for the Phillies in 2020. He put up decent numbers (.284/.339/.488 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI) and should have no problem securing a multi-year deal. It’s hard to say if Cashman is willing to re-commit to Gregorius after letting him leave after 2019. Would Didi even be willing to return?

With Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ hitting the free agent market, the Yankees have a few holes to fill in their starting rotation. Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery are the two main holdovers from the 2020 season. Luis Severino is expected to return from Tommy John Surgery, but unlikely to be ready by Opening Day 2021. Deivi García seems ready to contribute after a number of good starts late in the summer. No one knows what to expect from Domingo Germán. He missed the 2020 season while suspended for his role in a domestic violence incident in September 2019.

Trevor Bauer is the big, high profile name in free agency and he would instantly upgrade the Yankees rotation. However, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has repeatedly said he does not want the team’s budget to be above the luxury tax threshold (210M for 2021). Adding Bauer would most certainly push them above 210 million. It’s more likely Cashman will look to lower priced options such as Corey Kluber or Jake Odorizzi (both missed virtually the entire season) or bringing back Paxton on one year deals to prove they are healthy.

Other than adding pitching and trying to bring back LeMahieu, the Yankees are in good shape, roster-wise. Hopefully Santa will deliver Yankees fans with some nice gifts to celebrate over Christmas.

And I want to wish all of you a safe, happy and healthy Merry Christmas! 🎄🎁

Could Yankees Really Trade Gleyber Torres?

 

Last night, on YES Network’s “Yankees Hot Stove” program, Meredith Marakovits interviewed Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman. Meredith asked him about several Yankees players, including star infielder Gleyber Torres, who struggled on both sides of his game for the majority of the truncated 2020 campaign. Cashman cut right to the chase.

Courtesy of YES Network 2020

 

“He wasn’t in the best shape to start the second spring training.”

Ouch! But it does explain why Torres had troubles for most of the season. It also explains why he was so hot in the postseason when he raked to the tune of a 1.292 OPS. He had his feet under him and was in proper playing shape.

While 2020 was a year unlike any other (and hopefully we won’t ever see again), it’s a bit troubling Gleyber apparently let himself go during the layoff. No one knows what he was doing or not doing at the time. For Cashman to take this public, he evidently wasn’t impressed.

Which leads me to wonder. If (a big if) Yankees re-sign free agent DJ LeMahieu, would Cashman consider trading Torres for much needed pitching help? Remember, Cashman says Gleyber’s a better second baseman. Gleyber’s value is still high, considering the hot postseason he just had. He also hit 38 home runs in 2019, driving in 90 runs. But what happens if he has another punchless season in 2021 and his defense hasn’t improved? His trade value would drop precipitously. Of course, if LeMahieu leaves to go elsewhere then all bets are off.

Almost two and a half years ago, Cashman said “I have to walk around in this city”, when asked if he could consider trading Torres.

 

Now, it may not be as far-fetched.