Pivotal decision for Bills

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

They faithfully sit through pelting rain, driving sleet, waves of snow, all in the name of supporting their beloved Buffalo Bills.

Braving the raw elements at Ralph Wilson Stadium is just part of the football experience for the tailgating throngs who back the four-time AFC champions on NFL Sundays in western New York.

So, too, is watching lousy football.

The hapless Bills have not been to the playoffs since the 1999 season when then-coach Wade Phillips opted to sit Doug Flutie on the pines in favour of California surfer dude Rob Johnson, who, like his teammates, were stunned at being beaten by the Tennessee Titans in the gut-wrenching Music City Miracle.

Since then, in this, the post-Flutie era, a wretched list of quarterbacks have fumbled and bumbled their way through Orchard Park, so-called Faces of the Franchise that had many despondent Bills fans hiding theirs.

There was strong-armed Rob Johnson, who ended up being a sack waiting to happen every time he lined up under centre.

LOSE-MAN

There was war-scarred Drew Bledsoe, who ended up being an interception waiting to happen every time he lined up under centre.

There was first-round bust J.P. Losman, whose erratic play fittingly earned him the nickname Lose-man.

And, a year ago, there was gun-shy Trent Edwards, who wasted $15 million US in deep threats -- Terrell Owens and Lee Evans -- by refusing to hoist the ball down field to them, opting to repeatedly check off instead.

Now, in the days leading up to Thursday's 2010 NFL draft, there is speculation coming out of One Bills Drive that maybe new general manager Buddy Nix and incoming coach Chan Gailey might shy away from plucking a quarterback in the early rounds, instead harbouring aspirations that Edwards' career might be revived.

Let's hope that is pure speculation and nothing more.

Because Bills fans deserve better.

They deserve a quarterback who, at least for the upcoming season, provides hope down the road, a guy who makes it worth trudging into the stadium to watch this moribund lot.

They deserve a young player who can be seen as the future Face of The Franchise.

Because without that, there is absolutely no buzz swirling around this team.

A year ago, that wasn't the case.

Far from it.

In a move of sheer marketing genius, the Bills shocked the sporting world by inking the enigmatic Owens to a one-year deal, giving the ailing franchise the national exposure it so needed, so thirsted for.

And then they did the impossible.

They made T.O. boring.

Oh, there was the odd colourful sound byte or two. There had to be. It's part of T.O.'s schtick.

But let's face it: There was nothing that came close to making T.O.'s Top 10 list of all-time blowups.

Sure, he was not the dynamic T.O. of old. Sure, he seems to drop more and more catchable balls with every passing year.

But, for a major chunk of the season, fans at The Ralph couldn't even have the enjoyment of booing T.O. whenever a perfect spiral clanked off his hands.

Because Edwards hardly ever threw the ball to him.

Like him or hate him, Owens was an athlete and personality people wanted to see, either to cheer or to jeer. Now he's gone, leaving no real magnetizing drawing card on the roster.

At least the draft offers hope.

But if -- and only if -- the Bills don't make another head-scratching decision in the first round, as was the case in 2009.

Looking to augment their pass rush, the Bills used the No. 11 overall selection to pick undersized defensive end Aaron Maybin of Penn State, who tipped the scales at just 249 lbs.

NEED A QB

In the process, they passed on Texas sack master Brian Orakpo, who went to the Washington Redskins two picks later.

Their sack totals as NFL rookies in 2009: Orakpo 11, Maybin 0.

This time around Nix warns observers not to get "pinned down thinking mentally that it's got to be this position or this position, because it may not be."

In the case of a quarterback, it should be.

Because unless the Bills deal for someone like Jason Campbell, they need one.

While Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen would seem to be the logical choice to be taken when the Bills are on the clock at No. 9 Thursday night, various reports suggest management is not enthralled with the kid and is more likely to address the hole at left tackle.

Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Oklahoma's Trent Williams, Maryland's Bruce Campbell, Rutgers' Anthony Davis and Iowa's Brian Bulaga are the top candidates, with many mock drafts pencilling in Bulaga as the Bills selection.

If that is the case, it is paramount that the Bills then take their quarterback of the future in the second round, whether it be Florida's Tim Tebow or Colt McCoy of Texas.

At least in both those cases, the name provide some notoriety, some sizzle, something for the locals to get excited about.

Because right now, there is none of that.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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