All posts by Phil Mann

This Week from NYCBBB – 11/30/2015

At this point, adding to what has already been said about the Chiefs game would just be piling on. Suffice to say, I agree with pretty much all of it, and will probably never again look at a red flag without weeping.

So, let me inject two optimistic thoughts into the equation: the first of which I can’t claim I really believe…and the second of which I absolutely believe. In 2004, the Bills rattled off six consecutive wins at the end of the season to put themselves into the playoff picture in game 16. We won’t bother getting into what happened next. The wins came against fairly marginal opponents. Take a look at the rest of the Bills’ schedule this season. Not a lot of world-beaters there. Now, neither are the Bills right now. But in any given game, the idea of a Bills victory doesn’t sound so outlandish. Should be interesting.

Moving onto topic two: the Bills’ Super Bowl teams of the 1990s. You may have heard of them. Why mention them? One, because they’re a perfect antidote to what ails so many Bills’ fans today, and more importantly, because of a long-time friend of NYCBBB, Michelle Girardi Zumwalt.

Michelle left what was arguably the second-coolest job for a Buffalo sports fan — producing pieces on the Bills and other football topics for NFL Films — after landing the number one coolest job: working for the Pegula organization to produce pieces on the Bills, Sabres and other Pegula-owned teams. She even got to move back home to Buffalo with her husband and two children.

Before all of that? Michelle was one of us, serving as advisor and columnist for the NYCBBB. Clearly, the woman loves football and loves Buffalo. She did great work with NFL Films, and from what I hear may have saved some of her best work for last with her contributions to the “30 for 30” documentary, “Four Falls of Buffalo,” debuting Saturday, December 12 on ESPN.

Michelle’s a friend and great at what she does, so I’d watch anything she worked on. I’ll admit I’ve had some apprehension about this one: I LOVED those teams, but naturally I have some bittersweet memories associated with them. From what I understand, though, there’s a lot to feel really good – and really proud – about, from the character of those teams to, above all, the character of the city those teams represented. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about those years. Well, maybe one thing.

Congratulations in advance, Michelle. I’ll be one of many glued to my screen.

This Week from NYCBBB – 11/12/2015

Hey, fellow Backers. I’m using the extra-long distance between games to consider many important Bills-related questions:

  • How cool would it have been if we had won the Jacksonville game? Before you accuse me of living in the past, realize I’m still mad that Stevie Johnson blew the Steelers game a few years back…
  • Does Rex Ryan get the most media in the NFL? I mean, the man gets press for his choice of honorary game captains…
  • When’s the last time the Bills delivered us two victories in five days?!
 This last question actually had me thinking. 
 
Your NYCBBB founders Kabel and Soreco pay me too-meager a salary to hire the research assistant I so desperately need and deserve, but my extensive, three-minute Google search would indicate that the Bills won two games in five days twice before 2015: in 1966 and 1975! So, enjoy: this has been 40 years in coming. Or, my search was flawed. One or the other. 
 
I love the show, Pardon The Interruption, and one of the hosts lamented that the NFL is five really good teams, five really bad ones, with everyone else in the pretty-good middle. The Bills are pretty good. With their top-tier offensive starters, the Bills are 4-1 this year, arguably better than pretty-good in terms of end result. A pretty good team has a shot against any of the really good teams in any given week. Landing that shot against the Pats would be amazing. Maybe enough for me to forget the Jacksonville game.
 

This Week from NYCBBB – 10/25/2015

“There will always be an England”

A funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs.

Injuries and penalties aside, the planets were aligning for the Bills this week. Beat Jacksonville, take a week off to mend, beat the Fish at home…and the next thing you know, you’re 5-3 at the midpoint of the season. Not bad.

But instead…well, instead, I’m writing this column at just a little after 1 pm on Sunday, so I can wash my hands of this debacle and forget about it.

And, Lord, there’s so much to forget about. Turnovers. Ill-timed penalties. Inopportune moments of poor execution on both sides of the ball. Shoddy Yahoo! live-streaming in the first half (at least on my TV – I have a bad cold and decided not to subject the McFadden’s loyalists to my sick germs).

But, mainly…E.J. I firmly believe wins and losses are on entire teams…but, this one’s on E.J. And it’s potentially on management’s decision to trade Matt Cassel.

I don’t see any way around that. Yes, all of the above happened…and yes, I questioned some of the play-calling for E.J…. …and, absolutely, I questioned the late interference call on Robey that effectively decided the outcome.

But, it didn’t have to come to that. No wins are easy, but this was a game that the Bills could have, should have, and needed to win. Hell, they almost won in spite of themselves.

When the defense came up big on the goal line stand, and then threw in a pick six, the makings were there for a comeback for the ages. Not “The Comeback,” but pretty damn impressive.

