A major reconstruction

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

Who knows if a sucker is born every minute, but eight Sundays every fall, 73,000 or so show up on cue at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Buffalo Bills may have lost their touch in tackling and touchdowns, but as ticket brokers they're among the NFL's best.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson did the expected yesterday and confirmed his woeful franchise was undergoing a major restructuring. Out with president and general manager Tom Donahoe, in with a new management group, which looks like it will include former coach Marv Levy.

Anything, it seems, to sell hope first and the tickets that are sure to follow.

After six consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, the Bills apparently are running out of options to appease the masses.

So what better way than to bring the coach who took them to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s?

Levy's role wasn't exactly confirmed by Wilson and it's not likely the octogenerian owner is going to hand total to control to the octogenarian ex-coach.

Hall of Famer Levy more likely will serve as a confidante as Wilson tries to restore competence to the on-field product.

What is certain is that one of the NFL's longest-serving owners clearly is as fed up as the team's fans are frustrated.

While Wilson later announced he was keeping coach Mike Mularkey, former CFL star Tom Clements was let go as offensive co-ordinator.

"I want to apologize to the fans of Buffalo who are great fans," Wilson said at a press conference. "We haven't given them a very good product in the last five years."

Despite their shocking run of ineptitude -- since their most recent playoff appearance in 1999, every AFC team other than the Houston Texans has made the post-season -- the Bills have had no trouble filling the Ralph.

All eight home games were sold out in the recently completed 5-11 season as ticket-buyers took the bait that quarterback J.P. Losman was the bold, bright future.

In recent seasons, the Bills have been especially good at letting something other than wins and losses sell tickets.

Three years ago it was Drew Bledsoe.

Before that, Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie.

Give it enough spin, and who needs wins?

Wilson, one of the most likable individuals in the league, takes losing as hard as the fans. He often shows up in the locker room after games and isn't shy about venting.

He yesterday implied that he had lost touch (or was it trust?) with the day-to-day operation of his team under Donahoe and is demanding that to change.

FRESH START

Whoever the new GM will be, he won't have the title of president since Wilson said he is taking that back.

"For the fans' sake, we've got to try," Wilson said. "I think we have a bright future but I think we need a fresh start."

The at-times paranoid and secretive Donahoe could have set up shop at Casino Niagara given his love of rolling the dice. At times during his 31-49 run as president, he came up a winner (Willis McGahee, Bledsoe for a year). Other times (first-round bust Mike Williams, Losman, former coach Gregg Williams) he shot craps.

The best marketing job of all may have been with Bledsoe. Before he was run out of town, the former New England Patriot was welcomed with a parade that ended up at the Ralph, not far from the ticket windows.

The immensely popular Levy no doubt will create a buzz, even if the modern game may have passed him by. But like the man and his team owner friend, that act must be getting old with Bills fans.


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