Let’s talk about this man.
It’s 2002, and the Buffalo Bills have the fourth pick in the NFL Draft. After a 3-13 season, the Bills are in need of some serious change. A top 5 pick can make an immediate impact, and Bills fans are excited. This “Fanatic” shaves a mohawk into his head, or maybe he always has a mohawk. In his hotel room, he paints a Bills helmet on his head and takes his personalized Bills jersey out of his suitcase.
He takes the train to Madison Square Garden because, despite the awful season, he’s still proud of his team. He’s proud that he and his Buffalo-headed friend made the trip to New York to see the future of the Bills happen right before their eyes. They want to show off their colors, and especially their sweet headgear.
Sure, the Bills haven’t made the playoffs in two seasons. It’s a blip on the radar of a decade-plus of success. Before this drought—if you can even call it that—they qualified for the postseason 10 out of 12 years. The 2001 season was awful. They beat Jacksonville, Carolina and the Jets. That’s it. It was a nightmare. Hell, even Chris Mohr left. But that Moorman kid looks pretty good, and something has to happen at quarterback. It’s going to be good.
The draft starts, and the Texans take David Carr. He knew that was going to happen anyway. One quarterback off the board. Probably the only good one, really. The Panthers take Julius Peppers, who looks like he’s going to be a monster. It’s okay. Lots of good players out there. The Bills are going to get someone good.
Detroit has the third pick. They’ve been hapless forever. Even with Barry Sanders, who is long gone. They take Joey Harrington, a quarterback out of Oregon. Not exactly quarterback factories for these guys, but okay. The Bills are on the clock now. Let’s make some noise.
The Bills take Mike Williams.
Let’s jump back into the present now. Feel free to bring 11 more years of failure and awful memories with you. Mike Williams. Let’s find the Wikipedia page for Mike Williams. Start with the disambiguation page. Well, he’s the first athlete on that list. That’s nice.
As a football fan, the problem with the NFL Draft is that getting excited about draft picks seems illogical. So little is known about each player’s probable outcome that it’s tough to even determine who did the right thing, let alone gauge how excited I should be about it. Even in hindsight it’s tough to say that anyone else drafted after Williams would have done better on the Bills. Each pick is the fork between an alternate universe you will never know and the reality you are stuck with.
When I think about draft failures I don’t think about the players. Those guys get big contracts and celebrity and the chance to do something few people can. Sure, there are victims of the sports system and sob stories to be told, but on draft day I don’t worry about athletes stuck in the green room waiting for their signing bonuses. I think about the fans wearing ridiculous outfits who must decide in an instant whether they love or hate what their team just did.
I think about Jets fans screaming about instant busts. I think about instant reactions on Twitter that I may or may not regret in a few years’ time. I wonder what the guy with a Bills helmet painted on his head thought about Mike Williams when the Bills drafted him. I’m sure he cheered. He was big and the Bills needed to fix the offensive line. It made sense at the time.
In the second round the Bills drafted Josh Reed. In the third, they got Ryan Denney. They also got Coy Wire in the third round, who would be a mainstay at your local Walmart on the front of a Coca Cola vending machine. You probably have a bobblehead of him in your basement somewhere. It felt like a good day for Bills football.
A good two days. The next day, the Bills traded for Drew Bledsoe. If you don’t remember the excitement, here’s the last two graphs of that SI article about the trade.
Even before the deal was announced, the Bills opened their box office to accommodate fans who heard the trade was imminent. Buffalo, which failed to sell out four of its eight home games last season, drew 504,709 fans last year, the lowest since 1987.
“Just the hint of Drew Bledsoe would get anybody down here,” said Patrick Cimicato, after purchasing a pair of season tickets at the stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. “As expensive as it is for a game here, Drew Bledsoe is the main reason I came down here. … I was jumping around in the car.”
As you know, that all worked out really well. Two years into the playoff drought, Bills fans were hoping the draft was the place to start the turnaround. Eleven years later, we’re all still just hoping.