Friday, June 5, 2009

The Bills Biggest Backer

Here's a little more background on why Bills owner Ralph Wilson may have chosen Chris Berman to be his Pro Football Hall-of-Fame presenter in August.

This excerpt is from my 2007 book, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping and Gut-Wrenching Moments in Buffalo Bills History, which is still available on-line at or at your favorite book store. (Sorry for the shameless plug.)


On the desk at Chris Berman's office at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, you will find a piece of the Rich Stadium goal posts that came down after the Bills clinched the AFC East title in 1988. It was sent to him by several admiring fans who appreciate the manic, nickname-spouting sports anchor's undying loyalty to western New York's favorite team.

"It's been a hell of a ride," said Berman of his bond with the Bills. "It started back in the summer of '88. I was traveling from training camp to training camp, and when I showed up at Fredonia, I had this real good feeling about the team. The Bills had gone 7-8 the year before, and I just sensed that things were in place for them to take off. On SportsCenter, I started building them up, and they made me look good every week.

"I think the special relationship I've had with the Bills was due in part to my closeness in age to many of the players from their Super Bowl run. I was 33 at the time, and most of the key players on the Bills were in their mid-to-late twenties. It's like we grew up together."

Berman's admiration for the Bills actually began in his youth. He grew up in the New York City area in the 1950s and '60s, and although the Joe Namath-led Jets were his favorite team, he
developed a fondness for several other old American Football League clubs, including the Bills.

"They had a bruising defense and they always played Joe Willie tough," he said. "I respected them when they had Kemp and Fergy and the Juice and Chuck Knox and the Bermuda Triangle. And I respect them now."

His ESPN colleagues occasionally razz him, and viewers sometimes voice their displeasure, but Berman said most people are good sports about his Bills boosterism.

"People know that I'm never putting down their team," he said. "I just like talking about the Bills. And I think they deserved to be talked about prominently, given what they accomplished. I think history will look kindly on them."

Twice, Berman has been awarded the key to the city of Buffalo. Some zealots have even suggested his name be placed on the Ralph Wilson Stadium Wall of Fame, alongside Kelly, Kemp, and DeLamielleure.

"Even though I hope to be in this business another 25 years, I doubt I'll ever develop a bond with a team like I had with this one," he said of the Super Bowl Bills. "Some of it is just an age thing. I'm not going to be that close in age to a group of players again. It was just a special time for me as a journalist."

The sportscaster known as Boomer is one of several national celebrities who have pulled for
the Bills. The late Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press was a Buffalo native who never hid the fact he bled blue-and-red. Other Bills fans include Donald Trump, Supreme Court justice John Roberts, golfer Phil Mickelson, comic writer Nick Bakay, and rock stars Meat Loaf and Eddie Van Halen.

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