Friday, November 21, 2008

Sleeping With the Enemy: Week 12, Bills @ Chiefs

As the weekend approaches, there's nothing sweeter than discussing your team's upcoming contest with a fan of the club your boys will face. That's just the point of "Sleeping with the Enemy," and this week we're in the huddle with a lifelong Bills fan. We chat about the past, a bit about the present, and of course, Sunday's contest at Arrowhead, which, rest assured, the Chiefs will find another new way to lose. Circle the wagons. It's Bills-thirty, just after the jump.

This evening's guest is Kurtis Kohler, who is one Kool Kat who said to Kall him what we want. My vote is for K5, which obviously places him one notch Kooler than the J5 (Jurassic Five). K5's a busy guy, but he gave us his time and did so in time to catch this evening's Sabres game. As he puts it "another team that hasn't won a championship that we still love."

Bankmeister: Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to sit down with us. I must say that the Buffalo Bills are a fascinating franchise. I've often considered them as a club I'd root for if the frustrations as a Chiefs fan finally drove me beyond insanity. Fill us in on your personal history as a Bills fan, how you became one, some highlights through the years, and of course, the present-day scenario as well.

K5: In my formative years I lived in Grand Island, just minutes outside of Buffalo. My mom and Dad both grew up in Buffalo. Everything on my mom's side was about the Buffalo Bills and Sunday afternoons were about Jim Ferguson and OJ Simpson (the only poster on my wall) and until recently was still innocent. All three of us kids would get to pick something fun and crazy to make for the game, weird canned fish products, mangoes, anything unusual and the older we got the more extravagant our appetizers became. We still carry this tradition on today. My five-year-old Lincoln, Claire - 3, and Charlie put our Bills jerseys on Sunday morning, do a Bills parade with the Bills flag that we hang outside on the house and then go to the grocery store to pick out a "snack." Lately, Claire has favored Oreos or licorice and Lincoln leans toward Pistachio nuts. The biggest highlights through the years have been all the Bills games I have seen all over the country. Home games are the best and we make a pilgrimage every year back to Buffalo to go to a game. Of course that includes a trip to the Anchor Bar for the original Buffalo Wings, Schwabel's for some Beef on Weck, Chef's Restaurant -- best Italian in the world and Dandelion salads and of course the Falls are close by too.

B: Lots of tradition, indeed. And let's not forget the box of Flutie Flakes in your basement. I'm sure those are always a tasty treat. The AFC, in my mind, epitomizes bizarre this year. Over in the West, a once-heralded tough division from top to bottom looks weaker than rusty chains holding up a porch swing. While the North is roughly the same, the South looks odd with the flippin' Titans being the league's only undefeated squad. The East, however, is intriguing. Brett Favre and the Jets are on top with Miami and New England tied, your Bills in last, but at .500. It looks to be a tough quartet of teams, but Buffalo is winless in the division. How frustrating is that?

K5: Starting the year 4-0, everyone was talking playoffs for the first time in nine years. I saw a statistic that 4-0 teams make the playoffs 94 percent of the time. We lose a tough one to Arizona but I didn't expect Favre to reignite the Jets. Nor did I expect Pennington to play as well as he has been playing for the Dolphins, and even without Brady, the Patriots have been great. As a Bills fan I never take a win for granted though, nor the playoffs, and forget about Super Bowls.

B: Yeah. Likewise. Initially, I thought this team would surprise everyone, but in hindsight, all five of your wins have come at the expense of struggling teams, or teams that are just real damn bad. The losses, however, have all been delivered by teams with winning records, save Monday night's debacle against Romeo Crennel, Brady Quinn, and the Browns. On the one hand, there's a positive in losing to good teams; on the other, that loss had to be painful. A lot of sports bloggers wanted to draw comparisons to the infamous Scott Norwood "wide right" miss in Super Bowl XXV. I found that to be a bit exaggerated, to say the least, but the look on Jim Kelly's (sideline) face perhaps suggested otherwise. For my money, Dick Jauron's a much better coach than Crennel; he's proven to some degree anyway, but some suggest that the game has passed him by. Is there any weight to that supposition?

