A View from Calico Jack’s – 10/23/2006

OK. Now what?

What happens next with this team?

What should happen next?

Entering the bye week, any fan whose judgment isn’t completely clouded by a Labatt’s Blue haze would find it hard to express genuine optimism.

So, again…now what?

I’ll admit that I watch football from more of an emotional than intellectual point of view. Meaning that I’m the guy who goes nuts during the game, but not the guy you want dissecting strategy (fellow columnist Nick can do a far better job of that).

Yet, it hardly requires the ghost of Vince Lombardi to recognize the team needs to do better at covering receivers, tackling, shoring up the run defense, and mobilizing the offense (at least the punting is good, right?). Clearly, that’s what Coach Dick and staff will be focusing on over the next two weeks. And, by the way…will someone please, please suggest to Roscoe Parrish that he needn’t run straight into the pack on every return?

But, I digress. There’s something else that I do feel qualified to talk about, and it’s something I believe the Bills need to also focus on over the next two weeks.

They need to act like a business and give the fan – particularly the WNY-based fan – reasons to keep “buying” their product.

All the hallmarks are there for a precipitous drop in attendance. I can absolutely envision disappointment evolving into pessimism, pessimism evolving into anger, and anger evolving into fewer tickets purchased, fewer games televised, and fewer concessions and merchandise bought. Yes, performance and results override all else, but if the Bills don’t recognize they’re also fighting the battle of public perception – as is any business – they’re making a big mistake. Particularly given league-wide trends that threaten to turn them into the LA or Toronto Bills faster than it takes a Browns fan to curse out Art Modell.

In addition to Xs and Os, the Bills need to spend the next two weeks re-shaping the average fan’s expectation for the present and the future. Both Dick and Marv need to play a role, and so do some high-profile players. Without pressing the panic button – just the opposite – they need to establish that:

  • They recognize the disappointments of recent weeks;
  • They are thoroughly committed to fielding a competitive team every week – anything less is unacceptable;
  • They see real progress and potential in key players;
  • The team is paying the dues that management believes will inevitability result in playoff-caliber football sooner rather than later;
  • The most exciting football from this team is yet to come.
  • All of this needs to be shared in the context of the foundation already in place. And it shouldn’t only be in the papers. The right people should be on the talk shows, and even in the malls.

This might sound like window-dressing, but it’s critical. The fan needs a reason to keep watching, and keep buying. The team needs to re-shape the expectation of what fans should expect from this team, and the larger goals it’s striving for. That makes the shorter-term disappointments easier to handle.

There’s one other reason to pump up the enthusiasm level…

We all know that it isn’t easy getting free agents to Buffalo . We aren’t the first choice of the “hot” coach or the most desirable free agent. My gut tells me that even if we’d drafted Matt Leinert, he wouldn’t have played in Buffalo. I have no doubt that many big-time free agents will always perceive Buffalo as too cold, too depressed and too small. At least Arizona, as crappy as its team is, offers plenty of other appeal to the professional athlete.

All of which means that a palpable sense of positive direction, purpose and energy is essential. The Bills need to rally the community and the entire league around the idea that the current mishaps a re blips on the screen on route to brighter days. That won’t be easy. But, the Bills need to keep pressing that message, until the rest of us – and the rest of the team and league – buy it. A 2007 free agent needs to read the Buffalo News (or, rather, his agent needs to read it), and say, “You know, things are turning around in Buffalo .”

But, if no one on the Bills seems to believe it, why should we?

On another, final note: Good job coming to Calico Jack’s, folks. We’re getting a strong core group every game, win or (usually) lose.

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