Are the Bickering Bills back? It sure seemed that way as training camp wrapped up at St. John Fisher.
On Wednesday, a goal-line drill led to a fight between Eric Wood and Bryan Johnson. Helmets were ripped off and punches were thrown. Tight end Scott Chandler found himself fighting with Johnson at one point as well.
Today, more fighting took place and Doug Marrone wasn’t pleased. He lined his players up and laid into them verbally. Marrone’s tactics didn’t sit well with Jerry Hughes. Hughes became vocal and Marrone then shouted more in Hughes’ direction about not having to play on the team. Soon thereafter, the Bills were running sprints.
While some are concerned about the last two days, these events gave me the warm fuzzies and made me reminisce about the original Bickering Bills.
Some of you may be too young to remember and others may have forgotten, so here’s a brief rundown of the original Bickering Bills.
It all started during the 1989 season. In Week 2, Jim Kelly and Chris Burkett were shown on the sidelines during Monday Night Football getting into a shouting match. Two days later, Burkett threatened to quit the team after losing his starting job to Flip Johnson. The Bills told Burkett that wasn’t necessary and cut him.
Leading up to their second contest with the Dolphins,Tom Bresnahan and Nick Nicolau, assistant coaches on the Bills, found themselves in a fight. Nicolau put Bresnahan in a headlock and actually drove his head through a wall.
The biggest blowup of the 1989 season happened before the assistant coach royal rumble. In a Week 5 matchup with the Colts, Jim Kelly was injured in the third quarter after Howard Ballard missed a block on John Hand. Kelly completed a pass to Andre Reed for a touchdown, but Hand was able to get a hit on Kelly. That hit led to a separated shoulder and to Kelly lashing out at Ballard and the offensive line to the media. This didn’t sit well with Thurman Thomas, and when the running back was asked where the team needed an upgrade his response was “quarterback.” It’s hard to imagine Kelly and Thomas at odds as they’re best friends now, but both men had sizable egos during their careers.
The bickering carried over into 1990 when the Miami Dolphins steamrolled the Bills 30-7 in Week 2. Coach Marv Levy decided to pull his starters and this didn’t sit well with Bruce Smith, Leonard Smith, Nate Odomes and Kirby Jackson. Bruce and Levy got into a verbal argument on the sidelines and the latter three players didn’t leave the field immediately after Levy called them off. The star defensive end was fined $500 and the others paid a $100 fine for their actions.
It’d be an understatement to say that the 1989 and 1990 Bills had some discipline issues. Those Bills teams were egotistical and emotional, but most importantly, they were successful. The 1989 team finished 9-7 and the 1990 team went 13-3. Having blowups isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The original Bickering Bills started turning the corner in terms of wins and losses in 1988 when they went 12-4, so the narrative here isn’t the same. The 2014 Buffalo Bills aren’t coming off of a successful campaign, but the egos and emotions remain.
When Kelly called out Ballard, Thomas was there to stand up for the offensive tackle. When Eric Wood was pulled away from Bryan Johnson on Wednesday, Scott Chandler was there to give Johnson a piece of his mind. Teammates sticking up for one another is never a bad thing.
When Marv Levy and Bruce Smith got into a verbal argument, a fine was issued and eventually the two talked things out. Jerry Hughes may not receive a fine from Doug Marrone, but at the end of practice the two were seen discussing their issues.
Marrone said the following about Hughes to the media:
I told Jerry that I love the way he practices and I love the way he plays special teams and how he goes about it. And we’ve got to get some other guys who are starters to do that.
As Hughes left the field, the media asked about the altercation. His response:
The head coach took care of it.
Shortly after Levy’s verbal argument with Bruce Smith in 1990, he formed a committee of players who would gather complaints and meet with the coaching staff. Levy believed it was important that if the team had issues, they were addressed with him. Doug Marrone hasn’t formed any committees, but he took a similar stance today when he said, “If you’ve got a problem with me, you need to come and tell me.”
The 2014 version of the Bickering Bills haven’t played meaningful football yet. Perhaps this group truly is undisciplined and the head coach is in over his head. However, the possibly also remains that these Bills are ready to turn the corner, despite some discipline issues. The talent is in place to surprise the NFL and no one will mind the egos and emotions if these Bickering Bills start winning when it matters.