Bills Thunder

The Great Quarterback debate rages on

By Rick Anderson

The Presidential election is just a week away. You wouldn't know it by the talk on the streets of Buffalo or listen to the local radio stations. All the buzz centers around who should start at quarterback for the Bills once Rob Johnson heals from his shoulder injury. With the nation in the middle of an energy crisis and a possible war breaking out in the Middle East, everyone is talking Flutie vs. Johnson in Western New York and Southern Ontario. WGR Sports Radio 55 is going so far as to distribute free campaign posters for people to put on their front lawns supporting their favorite candidate .... for starting Bills QB.

Doug Flutie came in for the injured Rob Johnson and engineered the winning field goal drive to beat the Chargers in overtime. Now he has positioned himself in his last two starts to be the Bills No. 1 QB for the rest of the season.
[AP Photo/Mike Groll]

It all started after the regular season game last year when the Bills blew out the Indianapolis Colts. Rob Johnson played an outstanding game against the Colts when he completed 24 out of 32 for 287 yards and tossed two touchdown passes. After that game, Bills coach Wade Phillips made the gutsy call to play Johnson in the wildcard game against the Tennessee Titans. The Bills lost that game on a controversial "Home Run Throwback" when the Titans scored on a last second kickoff return which involved a lateral that Phillips claims to this day was a forward lateral. Johnson left the field with the Bills winning the game, but the team lost anyway because the special teams could not stop the runback.

In January, Doug Flutie told a Toronto newspaper that the Bills would have won if he had started. The controversy continued when Johnson also came back with some uncomplimentary remarks about Flutie not being someone pleasant to work with. Johnson started first six games this season and was constantly hammered behind the line of scrimmage. The Bills offensive line just didn't seem to be getting the job done as Johnson was sacked an average of 4-5 times a game. Then came the overtime game against the San Diego Chargers. Johnson was sacked as he released the ball and did not get up - a separated shoulder. Diagnosis - out for 4-6 weeks.

Doug Flutie to the rescue

Flutie seized the opportunity and ran with it. He directed the Bills to an overtime victory against the Chargers and then almost directed the Bills to an upset over the then undefeated Minnesota Vikings. Then, last Sunday, Flutie finally defeated his old nemesis - the Jets. He proved that he could throw the long bomb when he threw a 53-yard pass to Eric Moulds and he also avoided the sack in the two games he started, getting only hauled down twice. The balls were being batted down, but the interceptions were almost nil.

Rob Johnson fumbles the ball after being sacked by Colts defensive end Chad Bratzke.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Meanwhile, the decision to be made by Wade Phillips is getting closer and the Bills coach seems reluctant to make a choice. When pressed by the media, he becomes vague and evasive. He says "the quarterback controversy is media generated." To him, no controversy exists. This fans the fires of dissension even more.

A perfect example of Phillips sitting on the fence where it concerned a decision about who would be his starting quarterback once Johnson was healthy is this press conference that he had with the media Wednesday before the team practice.

When Phillips was asked by a reporter if Flutie would start this week, he chuckled and said, "Well, we'll see what happens. That's why we're going to practice and so forth. Just like Corey Moore, I don't know if he's not 100% ...I don't know if he's going to play this week. I can't tell with Rob either."

Phillips was asked about the chances of Johnson reinjuring the shoulder if he gets into the action too soon.

"I don't think there's a worry there," responded Phillips. "I think that once he's able to throw the football with his normal velocity, then he's well. At least that's what my understanding is."

The Bills head coach was asked if he could consider the possibility of Johnson starting this week if he felt awesome later in the week.

"I'm just going to see what happens today and see where we go from there. I don't foresee Rob being ready to play today, but I don't know that until I get out there. Let's just wait and see what happens. I don't know if he's going to be healthy in the first place. I can't answer that question because I don't know if he's ..... it's the coulda, woulda, shoulda. We'll see where he is and we'll go from there. I just deal with the guys I have and what they can do."

