If you think it’s been business as usual since the death of Mr. Ralph C. Wilson, Jr., you must be living off the electrical grid. Like most Bills fans, I wondered for years what would happen at One Bills Drive when there was an eventual change in ownership.
It feels like we, as fans, are entering into a brave new world.
As we proceed through the first draft since Mr. Wilson’s death, it’s obvious that the hammer has come down, and the front office is going about re-creating a winning culture in Buffalo. This front office understands that they serve at the pleasure of a yet to be named new owner, who may or may not jettison every last vestige of the past when taking over the Bills.
The message being emphatically delivered during this draft, as well as the trade of Stevie Johnson to San Francisco, is that the Bills are not just moving forward, they are purging themselves of the past. Mr. Dareus would do well to heed the warning that if you weren’t drafted in the Marrone Era, your place on the team must be earned from this point forward.
Furthermore, the irony of life and death and how the two intertwine to create an opportunity for growth and change has not escaped Doug Whaley’s attention. He clearly knows that after 14 years of playoff drought, nothing less than a stunning and sudden return to the playoffs will secure his job. Russ Brandon, Doug Marrone, and the entire front office could easily be cleansed when the team changes hands with regard to ownership.
After the recent death of scouting legend Bill Nunn of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Doug Whaley stated that one of the most valuable lessons he learned along the way from his mentor was to stick to your convictions no matter how difficult that might be to do. Mr. Nunn would be proud to see his protege boldly attack this draft like a mad scientist. What is most heartening to watch for Bills fans is how much Whaley seems to enjoy the entire process. The world B-O-L-D could be his middle name.
Fans should brace themselves for more bold moves, as well as a massive culture change in the locker room. Trading Stevie Johnson was obviously in the forefront of Doug Whaley’s mind when he blurted out a Freudian ‘woopsey’ on Friday. He referred to “creating options for Stevie Johnson” when he was actually referring to options being created for EJ Manuel. This trade has obviously been in the works for awhile.
I began smelling something in the works around April 22nd when Stevie gave this interview at One Bills Drive after returning for offseason conditioning.
At close to the 1:20 mark of this interview, Stevie talks about how important it is to be a role model for other players with the Bills or other teams. His entire demeanor during this press conference seemed very subdued, which we all know is not his general nature.
It was obvious to me from his interview that something was weighing on him. I thought about how he lost his mother and was perhaps mourning her loss coming back to Buffalo, especially with Mother’s Day coming up. We know Stevie is a highly emotional man, and his mother’s tragic unexpected passing at such a young age was a life-altering event.
There is little question regarding the impact that Mr. Wilson’s death is having for each player on the roster. The message has changed, and the team is rebranding itself. Make no mistake, this team is attacking the future. Revolution, not evolution, is clearly the new mantra. The front office and coaching staff are taking no prisoners at this point.
Many Bills fans seem to be experiencing vertigo trying to deal with the unprecedented changes occurring at a dizzying pace. Adding to all of the stress to our fanhood is the fact that Western New York’s beloved Jim Kelly is waging the battle of his life against the demon of cancer.
Bills fans have been counting on Jim Kelly to lead us out of the misery that has plagued this team since he retired. Despite the challenges, we remain confident that Jim will do exactly what he has always done in terms of leading this franchise out of its culture of losing. It’s what he was born to do. Jim is not only a master at being relentless, he thrives persevering where others would wither in fear.
This group of players will experience additional pressure as they move forward this season. Winning football games will result in a higher price tag for the team when it is sold, and a way to honor the memory of all that Mr. Wilson brought to Western New York for football fans and the legacy of the region. They will be playing literally as if there is no tomorrow because all the world will be watching to see what happens as they move forward into the next era in the history of the Buffalo Bills.