Marv Levy didn’t give a fig about the outcome of preseason games. Levy’s focus was on avoiding injury and not overworking players at camp. Along with the legendary “Club Marv” training camps, Levy was all about preserving players’ health and well-being. That was then, this is now.
Doug Marrone is more like Bill Parcells than Marv Levy as far as preseason philosophy. To be fair, Coach Marrone does have an entirely different type of team on his hands than Levy did. Levy walked into a ready-made team that was about to take off and make history.
Levy also had a locker room full of leaders. One could plausibly argue that there were too many ‘leaders’ at times on the Bills squads of the early 1990s. They were often referred to as the “Bickering Bills” during those years for a reason.
Marrone has a different set of issues going on with this young team. There’s no one on the current roster who’s laid claim to being the undisputed face of the franchise at this point. Sammy Watkins may emerge in that role, but as a rookie he must focus on assimilating and translating his considerable skill-set to the level of NFL offenses and defenses.
Both Marrone and Levy entered their tenure as Bills head coaches after many losing seasons. However, the biggest difference with the current team compared to the teams from the early 1990s was the fact that the face of the franchise was clearly established when Levy came on board. Jim Kelly was already the heart and soul of those Bills teams.
The jury is still out on whether or not EJ Manuel will become the first successful QB since the Kelly era. At this point most Bills fans would probably support any QB that started stockpiling wins on a consistent basis. The biggest difference I see with the current group of players is that they have yet to master that ability to literally will themselves to victory.
That skill requires that one possess an inner passion for winning at the highest intensity, along with utter disdain for any lesser outcome. Since 2000, the Bills have become too comfortable with losing. They seem to lose with a shrug of the shoulder and a promise to do better next time. They seem to take losing in stride.
Remaining calm and not overreacting to team deficiencies early in camp is probably a prudent plan for Bills fans. However, the same does not hold true for the players. After 15 years of constant losing, Marrone senses the total exasperation of this fan base. The players need to adopt the same sense of urgency.
Marrone was not a happy camper after Sunday night’s game. He knows that the only way to change a losing culture is to stop losing games. And yes, that means even meaningless preseason games.
Winning begets winning, and the only way to begin that process is to make losing a completely unacceptable outcome that goes above and beyond any individual goal. I think the impatience many Bills fans display regarding EJ’s development has more to do with his seemingly laid-back attitude in general, rather than a lack of respect for his skills.
An outgoing and larger than life personality is a big part of why Jim Kelly became the favorite son of Western New York. When he had a bad game, there were no excuses. He was demonstrative in both winning and losing, and never failed to take responsibility when the team did lose a game, preseason or not.
Perhaps this type of passion will come in time as Manuel matures in his role. However, after nearly two decades of trying to find Kelly’s heir to the job, it’s increasingly clear how rare it is to find that combination of talent and intensity.
One could defend the assertion that this version of the Buffalo Bills has as much talent as the teams of the Super Bowl era, with the exception of this one vital position. The top two players at QB still have less than one full year of NFL playing experience. There is a reason analysts write that the Bills are only going to go as far as the QB position takes them this season. It’s not rocket science, but simply the greatest vulnerability on this team.
Regarding the importance of preseason games, there are legitimate reasons why the outcome doesn’t carry significance into the regular season (Ex. Lack of game planning and playing backups). Levy’s teams could flip a switch on when the regular season started and be in mid-season form on opening day and they rarely won any preseason games.
Winning was only a matter of imposing their will on the opponent, and those Bills teams could do so whenever they chose to do so. It was second nature during those years.
Fast forward after nearly a couple of decades of failure and free agency, and what we have now are Bills players in search of a team identity other than ‘loser.’ Maybe Kelly will have to lead this team out of the gutter one more time, but this time in a different way.
This time that leadership will come from his personal battle with cancer. Having worked with people that have the same type of health issues for years, I’m familiar with the challenges he faces on a daily basis. Living without the ability to produce saliva is extraordinarily cumbersome and debilitating. It impairs a person’s quality of life on multiple levels.
Yet what do we see from Jim Kelly as he pushes forward through these challenges? We see that he’s going to WIN at life in the face of cancer (literally and figuratively). The connection he is making with this team in the preseason is palpable.
He’s going to live each and every day with a renewed sense of appreciation for being able to reach out and touch so many other lives. He will move forward with courageous determination not to wither away hiding from the public. That is not “Kelly Tough.” He can teach these young players that every play or practice, whether it’s preseason or regular season, are all important.
This preseason is like no other ever experienced in the history of the team. This is the first time the Buffalo Bills will open a season without its one and only owner, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. In fact, ownership will likely be in flux through most of the regular season.
Losing preseason games at this juncture is like the old phrase, “death by a thousand cuts.” It may not be a significant threat to the organization to lose preseason games, but it doesn’t do much to help foster a winning spirit either.
It would certainly make sense that potential owners bidding on the team are probably watching the players, coaches and fans with great interest. First impressions may influence who might stay or who might go when the team is sold.
So in essence, the outcome of this preseason may mean more than in previous years because of the transfer of ownership, among other things. It may be important to win preseason games this season. There will undoubtedly be a level of scrutiny unique to the Bills current ownership situation.
These are not “normal times” in Bills Nation. The sense of urgency to win now has an even greater meaning in the grand scheme of things. Just ask Jim Kelly how important it is to take each and every challenge seriously, preseason or not.
Training Camp Thank Yous
I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone I was able to meet last week at Bills Training Camp. I had a great time tweeting live for BillsMafia. I’m looking forward to following some of our other bloggers as they continue to do so throughout camp.
For those of you I was unable to connect with during my stay, I will try again when I return Western New York. GO BILLS!