Thursday, December 13, 2012
Bills, Bills, Bills, part 1
A few weeks ago, I resolved to do something about my Bills collection.
I have been a fan of the Buffalo Bills since the mid-1980s, back when the team was 2-14 and touted Vince Ferragamo as their starting quarterback. Even before that, I remember making trips to Buffalo and reading about Joe Ferguson, Jerry Butler, Joe Cribbs and Fred Smerlas.
Later, during the late 1980s and the team's return to prominence, I covered the Bills as a sports reporter just starting out.
The Bills have been my closest connection to professional sports for virtually my entire life, and I've basically ignored them when it comes to collecting cards. That ain't right.
So I set out to acquire SOME Bills cards.
I have no interest in full-blown football card collecting. I just want a modest amount so when the card police come to my door and say, "What's your favorite football team? May I see your cards, sir?", I will have something to show them.
I was able to acquire some quite easily, thanks to the way our wonderful card blogs work.
The first thing I did was try to get a card of every Bills player I talked to back when I covered the team. Douglas from Sportscards From The Dollar Store was able to help me out with almost the entire task.
I'm fairly easy to please. I didn't care what the card was, just as long as the player was pictured.
So these are the cards he sent. I thought it'd be fun to find a quote I obtained from the player from one of my old interviews to go with the card. Consider it a bunch of mini Brush With Greatness posts all in tidy, sound byte sentences. And, if I remember anything about the player from my conversation with him, you'll get that, too.
Here we go:
Shane Conlan, linebacker
Possibly the first Bills player I ever interviewed. He is a native Western New Yorker and easy to interview.
Talking about a concussion he suffered against the Packers: "I was ringing a bit. I felt nauseous and I couldn't stand. I never felt like that before."
Ray Bentley, linebacker
Bentley was one of those quiet guys who you know just wanted to be hunting and fishing every moment of his life. I remember that I kept interviewing him because he was always cooperative, but he didn't have a lot to say.
On the Bills' season in 1988 when they returned to the playoffs: "I think we surprised everybody."
Darryl Talley, linebacker
A lot of linebackers, right? I was assigned a bunch of stories on the defense.
Talley I remember more than any other player mostly because of my encounter with him at the end of their season. The Bills were cleaning out their lockers after losing to the Bengals in the playoffs. I was assigned a season wrap-up story. They were a pretty sad-looking group. I never saw the locker room that quiet before. I walked up to Talley and asked if I could ask him a question. He didn't look at me and said "one question."
I asked my question, which turned out to be a two-parter. He turned around, stood up, looked a hell of a lot taller than the 6-foot-4 he was listed as, and said: "That's two questions."
Here's his response: "We got beat. What do you think would stick with you the most? But you have to put everything in perspective. It was a good season. It wasn't a total bust. We had some good times this season and we played well."
Steve Tasker, wide receiver/special teams
Tasker was my favorite Bill to interview, just because of one moment after the Oilers playoff game. Tasker had a very good game and the next week everyone was after him for interviews. As a newbie, I had to fight for everything I got. But when Tasker learned I wanted to talk to him, he ushered me into a side room where I think they did film work. We sat in a couple of school chairs, Tasker to the right of me. Just us. And he fielded my questions. Respect from that moment on.
Tasker's viewpoint on special teams getting ignored: "That doesn't bother me too much. There's enough recognition to go around. It's what you do that I think is important. I'd rather be productive than recognized."
Scott Norwood, kicker
This was before Norwood's days as "Wide Right." I don't remember interviewing Norwood at all, but yet there is one story that I wrote with quotes from him throughout. (Years and years later, I'd see Norwood again, signing at a card show).
On preparing for a potential winning kick: "Should it come down to me, I'll be prepared to the best I can do. I'll feel positive about it. That's the way I've always taken it out on the football field. Should I be called out for that type of kick, I'll be ready to go."
Kent Hull, center
Hull was the replacement for veteran center Will Grant as the Bills began rebuilding its team in the mid-1980s. Hull would go on to be a key part of those Bills Super Bowl teams. I remember him as another quiet, receptive interview.
