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Shaming Buffalo Bill

by on December 21, 2011

It should be impossible for an NFL team to miss the playoffs for 12 straight seasons. But nothing is impossible for the Buffalo Bills, who magically find new ways to soar to unfathomable depths every year. They specialize in teaching supporters valuable lessons about patience and life’s patent unfairness.

The soul-crushing franchise found a new way to tease its fans this season, namely by pretending to be good for a few weeks. The jubilation following a 5-2 start almost seemed like it couldn’t be real, and it truly wasn’t.

Winning after Halloween would have just been greedy. They couldn’t even sell out the game against despised rivals the Miami Dolphins; the fan base’s general unwillingness to taunt the tropical franchise about their chilly hides stands as yet one more telling low.

This team has taken on the personality of its coach, unfortunately. Chan Gailey is the latest in a series of uninspiring oafs to lead this squad, and mumbled excuses about rebuilding don’t conceal that he’s won 9 of 30 games.

Gailey embodies a franchise that is comical in its incompetence. They make puzzling draft picks like that of C.J. Spiller, who is ill-suited enough for pro football that the NFL version of the Peter principle should be named after him.

Only the Bills would draft a running back when they needed everything but a running back. The team hopes fans are fooled by a good show against another junior varsity team in the Dolphins.  It still didn’t keep the Bills from getting swept in the season series.

Meanwhile, management put its faith in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, with mutually rotten results. Contract extension in hand, he apparently figures it’s fine to play while wearing a blindfold. For his next Fitzmagic trick, he’ll throw into quadruple coverage, ta da! It’s apparently asking too much of the enriched Fitzpatrick to get a passer rating that’s higher than his Wonderlic score.

And why not break what works? Before Gailey’s unceremonious arrival, the team deployed a 4-3 defense that sort-of stopped other offenses. Naturally, they changed to a 3-4 alignment that has been as effective as putting 11 turnstiles on the field; abandoning it at times as a response hasn’t quite worked at all. Their efforts are not aided by how this team does strength and conditioning on the cheap, which is partly why they seem to send 15 or 20 guys to injured reserve nearly every season.

But why would owner Ralph Wilson splurge on anything like coaches, staff, or the roster? He makes his money no matter how much his team sucks. By doing so, the hoary miser inadvertently provides an example of why corporate socialism kills any motivation to succeed.

Their slide into seemingly permanent oblivion is particularly egregious considering that the entire league is set up so losers can rebound quickly. Most obviously, the worst teams get the best draft picks; on top of that, a salary cap means that owners don’t have to worry about paying anything as crazy as a mutually-negotiated fair market salary to the players who enable their tremendous earnings.

And revenue sharing shows how Occupy slackers would be even less productive if they were handed the free stuff they want. The money teams automatically get creates a perverse incentive for some against trying too hard.  In a league that strives to mandate parity, teams get payments without having to thrive. The system works as well as Obamanomics, and the Bills are the NFL’s Chevy Volt.

It’s not like rent is bankrupting them. By contrast, their subsidized stadium means they don’t have to worry about anything as pedestrian as operating expenses. Not many companies are fortunate enough to get paid for using their office space.

As a result of all their guaranteed income, the Bills have gotten fat and happy on welfare with no reason to excel. The goal should be to improve the area’s financial circumstances so the team can become a big-market franchise.

But that would require Wilson to care about the area as anything more than the source of some of the checks he holds in his Hall of Fame blazer’s pocket.  He gets his money regardless of how much Buffalo has shrunk since it was awarded an American Football League franchise.  But at least income inequality has been addressed so he doesn’t have to work to profit.

Until Buffalo gets a pro football team, fans will have to settle for cheering on the Bills. If it makes you feel better, both players and the owner still get paid even in the likely event they lose. Still, it would be nice if they could remember that they’re supposed to be on the inside when they circle the wagons.

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