K5: You don't realize how good a coach is and how much it means to the team until your good one is gone and you're stuck for years with garbage. Since Marv Levy left the Bills we have been stuck with some real loser coaches: Greg Williams and Wade Phillips. I wouldn't wish Wade Philips on any team, which is why I hope he stays in Dallas forever. Dick Jauron and Marv Levy coming back to be the GM for the last few years has been the best thing that has happened to this franchise. Getting Marshawn Lynch, Trent Edwards, signing Lee Evans long term, I really think these are the guys to build a great team around and I think Dick Jauron is the guy who can lead us to the Super Bowl again. This is Trent's first full year and he has shown some flashes of Jim Kelly brilliance, and at other times looked like the rookie he really is.

B: Please forgive me, but because I've never waxed pigskin with a Bills fan, I must bring up the four consecutive SB losses. I know it was ages ago, but being a Chiefs fan, I've experienced a lot of post-season (or lack thereof) misery in my day. We have not won a playoff game since two weeks before the Bills' last SB appearance, a game in which your Buffalo squad defeated my Chiefs 30-13 in Buffalo, in the AFC Championship game. We have since then gone 13-3 three times, securing home field and a bye, only to lose in our first contest in each of those seasons. Kansas City has not been to, let alone won, a championship in 40 years. Which would you deem to be worse? Also, give me one-word summations of each of the losses. If I had to guess, they'd look something like ('91) crushed, ('92) exasperated, ('93) humiliated, and ('94) depressed.

K5: (As a side note) I went to that last Chiefs playoff game in Buffalo when Montana was knocked unconscious. There were a ton of Chiefs fans there. It sounds crazy but I think Bills fans, I'm sure, like Chiefs, are a fraternity. I've been in Thailand and talked to a guy in a Bills shirt for an hour about the team. I can't help stopping and saying "Go Bills" to people walking through airports with Bills shirts on. Cold games, beer frozen on top of the plastic glass, losing seasons and people still pack that stadium which can't be said for a lot of other teams out there with much larger populations. We love our Bills!

(But to answer the question) I'll take the four Super Bowl losses as opposed to not making a championship game in 40 years. Definitely it is worse to not be in the race. While not making the playoffs frees up your weekends in January and extends your ski season there just is nothing like the anticipation of the next game, especially a playoff game.

'91: Optimistic: If I were in Buffalo I would have been one of the 40,000 fans that went to the airport to cheer the team for their first Super Bowl game and for a great season. The crowd cheered loudest when Scott Norwood came up to the podium. It was a crazy sight on tv, but it shows the loyalty of all the Western New Yorkers that love that team. We all were confident we'd back the next year.

'92: Shocked: I was absolutely positive we would win this game.

'93: Humiliated: No other word.

'94: Humiliated. And Depressed: Kelly threw for a record six interceptions and Thurman Thomas missed the first offensive series because he left his helmet in the locker room. You knew the run was over.

B: Well, enough about the past. The Bills decided that enough was enough with J.P. Losman, and they went with Trent Edwards. I haven't seen a lot of Bills football this year, but he looked absolutely terrified in passing situations Monday night. I didn't catch the entire game, but it seemed that one could tally the number of times he didn't throw to Marshawn Lynch on one hand. Is it accurate to say that he has very little confidence, and if so, what will it take for him to build it?

In other offensive factors, Lynch has had a decent season thus far, but hasn't been dominant. In your estimation, is he still developing? In the receiving game, Lee Evans has put up admirable numbers, but James Hardy and Roscoe Parrish have done very little. It seems that teams these days are developing offensive schemes that rely heavily on tight ends to be frequent, reliable pass catchers, especially when their receiving corps is not producing a ton. Buffalo's three tight ends have a combined 36 catches, 401 yards, and two scores. Does that seem a little off the mark?

