When the Buffalo Bills made Ohio State Linebacker Tom Cousineau the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft last May, Cousineau told Bills Coach Chuck Knox, "You've made a wise choice." Later that same day Cousineau was asked if he might consider playing in Canada. "No," he replied. "I want to play in the NFL. I want to play with the big boys, and I'm going to play in Buffalo."
Maybe he will play in Buffalo someday, but while the Bills were beating the Colts 31-13 last Sunday in' Baltimore, Cousineau was up in Ottawa playing secondeur and separating porteurs from the ballon for Les Alouettes de Montreal as they tied the Rough Riders 29-29.
Cousineau defected to Canada on July 19, signing a three-year contract with the Alouettes for an estimated $850,000. From that moment Buffalo's 1979 draft was destined to be remembered as the one in which the Bills, who have a long history of front-office bungling, fumbled Tom Cousineau.
But another chorus of that old Buffalo favorite, "Wait till next year!" isn't called for. Despite the loss of Cousineau, Buffalo still had an outstanding draft. The Bills had nine picks in the top five rounds, and all except Cousineau have been on hand while the Bills—5-11 last season—have won three of their first five games.
The best draftee is Clemson Wide Receiver Jerry Butler, who was the fifth player selected overall. Two weeks ago Butler burned the New York Jets by catching 10 passes for 255 yards, the seventh-highest yardage total in NFL history, and four touchdowns. The next morning a Buffalo newspaper carried a cartoon showing a morose Cousineau watching Butler's heroics on television, while a shapely companion cooed, "Wow, did you ever meet him?"
The message was clear: thanks to Butler, Buffalonians have pretty much forgotten about Cousineau—for now.
Butler, a native of Ware Shoals, S.C., went to Clemson on a track scholarship. As a junior he won the Atlantic Coast Conference 60-yard dash. His speed is welcome in Buffalo, where it has been several ice ages since the Bills had someone who could catch the ball deep.
At Clemson, Butler set single-season and career receiving records, but the Tigers ran a conservative offense and Butler never came close to the sort of day he had against the Jets. "What happened was too wild to dream about," Butler says. Indeed, Butler's best single-game performance at Clemson had been 163 yards, and four touchdowns represented a season's work.
Butler closed out his Clemson career last December in the Gator Bowl game in which the Tigers beat Cousineau's Buckeyes and Woody Hayes took a poke at one of Butler's teammates. "I hit Cousineau on one play," says the slight, 180-pound Butler with a smile, "but I doubt if he remembers the blow."
Butler is just one of three rookies starting for the Bills, the others being second-round draft choices Fred Smerlas and Jim Haslett. The 6'3", 270-pound Smerlas, who recovered a Richard Todd fumble for a touchdown in the 46-31 rout of the Jets, works at nose tackle, while the 6'3", 232-pound Haslett is playing the inside slot Cousineau was expected to fill in Knox' 3-4 defense. In his first NFL game, Haslett had 13 solo tackles against the Miami Dolphins and was named Buffalo's best player.