To say it has been a rough six months for the Buffalo Bills is one of the biggest understatements of the century. Six months ago today - October 17, 2008 - the Bills were just two days away from defeating the San Diego Chargers at home to move to 5-1 on the season. Remember those days, Bills fans? Paper tigers or not, the Bills had one of the best records in football - and it was actually fun to be a Bills fan for the first time in around a decade. That flash in the pan seems like it was a decade ago. That's what the past six months have felt like to Bills faithful.
Now the Bills are dealing with several unmitigated disasters from a PR standpoint - some come with the territory, but others are self-inflicted. At a time of the year when excitement should be ramping up for the NFL Draft, I myself can't help but have my usual exuberance suppressed a bit by the general feeling of anxiety, disquiet and disenchantment toward the franchise right now. The sad part? There's no end in sight. Might as well recap to steel ourselves for the future, right?
10/26/08-12/28/08: Bills end season 2-8, 7-9
The aforementioned 5-1 start to the 2008 season went downhill quickly, as the Bills won a cool two of their final ten games. The Bills missed the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season - a "feat" they share with the Detroit Lions.
12/30/08: Dick Jauron retained as head coach
When the announcement came through, I won't pretend I wasn't glad. I was. But there are days where I feel very, very much alone in my stance of support of the Bills' head coach. The man is very obviously not popular - not here, not elsewhere, not overall.
2/15/09: Marshawn Lynch arrested
Yeah, I could have had a separate section for S Ko Simpson, who was both arrested and completely delusional about his worth to this team, but why bother? That's barely a blip on the radar. Lynch, however, is one of the cornerstones to the franchise - so his arrest had a bit more impact on the ball club. Oh, and it was his second arrest in nine months.
3/13/09: Jason Peters trade talks heat up
It was at this point that a future trade of Jason Peters became common knowledge. You're all keenly aware of how this situation has unfolded. Peters is now easily the most unpopular Bills player on the team, and his antics are severely cramping the Bills' ability to formulate a draft strategy. Draft's in a week, folks - it's not great that our team probably doesn't have an idea of what it's planning on doing in the NFL Draft, particularly when we've got a lot of holes.
4/8/09: Lynch suspended three games
Stemming from his aforementioned arrest(s), Lynch is suspended for three games by league commissioner Roger Goodell. Hooray - the Bills will be starting their 2009 season on Monday Night in New England without their most consistent offensive threat. 0-1, here we come!
4/11/09: Donte Whitner arrested
Buffalo's guarantee man, defensive captain and face of the current front office/coaching regime gets involved in a near-riot in Cleveland. He spends a night in the clink - and instead of keeping his head down and taking it like a man, he threatens to sue while walking out of prison. Whether he's right to do that or not (and he might be; time will tell), it doesn't do a lot to make the situation better. Donte should have taken the Marshawn tactic and come forth with the company line. The Bills are subsequently bombarded with questions about how highly they value character. Three arrests in one off-season will do that for you.
4/16/09: Agent calls out Bills organization
In case you missed it, RB Fred Jackson's agent has publicly called the Bills out for claiming to value character yet neglecting Jackson in contract negotiations. Right or wrong (on both sides), it's another PR hit.
4/16/09: Bills reportedly want more games in Toronto
The latest and greatest is a quote from Rogers Communications vice-chairman Phil Lind in regards to the "Bills in Toronto" series:
"It's hard to say when and where it will happen, but over time we hope there'll be more games here and Buffalo (ownership) hopes there'll be more games here," Lind said.
We don't even know if it's true or not. (It probably is.) Bills fans are already hot under the collar about the Toronto series as it exists today, and are terrified about the future of the team once owner Ralph Wilson passes. This doesn't do a lot to help calm the nerves.
How is an organization expected to end a decade-long playoff drought with this many high-profile distractions? Ultimately, the arrests and the Toronto thing aren't difficult to deal with; they'll likely keep their heads down. But the Peters situation has the potential to turn into an absolute fiasco, particularly next weekend - and the Bills very clearly are in dire need of a strong draft class.
This is the type of off-season that blows up the inner workings of organizations, folks. There's a reason that we're already scouting GM (laugh all you want) and head coaching talent - Jauron and the "inner circle" are fighting an Everest-like battle. It's understandable why some might view the Terrell Owens signing as a bit of a jump the shark decision - the enigmatic Owens has done nothing wrong since arriving in Buffalo, and might be one of the last shreds of hope and sanity amongst the fan base.
It's all coming to a head over the next week. Peters' situation will hopefully (come on football gods, throw us a bone) be resolved either way. The arrests and the Toronto talk will die down. If we're lucky, the Bills will plug a few holes in the draft - and if they do, excitement will ramp right back up in the fan base. But boy - to say that the past half-year has been disappointing is akin to saying that Owens' ego is miniscule. For a franchise that has been in the league's toilet for so long, the battle back to respectability seems to get tougher on a daily basis.