"No quarterback fits this team better," says Levy. "He has a superior arm, he's the toughest quarterback in the league—mentally and physically—and he's tremendously team-oriented."
None of these acquisitions would have been possible had Ralph Wilson, the only owner the Bills have ever had, not spent freely to sign the young stars. The 70-year-old Wilson decided he was tired of waiting to win a Super Bowl. "I can't afford to wait 10 years," he says. "I want to get there, for everybody concerned. That's what the players want. That's what I want. The money is really incidental to the ring. It's much nicer to have someone come up to you at a game and ask for an autograph than to get a program thrown at you. I've had both happen to me."
Wilson acknowledges having made mistakes. Chief among them, he says, was his failure to recognize the importance of the general manager's role in running a football operation. He says he learned that lesson after he gave the job to Polian, the last of six general managers to work for him, in late 1985. "He's the only one who knew anything about football," says Wilson. "A G.M. doesn't just sign contracts, run a staff and sell tickets. After 25 years it finally sank in. It didn't take too long."
When Polian took the job, everyone understood that it was only a question of time before the Bills hired Levy; Polian had been a scout for the Chiefs when Levy was head coach and he considered Levy his football mentor. Stephenson had been fired as coach early in the '85 season. Hank Bullough took his place, but his malapropisms—he admired his players for their "good work ethnic"—were more entertaining than his teams. He was fired during the '86 season as the Bills were struggling with a 2-7 record. That was when Buffalo hired the witty, avuncular Levy, who has a master's degree in English history from Harvard.
Lou Saban and Chuck Knox both coached Buffalo, but according to Wilson, "Marv is the best coach the Bills have ever had. He is a phenomenal organizer." Last year, their first full season under Levy, the Bills were 7-8, and this year they were a popular pick to win the AFC East. "I have watched this game for over a half century," says Wilson, "and this is the most dramatic improvement of a team I've ever seen."
The franchise is prospering as a result. Sunday's game marked the seventh consecutive sellout this season, a club record, and it should have another when the Bills play at home against the Raiders on Dec. 11. Wilson hasn't had such a good time since he founded the franchise in 1960 as part of the old AFL, not even when the Bills won back-to-back league championships in 1964 and '65. "This is the most fun I've ever had with the team," he says.
In fact, it's really the most fun that people have had in Buffalo in years. You should have seen them on Sunday, singing in the rain.
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