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Bad trades helped wreck the once proud BUFFALO franchise, and now Chuck Knox is trying to put it back together again. He suffered a setback when Joe DeLamielleure, the right guard and a five-time Pro Bowl choice, said he'd had it with the Bills. He said he didn't like the way Knox handled the team, the way he ignored the solid citizens and coddled the problem children, such as Linebacker Isiah Robertson and Defensive End Sherm White. So the Bills got on the phone and tried to make a trade that wouldn't embarrass them. They acquired Guard Conrad Dobler from New Orleans, but Dobler couldn't hack it any longer on his arthritic knees and was cut. And DeLamielleure was traded to Cleveland.
What hurt Knox about l'affaire DeLamielleure was that he has always prided himself on being a players' coach, a guy who could use the old noodle when he had to and get through to moody types. Hadn't Knox gotten a good year out of Robertson after the Rams gave up on him? Hadn't White had his best year? What also hurts is that the Bills have a good collection of young running backs, but without Joe D. there is no All-Pro guard pulling on the sweeps. And this comes after a year in which the Bills had the NFL's worst rushing attack.
Elsewhere, Buffalo is still patching and groping, picking up older vets (Roosevelt Leaks, Phil Villapiano, Ron Jessie) and hoping to get lucky. The solid spots on the team are quarterback and wide receiver, with Joe Ferguson and Jerry Butler coming off productive years.
Baltimore wins with Bert Jones at quarterback, loses without him. In 1978 the Colts were 2-1 with Jones, 3-10 without; last year the numbers were 3-1 and 2-10. Now Jones says the injured right shoulder that kept him out of 25 games in the last two years is fine, thanks. He is stronger now, too, bigger in the upper body. He lifted weights in the off-season, carried groceries, plowed fields, uprooted trees. His right arm is two inches bigger than it was last year. "I can throw as well as I ever could," he says, "except that it might take me a little longer to limber up."
Mike McCormack, the Colts' new coach, follows the script, which reads, "This isn't a one-man team," but he's keeping his fingers crossed, even though on the surface he's bubbling with enthusiasm. The fans are not bubbling; first, they've got the Orioles to worry about. Only 28,000 Colt season tickets have been sold, down 4,000 from 1979.
If Jones doesn't get hurt, Baltimore will have an interesting offense. No. 1 draft Curtis Dickey can fly out of the backfield, but you won't see him in the same lineup with Joe Washington, not when there's blocking to be done. George Kunz' bad back has passed muster, and he's back at his familiar right tackle spot after a year in the NBC TV booth. Roger Carr is still threatening to run that deep, deep pattern back to Louisiana, but the Colts will tolerate his threats as long as he's got two hands that can grasp a thrown ball. Raymond Butler, the fourth-round pick from USC, has been shockingly good at wide receiver.
Keep that shoulder limber, Bert.