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Browns and Bills share a rich history and a hollow present

Sep 19, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Misery loves company: To get from the press box in Ralph Wilson Stadium to the locker rooms, reporters have to snake through the crowd inside the stadium and outside. The five-minute walk after a game gives one a pretty fair sampling of the temperature of Bills fans.

I’ll never forget making this walk after the Browns outlasted the Bills, 6-3, on Oct. 11, 2009.

Eric Mangini may remember it as his first victory as Browns coach. I’m pretty sure it was the worst game I’ve ever reported on. I am not exaggerating.

That was the day Browns quarterback Derek Anderson completed 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards. His passer rating was 15.1. And he was the winning quarterback.

Dick Jauron, Browns defensive coordinator, was the Bills head coach. I am quite sure it was not a highlight in his distinguished NFL career.

The Buffalo faithful is an older crowd, much like the fan base in Green Bay. More than 70,000 attended that game. As I walked to the locker room, Bills fans were disgusted, angry and shaken – but not venomous or profane. I was taken by that.

I remember thinking that these good people deserve better. Western New York, like Northeast Ohio, does not have a thriving economy. Yet the fans support their Bills through thick and thin.

I felt like telling those fans that day: “I feel your pain. We’re in the same boat.”

Friendly foes: The Bills have always been a part of my history as a chronicler of the Browns.

In the 1980s, the Browns held a yearly summer scrimmage against the Bills at Edinboro (Pa.) College off I-90 – now Edinboro University. In the summer of 1985, a Buffalo rookie named Bruce Smith made his presence felt in those joint practices and knocked Browns rookie quarterback Bernie Kosar to the ground. Smith had a Hall of Fame career.

I remember a 1989 summer scrimmage in which new Browns coach Bud Carson – the late, great Bud Carson – was upset with Marv Levy’s blitzing antics. Bud was of the opinion that blitzing was not an option. “I’ll remember that,” Carson said that day.

Bud would have the last laugh months later when his Browns beat the Bills in the teams’ only playoff meeting, 34-30. That was the game in which Levy went to a no-huddle offense out of necessity the entire second half. Levy would refine it at his next training camp, name it the Red Gun, and ride it to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

In the expansion era, the Browns had a few scrimmages at the Bills’ summer camp at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. There is a large Browns Backers club in Rochester that came out in full force for those practices. The passion of the fans in attendance at those sessions was amazing.

The here and now: What NFL franchise has a longer post-season drought than the Browns? The Bills. They haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. Even the Browns – just four years old from expansion – eked into the post-season field in 2002.

The Bills were the opponent in probably the most memorable game I’ve covered in the Browns’ expansion era – an absolute classic, 8-0 Browns win in a horizontal blizzard on Dec. 16, 2007. (Good lord, Jauron was the Bills’ coach on that day, also.)

Both of Phil Dawson’s field goals were aimed outside the goalposts – one to the right and one to the left – because the wind was so fierce on that day. The Browns scored a safety when a Buffalo long snap sailed over punter Brian Moorman’s head and out of the end zone.

The Bills come to Cleveland on Sunday with a sense of optimism. They had one of the most exciting offseasons in their history, highlighted by the signing of free agent defensive end Mario Williams for $50 million guaranteed and potentially  $100 million over six years. That commitment, and Williams’ acceptance of it without visiting another team, was seen as a vote of confidence for the Bills’ future in the Buffalo market.

There are a lot of Bills fans nervous about the prospect of the team being sold and moved in the event of owner Ralph Wilson’s passing. Wilson, 93, is recovering at home after a recent hospitalization because of an infection. The team’s lease is up in July of 2013. Negotiatons with the state of New York are ongoing.

The Browns have been sold to Jimmy Haslam of Knoxville, Tenn.

I think the Browns and Bills will rise again. Maybe some day they will scrimmage again, too.

rns for the rematch with the Bengals on Oct. 14. By then, will it matter?Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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