On the surface, it’s a brilliant move on a multitude of levels. For starters, by bringing in Terrell Owens, you get a premium go-to receiver who has posted 3,587 yards and caught a league-high 38 touchdowns over the past three seasons. The fact that his $6 million contract is valid for only one year means you have insurance against his advanced age (36 in December) and notorious contemptuousness.
Owens will attract enough coverage to allow superstar Lee Evans to, you know, actually to be a superstar. Owens’s presence will also unclog the throwing lanes of developing third-year quarterback Trent Edwards. And don’t think that Buffalo’s rushing attack––which has ranked a middling 15th, 14th, 27th and 20th going back the last four years––won’t be buttressed by facing fewer eight-man fronts.
Greater, however, is Owens’ impact on this franchise off the field. Let’s face it: the Buffalo Bills are a portrait of mediocrity. They’ve missed the playoffs for a franchise-record nine consecutive years. They’ve posted a 7-9 mark each of Dick Jauron’s three seasons as head coach. If apathy is said to be the opposite of love, then mediocrity, one could argue, is the foil of excellence. If you’re a small-market franchise that can’t promote excellence, how do you stay above water?
The first 48 hours after T.O.’s arrival, the financially-strapped Bills––the NFL’s only franchise to ever outsource some of its home games––saw 10,000 season ticket renewals, putting them within range of their franchise-record 57,132 set back in 1992. Number 81 jersey sales were white hot. National talk shows spotlighted Buffalo, and the NFL selected the Bills to play in the featured Monday Night Season Opener at New England.
The buzz from Owens’s arrival––augmented by the VHI reality show film crew following his every step, and the key to the city that Buffalo mayor Byron Brown presented him––also drowned out the groans that were accumulating over owner Ralph Wilson Jr.’s decision to extend Jauron’s contract last December. (The soft-spoken, almost prosaic Jauron is on the payroll through 2011.)
But try, for a moment, to tune out the T.O. mania. Go beneath the surface. What do you see? A franchise still fighting the same financial demons that have hounded it over the years. After all, the Owens addition sparked an aberrational lightning rod of wealth––like a Florida house flipped in the early 2000s, or shares of Microsoft stock in the late 80’s. In pro football, most $6 million investments don’t instantly generate such a handsome return. The fact of the matter is, Buffalo’s money, overall, is tight. The poor economy, and uncertainty with the league’s CBA negotiations don’t help.
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