DALLAS ó The odds came out Monday: And in no surprise the small market Green Bay Packers are among the favourites to win Super Bowl XLVI and the small market Buffalo Bills remain the longest of longshots.
Why is that seemingly obvious reference relevant in any way?
Because in virtually every season of the past decade, eight of 10 to be exact, the Bills have drafted ahead of the Packers. In some years, way ahead of the Packers. Yet the team that emerged as impressive champion on the National Football League is a ringing endorsement for homegrown, homespun, draft choices but also a condemnation of teams with similar opportunity who just canít find a way.
In 2004, the Buffalo Bills made a bold move by reaching for a second first-round pick and choosing their quarterback of the future. The player they were going to build around: J.P. Losman.
One year later, without quarterback being their greatest need ó and how can it be when your starter is named Brett Favre ó Ted Thompson used his first ever draft pick as general manager of the Packers to select a player whose draft status was plumetting. A lot of people held their breath when the Packers chose Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Six years later, he has climbed the highest football mountain, his name right there with the best quarterbacks in the world.
And Losman? He played a little in the United Football League, took a practice snap or two for the Seattle Seahawks and otherwise was much like the Bills themselves ó completely irrelevant to the big picture of professional football.
If this draft imbalance happened once, you might call it a fluke. But year after year, choice after choice, the Packers have found football players and the Bills have found next to nothing. In fact, almost every important play by every important player in Super Bowl XLV was made by a Thompson draft pick.
Nick Collins, the Pro Bowl corner, who took a Ben Roethlisberger interception for a touchdown Sunday, was a second-round draft pick in same draft Rodgers was chosen. The second-round pick for the Bills was Roscoe Parrish, a part-time wide receiver, sometime kick returner.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings, who scored the winning touchdown against the Steelers, was a second pick in 2006 and can be counted among the Top 10 receivers in all of football. Buffalo had two choices before Jennings was selected: Defensive back Donte Whitmer and defensive tackle John McCargo were their selections. McCargo was a reach and a total bust. Whitner is average at best. And in that same draft, the Packers selected a defensive starter, A.J. Hawk (although he has not lived up to his billing) and two starting offensive linemen, Daryl Colledge and Jason Spitz.
Having draft picks is one them. Utilizing them is something else. Maybe thatís what sets the Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers aside. They win with their own players. They donít look outside for much help. They draft, develop, and more often than not, come away with players who make a difference. What you canít control in any draft is what other teams do: What you can control is your own evaluations.
The Packers, under Thompson, have been exceptionally adept at this.
The Bills, under Buddy Nix now and previous administrations, have been attrocious.
The opportunity has been there for both teams. This hasnít been about salaries as much as decision making. The Pack made the right decisions, the right investments. Green Bay is a great place to play when youíre winning, but an awful place to play when youíre not. Buffalo is no different as the Jim Kellys and Thurman Thomases will tell you.
The emergence of two players from Sundayís Super Bowl are just more notches on Thompsonís draft list. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson ó with the bad combination of small and white ó was two dropped passes away from being the MVP on Sunday. He had that large an impact on the end result. He was a second-round pick in what was considered a weak draft for receivers in 2008. The Bills also chose a wideout in the second round: James Hardy. And a defensive back in the first round, Leodis McKelvin. Neither of them players of any magnitude, although McKelvin can return kicks well when he holds onto the ball.
And at the most recent draft, the Bills picked 9th, the Packers chose 23rd. The Bills chose a running back, C.J. Spiller, who did next to nothing as a rookie. The Packers chose a giant offensive tackle, Bryan Bulaga, who played like a rookie at the beginning of the season and like an all-pro at the end. Bulaga is the kind of player you build a team around for a decade. Spiller? A complete guess at this point.