ESPN came to Buffalo on Wednesday to do a special about the huge Flutie/Johnson controversy. They were to do interviews with fans and players alike and even show houses that had "Vote Flutie" or "Vote Johnson" signs on their front lawns.

Verbal War Erupts

On Friday, things really began to unravel in the volatile quarterback situation. Both Flutie and Johnson took to the media to fire verbal shots back and forth.

Sports Illustrated did an article about the quarterback controversy and an unnamed player(s) said some very uncomplimentary things about Johnson.

The article quoted the player as saying "He'd rather get pummeled by four guys than throw the ball away in order to help his quarterback rating."

"Rob seems distracted by things, like wanting everyone to like him."

Johnson came back strong Friday afternoon on the Jim Rome show saying that it was one person doing all the talking. He would not name the person, but said it was most likely the person who's picture was featured in the article. That person was Doug Flutie. Johnson says that he doesn't feel that any other player feels this way except for this one unnamed player.

"I think everyone who reads the article will pretty much know who it is," Johnson told Rome. "I think it's the same one that's pictured in the article (which just so happens to be Flutie)."

Johnson was asked by Rome if he confronted the player whom he suspects.

"We talked about it today," Johnson replied. "He said he talked about the quarterback rating stuff, but he never mentioned my name. Basically, that was it."

Rome asked if he thought Flutie was a good teammate?

"I'm sure he's a good teammate for the rest of the guys, and he's fine with them. Obviously, he's real competitive. He's reaching the end of his career. He probably wants to still play. I don't blame him for that. But if he was responsible for these comments, I would not consider him a good teammate."

"I'm 27 years old. Most of guys on our team are pretty young and we have a lot in common," Johnson said. "We hang out. I don't go out of my way to make friends or kiss anyone's butt. Everywhere I've been on teams, I've had a good relationship with the guys on the team and I have a lot in common with them."

Rome inquired if the controversy could split the team in two.

"I don't see it that way," Johnson replied. "I don't know though. I mean, I haven't talked to all the players. But I don't think many players in our locker room worry about quarterback rating or even worry about what our quarterback ratings are. It's absurd to think players worry about that or even quarterbacks worry about that when they are playing in a football game."

Johnson still takes a big exception to the remarks of the anonymous player.

"For someone to go anonymously and say those things is kind of, I don't know, cowardly," he said. "It's not typical of football players. . . . If a lot of guys feel that way, they should come to me and say it to my face," he said. "I'm a man. They're men, and I can take it. I'd rather hear about it from them than hear about it on the radio when I'm driving home, from an FM channel when I'm trying to listen to Limp Biskit."

Rome asked Johnson if the situation presented itself as if he were competing against Joe Montana.

"I wish it was Joe Montana, because at least he won some Super Bowls and won MVPs in the league," Johnson said." I wish that was the case. I think that would be an easier situation."

Who's paying attentinon to the Presidential election?

In most corners of this great country of ours, a raging debate goes on about George W. Bush vs. Al Gore for President. The future of the nation is in the hands of the voters. But it Buffalo, it seems as if the populace is saying "the Presidential race be damned." They're more interested in seeing who Phillips chooses as his quarterback to finish the season.

Even though the phenomenon of sports taking on more importance than politics is prevalent in Western New York right now, it is a common thread in America the past century. As Thomas Boswell, the famed Washington Post sports columnist, said in his book Game Day:

If you can't talk sports—national sports, local sports and even neighborhood sports—you may feel like a social outsider in many communities in this country. In fact, sports have become central to what remains of our American sense of community. In an age that is a political, religious, artistic and cultural kaleidoscope of relativist values, how can we feel united? What can we agree about? Or even discuss calmly, yet enthusiastically, with a sense of shared expertise and a glimpse of a shared ideal? Sports have never had so profound a hold upon people because they have never been so desperately needed.

Time is running short. The elections are to be held next week. The week after that, Wade Phillips has to elect the starting quarterback. Right now, both elections are toss ups.



Copyright © 2000 Bills Thunder & Rick Anderson, all rights reserved.


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