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These Bills Stack Up
Rick Reilly
December 07, 1987
Through the draft and now a big trade, Buffalo has built a tough young defense it can bank on for the future
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December 07, 1987

These Bills Stack Up

Through the draft and now a big trade, Buffalo has built a tough young defense it can bank on for the future

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Among the many hundreds of Americans recently traded for Eric Dickerson was a certain medium-range missile formerly housed at the University of Alabama, Cornelius (Biscuit) Bennett, who was signed for the price of a small van Gogh by the Buffalo Bills. Dicker-son got the headlines, yes, but it turns out the Biscuit end of the swap was a honey. Seems Bennett goes after a quarterback the way the young Professor Ginsburg once went after a midnight bag of Doritos. And there's even more surprising news at Basement Buffalo, where a 4-12 record used to be expected. With Bennett, Buffalo has got a stack of Bills you wouldn't believe.

To wit, the Bills have: a) the first player taken in the 1985 draft, defensive end Bruce Smith, whom John Elway called "the best defensive lineman we've seen in the last couple of years, and that includes Howie Long"; b) the second player taken in the '87 draft, Bennett; c) the eighth player taken in '87, former Perm State All-America linebacker Shane Conlan; and d) Buffalo's wings, quarterback Jim Kelly.

Not only that, but Buffalo also has: e) a coach (finally) who may stay around long enough for his magazine subscriptions to catch up with him, Marv Levy; f) a pair of wins over Miami—including last Sunday's 27-0 shutout—which were only the fourth and fifth times in 36 tries that Buffalo had beaten a Don Shulacoached team anywhere; g) a 21-14 strip-mining of the Denver Elways (Nov. 8); h) one of the youngest rosters in the NFL; and i) for once, a future.

"This city is going crazy," says Conlan, who admits it's a strange feeling for both him and it. "After we beat Miami [the first time], I came off the field and I was kind of mad at myself, even though we'd won. At Penn State we always won, but Joe would yell at us anyway. And when I got in the locker room everybody was going nuts. Whatever you did wrong didn't matter. And when we got back home, the fans were going nuts, too. I guess they're not used to this."

You bet they're not. But with the new Million Dollar Bills, they might soon be used to it. All Buffalo's defense did on Sunday was hold the Dolphins to 23 yards on the ground and shut Dan Marino off without a touchdown pass—the first time any team had done that to him in two years. This thing seems to be legit.

"Put it this way," says the Bills' weathered noseguard, Fred Smerlas, "when you've got a millionaire to the left of you and a millionaire to the right and another one behind you, you feel pretty comfortable."

Our Forbes 400 profiles begin with Bennett, the photographic negative of the Boz. He's excruciatingly quiet and ignorant of hair paints. However, they do have some things in common: vast wealth (Boz signed for about $850,000 a year for 10 years; Bennett for $775,000 a year for five); earrings (Boz out-studs Bennett three to one—"I'm more conservative," says Bennett); and animosity toward the NFL establishment (Bennett refused to sign with Indianapolis, Boz with almost everybody else).

Maybe that's why Buffalo could hardly believe its frostbitten ears when it heard that Bennett—unlike Tom Cousineau, Chip Banks, Joe Cribbs, etc., but like Conlan—wanted to be there. "The Bills have a great tradition with O.J. Simpson and Joe Ferguson, so I'm just glad to be a part of it," said Bennett. Hey, what's going on here?

It took two plays to see Biscuit was hot. On his second play against Denver, Bennett went past Broncos tackle Ken Lanier like Willard Scott past a blow-dryer sale. Elway tossed a pass to nobody out of fear for his limbs. Later Bennett lined up behind Smith, a sight that stultified Elway into calling a timeout. By the game's end, Bennett had one sack, two hurries and films of his performance climbing the NFL coaches' sales charts. Said Bills receiver Chris Burkett, "He may be All-Pro this year."

"I think we've got all the ingredients for a great cherry pie," says Bills defensive end Leon (Dr. Sack) Seals. "We've got the cherries and the crust. Now we just need to let it bake a little."

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