But then it fell apart. Again.

There will always be an England…meaning that the mistakes and missteps and miscues we saw in London don’t appear any closer to going away – and won’t go away without serious rethinking of how the team executes. It’s a cliché but true: the coaching staff has two weeks to turn this around, and to figure out a way to beat Miami.

The more encouraging news? There’ll always be an NYCBBB to soften the losses and celebrate the victories. See you in two weeks! And, meanwhile, staying with the English theme, here’s hoping we can all embrace these words of wisdom from Monty Python:

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…
And…
…always look on the bright side of life…

This Week from NYCBBB – 10/11/2015

How did the Bills defeat Tennessee?

My nearly 90-year-old mom would tell you it’s because she took off her new Bills socks – a gift from her grandchildren, no less. And then she gleefully told them afterward that she had taken them off.

I know McFadden’s regulars who would take credit, because they attended the game in person.

Even I took some credit, having changed seats at a pivotal game moment.

But, in the end, as Stevie Wonder sang, we probably need to admit, “superstition ain’t the way.” The “way,” in my opinion, was a defense that kept us alive until Tyrod Taylor took another step in his evolution by leading a few spectacular plays. And in the end, a few plays were all it took against a lesser opponent.

And now we’re without Tyrod for at least a game, perhaps more. Who would have thought that’d be a problem back in July?

Meanwhile, Matt Cassel starts this weekend…for the Cowboys.

Who’d you rather have starting this weekend, Matt or E.J.?

Personally, I’d rather have Matt’s slow and steady influence this particular weekend. Actually, I had hoped we’d keep all three QBs, because before the season began I suspected all three would get playing time. But, I do find E.J. a far more intriguing situation. This might really represent his last chance to make a go of it in the NFL. I’m not looking for a QB controversy – I think this job is a healthy Tyrod’s – but having an occasional, valid change of pace option at QB? I’d be all in. E.J. has a big chance to replay himself into relevance this weekend against one of the best teams in the NFL to this point in the season.

He’ll need help – from the defense, and from an offense that’s sluggish at least in part due to injuries.

He’ll also need help from us – so get ready with your lucky socks, lucky chairs, lucky drinks and whatever else it takes.

This Week from NYCBBB – 10/04/2015

I might be charged with “writing while pissed,” but here goes.

I love the Bills. Bleed for them. Give them my heart. And I believe that Little Buffalo in NYC is the best-possible place to be on Sunday outside of the stadium, win or lose.

But for the first time I can remember — and perhaps for my first time as an adult — this past Sunday I willingly and voluntarily didn’t watch a Bills game to completion. Quit with maybe five minutes to go.

As a fan I understand the impact of key injuries. I can handle losing. Getting outplayed. Too-cute play calling in scoring situations. Even stupid mistakes like missed coverages, bad kicks and dropped balls. Typically, I still have fun watching. Bad days happen. And I can accept the occasional heat-of-the-moment penalty, or penalties that are designed to send a message.

But continued sloppiness and lack of discipline in the form of ridiculous, often unsportsmanlike-like penalties? For not the first time this season? I drew the line there today. This isn’t an aberration. It’s a trend.

The team embarrassed me this week, and more to the point they should be embarrassed in themselves. Football’s just a game for us — we can go to work, hang out with our friends, and move on. But the Bills themselves? They must feel like crap right now — more so than after a typical loss. At least, I hope they do.

Coach Rex talks big and seems to thrive on being the lightning rod, so setting aside the personal accountability of some elite, highly paid athletes who need to take a good look in the mirror, I’ll put this appalling lack of discipline squarely on him. I figured he’d put this development squarely on his shoulders, but that wasn’t the case. He says he won’t change anything “but the result.” I love the sense of energy he’s brought to the team and community…but, let’s see where this takes us.

To me, it’s like he’s got these guys all super-charged with no sense of how to channel that energy. And then when things go bad, too many guys lose their sense of professionalism. As badly as they played, they still had a chance to win. And once again they got in their own way.

Yes, I could easily pick on the lack of offense, the pass defense, etc. But, for me, it comes back to discipline and professionalism. Fix that or ultimately nothing else matters.

On a side note, what’s with that constant train whistle they play in the stadium? I found that incredibly annoying and kind of bush league. That may just be my disgust talking.

Regardless, this particular train — the 2015 season — has left the station. We’re now a quarter of the way through the season. 2-2 is way different from 3-1, especially in the midst of a very winnable stretch of games. They need to win at least 8, and perhaps 9, of their final 12 to have a playoff shot. But first they need to beat the Titans while also proving they’re professionals. And grown ups. I’m predicting they will. There’s too much talent for them not to pull it together next week. I think. I hope!

They’ll need all the good vibes they can get from Little Buffalo.

