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Sports fans love to reminisce over the days when it all went wrong: the wasted draft pick, the tragic trade or the defecting hero. These may not be, by definition, the worst roster moves ever made, but they were the ones that affected us on a personal level. These are the events that caused -- and still cause -- us to sit on our bar stools and lament the cruel twists of life.
|CNNSI.com asked if Bills fans had any opinions on the subject. And guess what ... they did.
Click here to read a sampling of what CNNSI.com users had to say.
Ever wondered how Bills fans lived with losing four consecutive Super Bowls? Well look what else they've had to put up with, starting with the USFL stealing their backfield of the future; followed by the firing squad termination of Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and Andre Reed; the rough transition from Jim Kelly to Rob Johnson; and the unseen promise in QB Daryle Lamonica.
| June 9,
| QB Jim Kelly signs with the Houston Gamblers
of the USFL
| July 2,
| RB Joe Cribbs signs with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL
From the beginning, the careers of Jim Kelly and Joe Cribbs were intertwined in Buffalo Bills history. Only at the end, when Kelly led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls long after Cribbs had been traded to San Francisco, did they go in opposite directions in the hearts of fans.
Did you know that both were drafted by the Bills with picks acquired through the 1978 trade that sent O.J. Simpson to the 49ers? The No. 1 in '79 became linebacker Tom Cousineau, who wouldn't play for the Bills and was traded to Cleveland for a first-round pick in '83 ... which became Kelly. The second-round pick in '80 became Cribbs.
Kelly passed on Bills at first, but eventually won the fans over.
The Bills by far got the best of that deal after Simpson retired after giving the 49ers 1,050 yards and four touchdowns over two seasons.
But what goes around comes around.
The USFL hurt a lot of NFL teams, who lost established players and prized draft picks to the upstart league. The Bills were virtually crippled with the loss of Cribbs, their four-time rushing leader, and Kelly, their heir to aging Joe Ferguson.
The team pursued legal channels to match the offers made to their players, claiming they had right of first refusal. But the judges didn't see it that way and off Cribbs and Kelly went.
That left the Bills with 34-year-old Ferguson and 31-year-old Vince Ferragamo at QB in 1984 and 1985, respectively; and with Greg Bell as the featured back. Their offense was ranked 27th in '84, but jumped all the way up to 25th in '85.
Cribbs eluded the Bills, then eluded defenders in San Fran.
Kelly and Cribbs, meanwhile, were looking great in hideous uniforms in the USFL.
When the new league folded after the '85 season, the two stars returned to Buffalo. But while Kelly would step in and become the greatest quarterback in franchise history, Cribbs skulked and declared himself a prisoner of the system before the Bills finally shuffled him off to the Niners.
| February 11,
| Bills release RB Thurman Thomas,
DE Bruce Smith, and WR Andre Reed
They were all Bills draftees, all among the best ever at their position -- not just in Buffalo, but the league -- they were the last players who had played in all four of the Bills' Super Bowls.
And over the course of day, they all were ex-Bills. They became victims of the salary cap -- counting for a combined $10.3 million -- and yet three more fan favorites who would be denied finishing their careers in the only uniform they had ever known.
Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith in better days.
"The Big Three are done, at least in Buffalo," Reed told The Buffalo News that day. "It's a sad day for the Buffalo Bills and their fans."
Smith, 36, who ended up with the Washington Redskins for the 2000 season, is second on the NFL's all-time sack list. He was an 11-time Pro Bowler in 15 seasons with Buffalo, where he is second in games played (236).
Reed, 36, who also wound up in Washington, is first on the games played list (241). He also is second on the NFL's all-time list for pass receptions and fourth on the all-time list for receiving yards.
Andre Reed practically lived in the end zone at Orchard Park.
Rick Stewart /Allsport
Thomas, 33, who went to Miami, is the ninth-leading rusher in NFL history and had played the sixth-most games in Bills history. He also is the only player ever to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage over four consecutive seasons -- from 1989 to '92.
Seeing Thomas in Miami this year was probably the biggest blow to Bills fans, who hate the dandy white uniforms and the scorching yellow sun flaunted by their AFC East rivals.
Thomas signed a one-day contract with Buffalo after the 2000 season just so he could officially retire as a Bill.
"I just felt like I needed to prove to myself one more time that I could play this football game," he said. "I've always stated that I would retire a Buffalo Bill. I just didn't know when it was going to happen, how it was going to happen. This is the way I wanted to be."
|| Angry Bruce Smith Says Bills Fans were 'Robbed and Cheated'
The Buffalo News -- February 12, 2000
By Allen Wilson
Bruce Smith said goodbye to the Buffalo Bills, but not before delivering a few parting shots.
Smith was reflective after he, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed were released Thursday. After having a full 24 hours to think about it, Smith's disappointment turned to anger.
"This organization did not show any class in this situation," Smith said Friday from his home in Virginia Beach, Va. "This is an awful way to treat guys who have given so much not only to this organization, but to the community as well. The people that I feel the most sad for are the fans of Buffalo. I feel that they got robbed and cheated. This organization will have to live with the consequences of its actions."
Smith said he was willing to restructure his contract, which called for him to make base salary of $ 4.48 million. But the Bills wanted to cut his pay in half to get under the NFL's $ 62.2 million salary cap. Smith wasn't willing to go that low.
What made Smith even more irate was the Bills' refusal to offer Thomas a deal of any kind.
