“You Either Die a Hero, or You Live Long Enough To See Yourself Become the Villain”
Yes, all you dorks know those words were echoed by both Harvey Dent and Batman in “Dark Knight Rises”. It is a pretty interesting quote when you equate it with sports in America. As great of a player as you become, sooner or later, the cheering stops. It ends because you either can’t win the big one, or fans get too use to seeing your face on a yearly basis, or your skills just start deteriorating to the point fans want you off their team.
It is marriage that just starts to fizzle out.
In Buffalo, I’d say this is something that happens more often than other places. We are a desperate pissed off fan base who has never tasted a championship. Winning is the ultimate goal in sports and sure, any flash in the pan can get their 15 minutes of fame, but once the winning stops, the pointing of the fingers begins.
After last Friday’s boofest against Ryan Miller, it got me thinking about players who we once held in high esteem, only to then drop to the depths of hell. Keep in mind this list consists of dissing our heroes who were still playing here. Not the ones who left and we started booing them (See: Briere and Drury).
Jim Kelly- This is one of those stories that never seems to get retold, but it did happen. It probably doesn’t see the light of day now because you view Jim Kelly as some sort of God in Buffalo. However, towards the end of his career, that wasn’t the case. During Kelly’s last year in Buffalo, the Bills had promised Jim that they were going to give him Elway/Marino money, which was about 6-million a year, after the season.
One problem: Kelly played like hot garbage.
He started off the year throwing for just two touchdowns and an eye-popping 11 INTs. It may be shocking to hear, but people were calling for his end and the start of Todd Collins era. Keep in mind Collins played well in relief that season, going 2-1 and beating the defending SB champs and a Colts team who were just a year removed from the AFC Championship.
I assure you, as crazy as it sounds that Bills fans would want the Kelly era to end for Todd Collins, it actually happened. Kelly ended up retiring after the season, in large part because the Bills wouldn’t give him a new deal. He elected to retire as a Bill instead of going to Baltimore, where Ted Marchibroda wanted to reunite. When he finished, some fans were happy to open a new QB chapter…yeah, how have those chapters been going?
Alexander Mogilny- How can a guy go from 76 goals to not being loved by a fan base? A combination of being in the shadow of maybe the most popular player in team history (Pat LaFontaine) and the European bias that I happen to believe runs prevalent in the hockey world and will reoccur here.
Mogilny’s last two years was mired with him getting the “C” when LaFontaine got hurt, for which some teammates (Off the record) said he wasn’t ready for. It also didn’t help that his goal production went from 76 goals to 32 goals.
When Mogilny got to Buffalo, he was about as exciting a player I can recall debuting as a professional in Buffalo. During his 76-goal campaign, he captured the imagination of Buffalo fans when he scored 52 goals in his first 50 games. It was an awesome sight to see. Something we will probably never see again.
However, once #89 was viewed as being a franchise player, expectations went up and he kind of fizzled in the spotlight. There just seemed to be kind of aloof to how he acted at times and fans wanted more passion from him. Yes, it is the silly narrative Sabres fans love to talk about. Pretend you really care and you’ll go pretty far in this town.
Dominik Hasek- Yes, the greatest player in franchise history may have been the most controversial one. The first 3 years of Dom starting were great. No issues. No question marks. The guy was amazing and in my view, the best player to ever live to put on a Buffalo jersey.
Then the 1996/1997 season went down. Oh, boy. Everyone knows it was one of the ugliest seasons in terms of in-house fighting. It was a Wrestlemania Super Card. Nolan vs. Muckler, Hasek vs. Barnaby, Hasek vs. Nolan, Quinn vs. Rigas.
When the smoke cleared, Hasek ended up being the last guy standing and everyone pretty much assumed he was one that got rid of their beloved coach.
Up until the day he left Buffalo years later, there were some fans who couldn’t forgive him for that.
Even though Dom played well after the controversy, there was still lingering doubts about him. He was viewed as being a little corky with a bit of an ego. You could start with him possibly faking his injury against the Sens in 1997 or you can goto his feud with Ted Nolan. You just didn’t know what you had with the slinky spine enigma.
Everything then came to ahead after the 2001 season, when Dom demanded to get traded and wouldn’t allow Darcy to get maximum value from Detroit.
At that point, there were some who thought it was Biron’s turn to take the helm because people thought the defensive system was what helped the Sabres attain a low GAA.
For Dom, his last five years always seemed to take on a bipolar path with the fans. If he got hurt, some thought he was faking it. If there were rumors about him being upset, people flashed back to what happened to Ted Nolan.
When Dom forced his way out, there seemed to be a this “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out” demeanor to it. Both parties were over each other at that point.
Marshawn Lynch- I’ll always remember being at McFaddens in 2007 and ESPN showing a story of Marshawn Lynch hanging out at Dave and Busters and just having a grand ole’ time. It was obviously a shot towards Willis McGahee’s comments about Buffalo being boring and only having a Dave and Busters to hang out at. Fans at McFaddens erupted in laughter after seeing this. It really showed a funny side to Lynch that made fans relate to him.
Lynch was someone fans really wanted to rally around, especially after McGahee pretty much shitted on Buffalo. What Lynch showed during his first year here was a guy who acted like a big kid and seemed to be a jovial individual.
He had the fun comic book spread during Bills games depicting him as being a superhero who would merge into “Beast mode” when he stepped on the field. It seemed like a perfect match, especially since he was the team MVP in 2007.
Alas, things went in the toilet during his first offseason here, when he hit some fat chick on Chippewa. Some said the girl was dancing drunk in the street and Lynch just poke her with the car. Others made it out like it was a hit and run out of a cop movie.
