Thursday January 21st, 2010

In an era of 32-team leagues, championship hopes are slim for almost everybody. What you really want is belief.

This is what makes it so hard to be a fan of the Buffalo Bills or Oakland Raiders right now. It's not just the losing. It's that there is really no reason to believe.

The beauty of the NFL is that everybody gets to believe. Franchises go from 3-13 to 10-6. Teams with 6-7 records face "big games" with "playoff implications" that we watch because we're sheep.

But how can Buffalo fans believe? The Bills just hired a 70-year-old rookie general manager, who hired a 57-year-old retread coach, and together they are supposed to lead Buffalo past Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, past Rex Ryan and the Jets, past Bill Parcells' Dolphins. It's like watching your Uncle Ned run the Boston Marathon and hoping he can beat the Kenyans.

This is nothing against the 70-year-old rookie GM, Buddy Nix. When a man named Buddy gets his dream job at 70, you have to pull for him. And it's nothing against Chan Gailey, who got fired in Dallas, coached mediocre teams at Georgia Tech and ... well, OK, those are two things against Chan Gailey.

One of Gailey's big selling points is supposed to be that he thinks you can win without stars in the NFL, and the Bills don't have many stars, so -- PRESTO! -- we have a perfect match. If you're a Bills fan, how much tequila would you have to drink before you even begin to believe that? It's as if the Bills said, "You believe in Pillsbury crescent rolls, and we happen to have some Pillsbury crescent-roll dough, so let's open a fancy restaurant in Manhattan."

Gailey was fired by the Chiefs before last season started. The guy is so bad, he gets canned when he is going to suck. I'm kidding. The timing of Gailey's Kansas City firing was so ridiculous that the whole episode should not be held against him. But what in his career makes anybody think he will strike NFL gold at 57?

If you're a Bills fan, and the whole country makes fun of your city, and your team is best known for losing Super Bowls, and the best player in franchise history turns out to be ... O.J. Simpson, and your owner has decided the best way to keep your team in town is to have it play games in Toronto, and you're freezing to death ... I mean, I think you have lost more faith than Chan Gailey can restore.

The worst part of this plan is that the Bills have tried it already. A few years ago, they enlisted 80-year-old Marv Levy to run the team, and Levy then hired retread coach Dick Jauron, and shockingly, that didn't work out.

Could it work this time? Hey, anything is possible. In fact, I believe that is the new motto for the Raiders: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Raiders owner Al Davis is reportedly calling coaching candidates in a desperate attempt to show he still knows how to use a phone. Never mind that Davis still has a coach, Tom Cable.

These are strange days for Davis -- maybe the strangest of a strange and highly successful career. Davis was once the most feared man in football, a renegade who told the league to kiss his butt and had the team (and lawyers) to get away with it. Now he is a laughingstock, and he doesn't even seem to know it.

Perhaps Davis's overtures to Jim Harbaugh (according to ESPN's Adam Schefter) and Jim Fassel and Marc Trestman (according to the San Francisco Chronicle's David White) are part of an elaborate plan to turn the controversial Cable into a sympathetic figure. And if that's the case, then I must congratulate Mr. Davis on a remarkable effort. First he spent six years convincing the world he was incapable of executing an elaborate plan, and now he did it!

This is the time when Raiders fans wonder if they can remove that Raiders tattoo on their forehead. What do you believe in? Cable? He might get fired.

Do you pin your hopes on the coaches Davis is wooing?

The good ones won't come to Oakland anyway.


"Don't ever think you can't fill coaching jobs, even if they're bad," Buddy Nix said this week, as he introduced Chan Gailey. "Oakland gets a lot of calls. Don't say I said that."

Did you hear that, Al Davis? You're in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and a 70-year-old rookie general manager is taking shots at you. I guess that is one reason for Bills fans to believe: one of these years, they'll get to play the Raiders.

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