On the Bills preparing for the playoffs and taking on the Raiders, who had Marcus Allen, Bo Jackson and Tim Brown at the time: "You need to establish something before you get (to the playoffs). I think we need some continuity before the playoffs start."
Leonard Smith, safety
I remember being surprised by how receptive Smith was to interviews. He was known for devastating hits on the field, and he dressed very colorfully. I was intimidated. But he was a good quote.
On the Oilers' reputation for aggressive play back in the late '80s: "Sometimes they go overboard with it. But their coach (Jerry Glanville) likes it, that type of aggressive play, and that's OK."
Mark Kelso, safety
Kelso was known for the large helmet he wore to protect himself from further concussions. It actually wasn't a large helmet, but something called a "pro-cap" that he wore over his helmet. At any rate, folks called him "The Great Gazoo" after the Flintstones character because of the helmet.
I liked Kelso because he looked and acted like a regular guy. Not someone you'd think of being a football player. I talked to him extensively when I covered my first game, against the Packers.
Kelso on the game Bruce Smith had against Green Bay: "Bruce had a great game. They just couldn't block him and they couldn't block Cornelius (Bennett) on the other side. I think it took away from their third-down passes."
Jamie Mueller, fullback
Another second-year guy at the time I first encountered him. I gravitated toward the newer players since I was new myself.
On the Bills' first home playoff game in 22 years: "My guess is (playoff) experience is overrated. The team that goes out there and plays the hardest and makes the big play will win."
Thurman Thomas, running back
One of the key figures in the Bills' Super Bowl teams, Thomas was just coming into his own when I was covering the team. He had a big game against the Raiders and I did a sidebar on him. I still remember he had a locker just to the left of where you entered the locker room, and I couldn't believe my luck that there was no one around him when I walked up for an interview. Thomas became quite a fixture in the Buffalo area and was so well-known in the area that you'd hear stories about him about his interactions with the community. I could tell some stories.
But not here. Here's his quote about defeating the Raiders: "I just wanted to beat the Raiders. I wasn't trying to beat Allen or Jackson. I wasn't going against Tim Brown. I was going against the Raiders."
Bruce Smith, defensive end
I requested a card of Bruce Smith even though I can't find any stories that I wrote where he was quoted. I know I talked to him, briefly. Smith, at the time, had a reputation of being uncooperative with the press. He rarely talked. But after one game, it was announced that he would be available. A ton of reporters gathered around him when he entered the room and fired questions at him. I waited until the crowd thinned a little and asked a question but don't remember what it was. It's possible I never used his answer.
By the way, love the blood on his pants.
I'm also seeking cards of other football players I've interviewed and Doug helped me out with some of those. Elway is probably the biggest football name I've interviewed, but I can't find the story from that game. It was a Monday night game, which means I was scrambling to get quotes. Myself and a reporter from a paper east of Buffalo walked into the visitor's locker room looking for Elway, but not expecting to find him. But suddenly he emerged and the other reporter and I asked a two or three questions and that was it. It's one of the few times I've thought "Look who I'm talking to" in the midst of an interview.
I also received a few cards of coaches from other teams, Jim Mora, Lindy Infante and Jerry Glanville. But this post is about the Bills.
I'm still in search of a few guys that I need: Robb Riddick, Scott Radecic, Marv Levy and Erroll Tucker (if there's a card of him). I'm also looking for a card of Fred Smerlas as a Buffalo Bill. If you have a card of any of them, let me know.
I've already taken care of quarterback Jim Kelly. He was a past Brush With Greatness topic.
For those of you who don't care about football and are wondering where the Dodgers are, well, Douglas took care of that, too:
Oooh, 1991 Leaf! Thrilling, huh?
But they knock a couple off the want list. That's all I care about.
Douglas also sent a very cool night card that you'll see some other time.
But up next are some more Bills cards.
I haven't talked to any of the guys on those cards. But the cards are more modern and much snazzier, so that might interest one or two of you.
Let's go Buffalo!