Lynch acted above it all and refused to speak to authorities or the press. It was kind of a weird situation, where the cops wanted him to talk with them, but he refused to do so because they hadn’t charged him yet.
Then there were stories that he brought his own booze to bars and was being hassled by local police. Then it culminated a year later when he was caught with a gun in his car without a permit. It also didn’t help that he was ducking and being short with the press. We all know that if you aren’t quotable and are flippant towards the press, they are going to ride you out of town.
Of course, there were some who were over his off the field stuff and thought he was a nuisance to society. At about the time they drafted Spiller in the 1st round in 2010, it wasn’t a matter of if but when they would trade Lynch.
Willis McGahee- In the 25 years I’ve been watching Bills football, I’d put Willis McGahee’s 2004 year near the top for best performances by a running back. The guy was the talk of the NFL after getting his knee shredded in the National Title game and returning two years later to rush for over 1,100 yards in just 11 starts. He was the main reason the Bills went from 3-6 to 9-7.
It was a great story and got tons of PR outside of WNY, which we all love and want. However, things started changing the following year. The Bills were a disaster on the field, going 5-11 and having turmoil ranging from players not being behind JP Losman to Eric Moulds getting suspended.
McGahee then started developing a little bit of an ego by declaring himself to be the best back in the league, only to then struggle against the Raiders by gaining less than 50-yards. He also came off as a bit of aloof, which some media members pointed towards as being a red flag for God know’s what reason (Jerry Sullivan always bashed his intellect).
What really sank McGahee’s popularity here was when he started talking about how there was nothing to do in Buffalo. Um, yeah, that will go over like a fart in church here. Some quotes ranged from it being a place that only had a Dave and Busters to dissing the women of the region. He also poured salt on the wound by speaking glowingly about Toronto.
Yeah, a PR person should have gotten to him before all of this and told him the deal. His last quote that pretty much did him in was when he said the Bills should move to Toronto. That was pretty much a wrap…and it didn’t help he wanted a new contract.
Doug Flutie- For a kid who is in his 20s, they probably don’t remember the Super Bowl years all that well. However, the apex of their fan hood probably happened during the 1998 season. Doug Flutie was suppose to be just a backup QB who had developed a cult following for his CFL play in Canada and collegiate career in Boston. Sure, there was a mystery and name recognition to him, but we all knew Rob Johnson was the guy.
However, injuries derailed what was suppose to be Johnson’s first year as the starter, and what happened for the rest of the year can be viewed as maybe the most over-hyped era in Bills history or the last remains of the glory years. Flutie came out guns blazing, going 7-2 as a starter and helping guide the Bills from a 0-3 start to the playoffs at 10-6.
He was the toast of the town and became a national darling. Flutie flakes, 10-10-21 commercials and even a lame made for TV movie. The guy was probably the most famous Bills player we have had over the last 15 years.
Alas, things took a turn in 1999. Even though the Bills raced out to a 10-5 record, Flutie wasn’t nearly as magical, throwing for 19TDs and 17INTs. This ended up becoming a gateway for Rob Johnson to get his job back, as he was lights out in a meaningless season finale against the Colts.
Afterwards, Wade Phillips or John Butler or Ralph Wilson or the mayor made the call to start Johnson against the Titans in the playoffs. A move that I don’t think anyone could have predicted happening. We all know what happened…
The following year was a soap opera of epic proportions. In what I’d term as a radio station trying to stir shit up, the majority of the hosts on WGR tried everything in their power to kill off Flutiemania. Guys like Chuck Dickerson made it out like Rob Johnson was Joe Montana waiting in the wings. It also didn’t help that stories were coming out that Flutie was a bit of a prima donna behind the scenes (Allegedly he wouldn’t give money to his own charity and hated giving autographs).
Sure, there were people who still loved him, but his popularity took a hit. I know when fans look back, they may have fond memories for Flutie because he was the last QB to guide the Bills to the playoffs. However, at that time, there were a ton of people who wanted him out of here and for Johnson to take the reigns.
Ryan Miller- I’ve written before about the unique relationship between the people and Ryan Miller. After last Friday’s game, there seems to be a lot of rumblings that it could have been his last game. Besides Jim Kelly and Hasek, this list of heroes to goats happened in a quick period of time. We didn’t see these guys grow up. Miller was one of those guys we saw from his first game on. We grew up with him and saw him blossom and in some cases wilt before our eyes.
We saw him come into his own after the lockout and help guide the Sabres to the best two years in franchise history. For a good 5 years, Miller could do no wrong. It all culminated during his Olympic year, where he played lights out and became a national star.
Alas, the Sabres started slipping while expectations went through the roof with Pegula buying the team. Normally, you’d describe this as being a star player not able to deliver a title or a playoff series win, in making fans turn on their former stars.
However, I think it goes beyond that. I think Buffalo’s low self-esteem and Ryan Miller wanting to be loved is what brought us to this point.
Once Miller tied the knot with his Hollywood girlfriend and became the face of the franchise, dumb ass fans and media members kept dropping hints that he was too big for Buffalo. That he wanted to leave. That he was becoming too Hollywood and wanted to live by his wife. Even though Miller went as far as to say he’d fall on the Sabre sword before asking to get traded, it was never good enough. Fans just always thought he was leaving at some point and that he viewed us as being a fan base filled with meddlesome paparazzi.
As for Miller’s relationship with the fans, you can tell he was over the booing and probably thought he should get more respect or love from the fan base. I mean, he was at one point the most popular Buffalo player for a good 3-4 year stretch.
In the end, I think both parties thought the other person didn’t love each other as much as they should have.