The Buffalo Bills are entering the 2021 season with very high hopes after their most successful season this century. For the first time in 25 years, the Bills will enter a season as (in my Paul Heyman voice) the reigning, defending and undisputed AFC East champions. This team now has a target on its back, and for most of them, it's the first time they have been in this position.
So how does this team respond? Can they live up to the expectations? From the top of the organization to the bottom, they have outstanding leadership and a ton of continuity. This Bills team has a resemblance to the legendary teams of the '90s.
It can't be understated how vital continuity is because the more familiar you are with your team, the easier things are. The Bills are returning 51 players from their total 2020 roster and have only three different starters. These numbers are unreal in today's league/industry because of how contracts can eat into the salary cap and the unpredictable nature of free agency.
This is where we revert back to leadership. The duo of head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane has built a culture based on loving each other and playing at the highest level of capabilities for your teammates, not for yourself. That mindset changes every aspect of what each player does because you are now more focused on not letting your team down and not just improving yourself. You could see this a lot last week after quarterback Josh Allen got his massive contract extension. Just listen to his teammates as they were all genuinely happy for their brother.
This harkens back to the Bills of the '90s so much that it's hard not to get excited. Now, if you're thinking, what do these two teams have to do with each other? Let's dive in.
Like the current team, the '90s Bills were led by two men who set the standard of what was expected: head coach Marv Levy and general manager Bill Polian. These are two football geniuses, and Levy was a student of history, which he was able to inspire by giving legendary speeches. They never viewed any individual above the team, and that kept everyone honest. That was a team with many big personalities. It took Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly three years to even show up in Buffalo, and yet by the end of their run, these men were brothers.
That team is the only one in NFL history to get to four straight Super Bowls; not even the Patriots could pull that off and all because the leadership got a group of men to love each other.
In the era that started free agency, the Bills were able to keep 22 players in all four Super Bowl years. They had a core of Hall of Famers (Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed, etc.), yet their main goal was to win a championship together. When wide receiver Don Beebe won a Super Bowl with the Packers, he brought the trophy to Buffalo. If you can build a core and then get them to play for each other and not themselves, you can have sustained success. The current leadership understood this because they have started following the exact blueprint left to them by the Super Bowl era leaders.
McDermott and Beane seem to understand this because instead of spending money on high-profile free agents, they choose to pay their guys. Outside of trading for Stefon Diggs and giving him an extension, the Bills have focused on keeping their young core together. They have already signed Allen, left tackle Dion Dawkins, linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and both starting safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer (and we know how Aaron Rodgers feels about losing Hyde).
If that doesn't speak to you, go to social media. There you will see a group of players who love being on a team and will defend each other no matter what. Social media platforms are the easiest ways to divide a group, yet it's all love with this team.
Team building is something that can be extremely difficult. Each Bills team has had some highs and lows. When McDermott was hired, there was passion, direction and a man who would do whatever it took to be great. It's like Washington leading the Continental Army against the British. If he didn't exude confidence that they would win the war, there would be no United States of America. McDermott brought the most critical thing to Buffalo; the ultimate belief that they will one day be Super Bowl champions, and they were pretty darn close last season.
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