This Week from NYCBBB – 09/13/2015

“Bully!” — Rex Ryan, by way of Teddy Roosevelt

“Bully,” to Teddy Roosevelt, meant “wonderful.”

“Bully,” to Rex Ryan, means “tough” and “physical.”

I’d submit that both senses of the word bully came together in one glorious home opener against a Colts team only one game removed from the conference championship game.

This time it was the Colts themselves who seemed deflated, while the Bills came to the game with a big stick and fully inflated balls (lame, I know — sue me. I’m still riding a post-game vodka buzz.)

The Bills largely controlled both sides of the ball, some late semi-drama aside. Tyrod by no means felt like a new QB to me (a couple of dicey moments aside), which was the most exciting thing to me apart from the win. His 50-yarder to Harvin was the thing of beauty. The Dareus-free defense showed the potential on that side of the ball. And Rex showed a sideline charisma I can’t remember seeing for many seasons.

But this column is really supposed to be about McFadden’s and Calico Jack’s. It was absolutely crazy. Bedlam in the best way possible.

At least I assume it was. Tragically I couldn’t be there. But come on, how could it have not been crazy? And my special correspondent, NYCBBBer Alex Valentine, wrote to me that McFadden’s had lines around the corner starting at 9:30. That’s good enough for me.

For my part, a shout out to the South Florida Bills Backers, where I watched the game from their new home at City Pub in Pompano Beach. If you find yourself in South Florida on game day, check them out — their info is on Facebook and they’re on Twitter. You can do much worse than watch a game with them. It’ll be even better when the staff begins to understand the beef on weck now on their Sunday menu (one bartender alternately called it “meat on weck” and “meatball on weck,” incurring the extreme wrath of the guy on the next bar stool trying to order it — “dude, meatballs have nothing to do with it.”)

I missed Little Buffalo on Second Avenue, but it was kind of cool thinking about all of the Bills groups around the country rooting for the team, playing Shout! at the same time  and sending positive energy to the Ralph.

Here’s hoping this was just the first of many great days like this.

Now it’s time to move onto the Pats — a team that seems to embody the wrestler (and governor) Jesse Ventura’s quote, “Win if can. Lose if you must. But always cheat.” The difference being, Jesse was only kidding about it. I think.

You thought this past game was nuts? I can’t imagine what week two will bring. Better show up early! See you there.

A View From NYCBBB – Week 1, 2015

“Just when they think they’ve got the answers, I change the questions.”

Yes, the above words are from the late, great Rowdy Roddy Piper…but they could have come from Whaley, Ryan and the Pegulas.

I won’t even try to capture everything that happened this past off-season (“Boys and girls, once upon a time there was a really dull head coach…”). Suffice to say football has clearly emerged as a 12-month sport.

And I won’t even try to capture everything as it stands right now, either…because it’ll change before I even finish typing this. And you’ve probably been as caught up in all of it as I have.

Just imagine if an owner named Trump had been added to the mix!

It’s fair to say that this version of our Bills definitely has that fresh, new-team smell heading into the most-anticipated season since…Drew Bledsoe’s first season with the team?

New coaching staff.

New QBs in the 1 and 2 slots.

New lead running back (we’ll miss you, Fred. I still have a problem with this).

New multi-purpose tight end we took from a rival.

And the first full season under the new ownership.

All with the same bad-ass defense.

And all on the heels of a 9-7 season instead of the usual 6-10 or 7-9 seasons.

I’m always excited for a new season, but I haven’t been this excited about the Bills for a while. I’ve gone through too many wars to expect smooth sailing: it might take a while to gel, especially with a new QB. Maybe the team won’t come flying out of the gates in three very tough games to open the year. And maybe all three QBs will see action.

But, you’ve got to believe this ship is finally headed in a good direction. If it doesn’t work out right away, it won’t be for lack of trying. We can actually envision a roadmap – a plan – for the first time in a long time.

Hang on and have fun. It’ll be fandemonium (RIP, Van). Can’t wait to get it started!

This week at McFadden’s: 2014 Game 1

When the Bills winning their opening game…in an upset…on the road…in overtime…is only the THIRD best news for Bills fans in the past week…well, that’s a pretty good week! A week that has been a long time in coming for a fan base too familiar with bad news and setbacks.

Yes, beating the Bears was fantastic.

But not more fantastic than the Pegulas submitting the winning bid for our beloved Bills.

And even THAT is arguably the second-best Bills news of the week.

A cancer-free Jim Kelly? That was the best news of all.

For now, let’s allow ourselves to be optimistic for once, if only for a little while. I know it feels weird; no one is more jaded about our team than I am. But, let’s try going with it and see what happens. Let’s give Bills love a good name….

