Buffalo is miserable. The folks at Forbes recently said as much, ranking the post-industrial city at No. 4 among its recent "miserable sports cities" list. The lack of a Super Bowl victory in four attempts for the Bills, along with the Sabres' lack of a Stanley Cup, cemented Buffalo's place among the disgruntled, and rightly so. Buffalo and misery sound like fine bedfellows to me.
But Buffalo's anguish cannot be contained to mere Super Bowl losses. After all, this is the franchise that has gone the longest without a playoff appearance. Every other team in the league has at least one postseason game under its belt since the turn of the millennium except for the Bills. Just to give you some perspective, the following was true in 1999, the last time the Bills managed a double-digit win total:
- Bill Clinton was President of the United States.
- Barack Obama still had a half-decade of service left as an state senator in Illinois.
- M. Night Shyamalan was a promising new director with a mega-hit "The Sixth Sense" in theaters.
- Backstreet Boys, Lauryn Hill and The Dixie Chicks were nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards.
- The Euro was introduced.
Every offseason, several franchises give their fans reasons for hope as they introduce a new head coach and/or new quarterback to take the reins. With new leadership comes new expectations, and the Bills have been through this cycle several times in the last 15 years. It's an uninspiring list in hindsight, but at one point fans held out hope for Wade Phillips, Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey. Even Perry Fewell made a quick interim stop in 2009. Suffice it to say, Doug Marrone has his work cut out for him.
The same can be said of the Bills options at quarterback since 1999. Drew Bledsoe is the only real quarterback of note out of a bunch that also includes Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, Kelly Holcomb, J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards and, of course, four years of Ryan Fitzpatrick. It's not as if the Bills haven't tried to solve their quarterback dilemma. They traded a first-round choice to the Patriots for Bledsoe in 2003. They drafted Losman in 2004, and Edwards just three years later. It just never worked out.
That last phrase is what applies to most teams. For every team to win, another must lose, after all, so some teams will endure their share of frustrating seasons. The Bills, on the other hand, are beyond a stroke of bad luck. Instead, this is a franchise built on one disastrous choice after another. Personnel decisions have backfired. Draft picks have failed to pan out. Free agent splashes have yielded little on-field results. No matter who is in charge, the story has been the same for far too long.
Yet now the Bills are asking fans to believe once again. Marrone is the new man in charge, a first-time NFL head coach with years of experience with the Saints and Jets and, more recently, as Syrause's head coach. To complete the remake, the Bills have also wiped the slate clean at quarterback with their first-round investment in Florida State product E.J. Manuel.
On the surface, Manuel gives Bills fans a reason to tune in once again. At 6'5, 240 pounds, he possesses ideal size and athleticism, and he finished his collegiate career as the most accurate quarterback in Seminole history (67 percent completion rate). The results have been spectacular so far in the NFL preseason, as Manuel has only missed on six passes, completing 27-of-33 attempts with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. While it's too early to tell, Manuel could quickly become the Bills' best quarterback option in the last decade.
Unfortunately, the positive news didn't last long. This weekend, Manuel underwent a "minor" knee surgery that will keep him out for the rest of the preseason. That means Kevin Kolb takes the reins as the starter, according to Marrone, which doesn't bode well for the Bills since they open the regular season against the Patriots.
Can a first-time head coach and a now-injured rookie quarterback lead the Bills to the postseason for the first time since 1999? It might not seem likely. However, a quick survey of the AFC East shows that this might be the right time to sneak up on opponents. The Jets are an absolute mess of an organization at this point and things will likely get worse before they get better. The Patriots have had the worst offseason of any team after the Aaron Hernandez tragedy and the loss of several key players. The Dolphins spent big this offseason, but going the Dan Snyder route hasn't even worked for Dan Snyder.
After 13 consecutive years of a losing team, Bills fans should be wary to get on board with yet another head coach promising better days ahead. Yet if the team were going to start to win with any combination, Marrone's aggressive schemes and Manuel's natural talent are the likeliest candidates to turn things around in 2013. While the playoffs might remain elusive for another season, they'll likely come closer than they have in some time.