"Incredible," Smith said. "If they would have treated him with a little more respect than they did, it might have affected my decision differently. This man is the greatest running back who has ever played for the Buffalo Bills. He's helped build this organization to where it is today. I just think it was classless the way it was handled and the way he was treated."
|| Brad Austin, Rochester, N.Y.:
This roster move was the right thing for the Buffalo Bills last year, but it was painful to see, and unfortunate in the way it shook out.
Watching Bruce Smith progress from a troubled and sub-par rookie season -- overweight and largely considered to be a bust, to a sculpted and determined defensive powerhouse who is now considered in the all-time top five in his position, was a thrilling adventure for 15 years.
His success was the franchise's success, so to see his (and Andre Reed's, and Thurman Thomas') Buffalo careers cut short so unceremoniously was troubling and disheartening. I remember reading last year of a Mike Shanahan proposal that would allow for 10-plus year veterans' salaries to count only 50 percent toward the cap. This is a fantastic idea.
| April 22,
| Bills draft QB Todd Collins with the 45th pick
The transition out of the Jim Kelly era has not been a seamless one.
Frank Reich was tired of hanging around and left as a free agent. Todd Collins, a second-round pick in '95, was supposed to fit the Bills ... but didn't. He started 13 games in 1997, was released and wound up in Kansas City ... and hasn't thrown an NFL pass in three years.
Todd Collins never grew into Jim Kelly's model. Brian Bahr /Allsport
Enter Doug Flutie, beloved by fans, but still has not been able to fully convince a coach that he's a full-time solution.
So enter Rob Johnson and his one career start in 1998. He and Flutie were played off one another for three seasons before the Bills finally had to bite the bullet and commit to the younger, bigger (though much more injury-prone) Johnson. So out goes Flutie, with his cereal under one arm and his Heisman Trophy under the other and three CFL championships in his back pocket.
An objective jury is still out on whether the Bills have made the right choice, but rest assured that this quarterback schism has divided Bills fans and will make for interesting newspaper copy with every peak and valley in the upcoming season.
Rob Johnson (left) got the nod from the Bills, even though Flutie had a better record. Andy Lyons,Doug Pensinger/AllSport
Bills fans, meanwhile, after watching Thurman Thomas retire tearfully this week, can't help but notice that Jacksonville nabbed a pretty good running back in Fred Taylor with the first-round pick it got from Buffalo. The Bills, meanwhile, are strapped with a project back in Antowain Smith.
|| Finding a Blue-Chip NFL Quarterback
is more Serendipity than Science
The Buffalo News -- November 23, 1997
By Larry Felser
Todd Collins has been walking around Western New York this week with a figurative "kick me" sign stuck to his back. His critics donned their street-fighting shoes and obliged.
That's why the game within a game in the Liberty Bowl today is to begin finding out what Collins is made of, whether he can pick himself off the floor and start over after his horrible performance against Miami last Monday night.
The Bills' less forgiving fans have made up their minds about Collins before they even watch how he plays against the Tennessee Oilers. There are already an overflow of members in the "ABC Club" -- Anyone But Collins.
The call-in show assassins have stomped him, of course, but that's to be expected. Remember George Carlin's old comedy routine, "The Seven Words You Can't Say on TV?" which caused such a controversy when played on the radio? That was in pre-Howard Stern times. Now the one word never uttered on sports talk shows is "patience."
If the Bills don't exercise patience, what are their options? You don't walk into a super market with a list that reads "milk, bread, a head of lettuce and a starting quarterback."
| March 14,
| Bills trade QB Daryle Lamonica, WR Glenn Bass and 2 draft picks to Oakland for QB Tom Flores, WR Art Powell and 1 draft pick
We can't tell this one any better than Bob Dicesare of The Buffalo News did a couple of years ago. So here it is:
|| Let's Make a Deal; A Look at the
Biggest Trades in Buffalo Sports History
The Buffalo News -- April 7, 1997
By Bob Dicesare
The Mad Bomber: It looked like such a good deal when it was made. Bills quarterback Jack Kemp, 33 years old, was nearing the end of his career. Daryle Lamonica, 25, hadn't shown much in his four seasons as Kemp's understudy. The Bills were looking for someone a little more reliable to play Kemp's backup, someone with a history of success. They were looking to upgrade themselves at receiver, too.
So on March 14, 1967, the Bills swung the deal that sent the franchise spiraling toward the ocean floor. They bundled Lamonica with receiver Glenn Bass and a pair of draft picks and sent the package to Oakland for quarterback Tom Flores, receiver Art Powell and a draft pick.
The day after the trade was made, Charley Young, The Buffalo Evening News sports editor at the time, penned these prophetic words: "One nagging question remains, however. Who ever has wound up winning in any deal with (Raiders boss) Al Davis, the Mr. Smart of the American League operators?"
Powell, one of the American Football League's top receivers, blew out a knee after playing six games with the Bills. Flores, who threw 24 TD passes for the Raiders in '66, was released by Buffalo during the '69 season, having thrown no touchdowns and nine interceptions during his stay.
And Lamonica? "The Mad Bomber" threw for 89 TDs and almost 10,000 yards the next three seasons, leading the Raiders to three straight AFL championship games and an appearance in what would later be known as Super Bowl II.
|| H. Chip Curtis, St. Louis:
The deal that broke my heart is when the Bills decided to keep the aging vetran Jack Kemp and trade the young "Mad Bomber" Daryle Lamonica.
Jack was a great quarterback for the Bills, leading them to the AFL championship two years on a row, but he had elbow problems and just couldn't throw like he used to. Lamonica had a great arm and a headstrong leadership style that riled the Buffalo head coaches.
But that headstrong attitude is what took the Oakland Raiders to the Super Bowl.
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