And let’s hope ALL of this good news comes together: that the Bills restore their winning ways under a Pegula ownership, with a healthy Jim Kelly on the sidelines cheering them on.

You may have seen this video of the McFadden’s celebration after the Bills’ victory this week; it’s pretty representative of how most of us feel about the Pegulas and Kelly, as well.

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152656705075991&set=vb.727035990&type=2&theater

This week at McFadden’s: 2013 Game 9

FAN OF THE WEEK

SNAP IMPRESSION: The less said the better. One bad play…one 14-point swing. You can’t do that and win. On a positive note, at least the Bills weren’t responsible for members of the 1972 Dolphins opening their annual bottle of Champagne; that honor will probably go to the Broncos. Finally…good luck, Matt Flynn. We hardly knew ye. Perhaps you and Matt Leinart can exchange jerseys.

On to our Fans of the Week…

fow

Ah, where to begin.

Let’s begin with names and pertinent stats: meet Kristin Ruesch (left) and Alex Valentine (right) – two hardcore, fun-loving Bills fans who take no crap, but can dish it out with both hands (figuratively). Kristin hails from Angola, NY, while Alex proudly calls North Buffalo her birthplace.

Kristin and Alex are veterans of McFadden’s famed Table 8; I assume all of the tables have numbers, but it’s the only one I know. To sit at Table 8 is to know that, many weeks, the Bills are only the second most entertaining show in the room. One minute, you think you’re sitting with Lucy and Ethel. The next, you think (hope?) they might throw down like two WWE divas. I was going to say Linda Evans and Joan Collins on Dynasty, but that reference may be too dated. But you should totally check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78AOhXddoE8

Anyway…one of the cool things about Alex and Kristin is that they’re great friends who met at McFadden’s. In Alex’s words: “I started coming (to McFadden’s) as soon as I was legally able to do so…in 2006. I was invited to (sit at Table 8) in 2009 and the rest is history.” Alex says that she and Kristin consider Table 8 to be their “weekly tailgate,” which is why they deck it out with all kinds of Bills paraphernalia, down to a red tablecloth. They have an annual Bills-related, opening day gift exchange, which they treat “like Christmas morning.” Above all, Alex wants people to know that Kristin’s cheerleader’s outfit is child-sized, which she thinks is “awesome.”

And what about the woman-child Kristin? Both of her parents were “ridiculous Bills fans” who watched every game – a tradition Kristin has kept up since coming to New York City after graduating from Binghamton. Even as a single in her early 20s, Kristin began staying in on Saturday nights to ensure she’d get to McFadden’s first thing on Sunday mornings – but, among her best memories of McFadden’s are the five games she’s gone to in other cities with Alex. Actually, I don’t know if they’re among her “best” memories…but it keeps the story moving. Her favorite all-time Bill? Bruce. Alex’s? Thurman. And, today, at this particular moment…Leodis McKelvin.

Finally, in case you wondered – if they were traveling to a Bills game and discovered, at 2 am, that one of them had forgotten a toothbrush…Alex would let Kristin use hers. And Kristin would let Alex use hers, as well. But, after that, Kristin would immediately throw hers out.

This week at McFadden’s: 2013 Game 4 & 5

Snap Impressions:

OK, so work and work travel prevented me from writing the past two weeks. So, to catch up…

The Ravens game: Amazing – we ran like crazy (which is good, because we still almost found a way to lose). But, beating the defending champs? No doubt a harbinger of great things to come. EJ’s indestructible, right?

The Browns game: Um, maybe not. All kinds of ugly. And now…welcome Thad Lewis, the living embodiment of an old Seinfeld routine that we don’t root for players as much as we root for clothing.

Fans of the Week:
These guys have been patient waiting for their fan of the week article, but as you can tell by the photo, they’re clearly laid back, patient guys.

photo

“These guys,” from left to right, are Kyle Zappia and Patrick Crowe. Kyle, who just started a new job with MTV, comes from the sprawling metropolis of Newark, NY, while Patrick, a financial analyst at Bank of America, is the pride of Clyde, NY. They’re both relative newcomers to New York City – when I took this photo during their first-ever McFadden’s game when the Bills beat the Ravens, Kyle had been in town for about 18 months, while Patrick had arrived only three months before the Ravens game.

Like so many Bills fans, they describe themselves as “Bills fans forever.” Kyle’s fandom was cast in stone as a seven year old serving as a ring bearer – he was offered an autographed photo of Jim Kelly if he’d just hold the flower girl’s hand. Patrick, it pains me to type, actually started off as a Pats fan (maybe because of his name?

But, I’m not a Phils fan in baseball, so who knows…), but had wholeheartedly joined the Bills family by the time he began college.

Welcome, Kyle and Patrick. Hope you become McFadden’s regulars.