K5: We really haven't had a dependable tight end since the Super Bowl days with Pete Metzallars who caught everything Kelly threw at him, and usually for touchdowns. I like our rookie Derek Fine out of Kansas no less. He has made some clutch catches in games earlier this year. He seems to catch everything but I would guess his yards-after-catch is zero, so he has some room for development. I'd like to see him play more and take over for Robert Royal, who seems to have hands of stone.

B: This club has shown it's ability to play some great defense, though. They're in the top half of most primary statistics, save rushing yards allowed, and even in that, they're right there in the thick of things. Is this D playing as good as it can, or are they still progressing?

K5: Defensive Tackle Marcus Stroud is one of the best free-agent pickups the Bills have ever made. He is our rush defense and filled a gaping whole on our D-Line. Paul Posluzny, linebacker out of Penn State in his second year is awesome. He ought to be from South Buffalo. He reminds me of Chris Speilman; he has that same commitment to the community and team. He was lost for the season in the third game last year with a compound fracture in his arm and instead of leaving town he stayed for every practice and obviously every game, picking up on the defensive plays and is now the defensive play caller. Every team has injury problems but I think the defense could be a lot better if Aaron Schobel and Donte Whitner weren't out. Without Schobel, Buffalo's number of sacks this year is down and we aren't putting pressure on the quarterback.

B: What's your take on the Chiefs? Clearly, a 1-9 mark says very little good and a lot bad about a team. How much KC football have you seen this season, and what, if anything, can you say about their struggles, or perhaps the stepping stones toward some (hopefully) improvement?

K5: I will admit I have not seen a full Chiefs game this year. (From) everything I've read, it sounds like the team has had a revolving door at quarterback and the Chiefs are rebuilding from scratch. I will also admit that other than Buffalo, Arrowhead is one of the greatest places in the country to see a game, win or lose. I have travelled all over to watch the Bills (Foxborough, San Fran, Dallas, Indy and more) and about six years ago I went to Arrowhead with the Buffalo Bills fan club out of Denver and had a blast. The sea of red fans, the giant tailgating parties in the huge parking lots, a blanket of smoke lying in the stadium from all the barbecues, trash cans reserved for hot coals. It was awesome and there are a lot of similarities between Arrowhead and Ralph Wilson Stadium and the tailgating and the fans. I have not been to Lambeau, but of the places I have watched a Bills game, Arrowhead was awesome. Lastly, I am a huge Chiefs fan everytime they play the Broncos.

B: Um, that rules. Remind me to forward you all of this month's revenue for that last statement. Anyway, how does Sunday's game at Arrowhead look from the perspective of a Bill's fan? The nutshell might suggest that this is the game Buffalo needs to get back on track: a road win against a miserable team. Turnovers, however, could be an issue in that Buffalo has turned it over a lot, and KC has produced quite a few.

K5: I think the three-point spread says it all. The teams are closer than their records and if Trent starts off like he did on Monday night in Cleveland, it could be an ugly afternoon. We can't get behind by 13 and still keep the running game on track. I also hope that Josh Reed -- wide receiver -- is back. With Reed back it seems to open things up for Evans in big ways. While he has been out, Parrish, Hardy, and Evans have all struggled. If the Bills lose this one, their playoff hopes are dead in the water. If they right the ship in KC, then follow up with a win in San Fran and beat the Dolphins at Home(?) in Toronto, we have a shot again. This is a big, big game.

B: Before we go, I know I've wondered on many occasions: what, exactly is a Bill?

K5: You know, I'm not positive, but I really think it is for the cowboy Buffalo Bill. Couldn't call them the Buffalo Buffalos.

B: Good point. And I just confirmed via Cha Cha, that "The AFL franchise placed in Buffalo in 1960 named the team the Bills to honor the city's previous team-named for Buffalo Bill Cody." (Editor's Note: Sic) Finally, let's have a prediction.

K5: Bills 22, Chiefs 17.

B: I can go with that. Many thanks for your time, K5.