Aaron Maybin represents a problem much larger than the failure of a single football player that he appeared doomed from the start.
Perhaps that’s unfair but, considering he made a good deal of money by doing relatively little, you could say he’s got this coming to him.
Then again, there were plenty of fans that hated him from the start. The one-year wonder at Penn State didn’t get the best report card from even Nittany Lions fans on his way out, and plenty of fans had other names in mind with that pick.
I distinctly remember frantic text messages from Rich just before Maybin was drafted. I was in Toronto and got in front of a television just before the Kaiser got to the podium. Relaying the bad news put a lot of curse words on Bills’ fans tongues. Considering all the other names that went afterwards, the emotion of that day feels justified.
Watch SportsCenter today and try to keep from dry heaving at the sight of Clay Matthews blowing up your local Dick’s Sporting Goods. You don’t need me to rehash the story. It didn’t work out well for the Bills.
The basic problem, actually, is that this story isn’t new. Donte Whitner, Mike Williams, Aaron Maybin; the failure attached to those names is enough to make you wonder if Marcel Dareus can really be The Real Deal. Early reports are good, but you just never know. Err on the side of caution, even if that means not having a good thought about your third overall pick until his first real sack come September. (Or October… November… December…)
All this disappointment in the draft makes you wonder if it’s hidden somewhere deep in the culture of the team, makes you wonder if it’s inevitable. Some players simply aren’t good enough to make it, but what about the rest of the talent pool?
Between the elite and the unworthy is a middle ground ripe for the Nature vs. Nurture debate, and I think that’s something worth considering with a decade of failure behind you. Can one draft change the very culture of a team? Can he succeed in spite of it?
The answer, of course, is impossible to know for sure. We lack the ability to execute the multiverse theory. We can’t put Maybin on all 32 teams in his rookie season and test the billions of possible outcomes. Maybin’s failure, therefore, is also the Bills’ failure; something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The same goes for Michael Vick, which is one of the more interesting possibilities we’ll never get to see. Vick is an incredibly polarizing figure and a fascinating study, but we’ll never really know how things would have worked out under center with the Bills.
And that’s fine. (You know, sort of.) There are thousands of reasons Vick would be a tire fire as a Bill, none of which anyone would particularly enjoy playing out in this universe. It was a high risk move the team didn’t have (and didn’t necessarily want) to make. So be it.
The more alarming reality is the vulcanized inferno the team keeps setting with its draft picks. Where Whitner was a letdown, Aaron Maybin was an outright disaster from the start. He was unfit to even be on the field, much less be productive. That kind of misfire is less an embarrassing than it is a tragedy on a team desperate for talent at any position.
Maybin and Vick are two very different scenarios, but fan reaction to each story is significant because both play into the argument that the team, the situation, matters more than the player. Curses aren’t real, but perception is. The mere belief that a team is fundamentally broken stretches droughts into decades and rumor into fact.
When players, fans and league officials think a franchise is broken, doesn’t it have to be?
What Maybin can accomplish with the Jets is unclear, but it will be a good substitute for the unavailable alternate dimension in which Mr. Mayhem doesn’t come to Buffalo. Bills fans dread his departure coming back to haunt them, a terrible thought to consider even for a moment. How dangerous, you have to wonder, is mere kindling?
Then again, there is a fire in Pennsylvania that’s been burning since 1962. Success is anything but inevitable, but there are plenty of ways to guarantee failure. The Bills have the machinery in place to chuck combustible potential down the mine shaft and out of the league in a few years’ time.
How much longer does this team feed its own blaze?