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Kelly praises Fitz

Jim Kelly said Friday night he was all for the decision to stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback this season.

Said Kelly: "I totally agree with sticking with Fitzpatrick. As a matter of fact I've been with him for the last two-three weeks and have been so impressed with the knowledge he has of the offense, how he goes about it. I've been with him because my nephew Chad's been working out with him also and just watching how he communicates with the receivers and how they listen to every single word that comes out of his mouth. Whether it's Lee Evans or whoever it may be, if there's something he didn't like he'll tell them and vice versa. ... Just watching how they work together is something I like and brought back memories to when we went on strike (in 1987). I remember going to UB and having our practices. ... The receivers and quarterbacks need that timing."

Kelly, meanwhile, laughed at concerns that Buffalo could be a target for Los Angeles investors who want to bring a team to that city. "That's good; that's funny right there," Kelly said. "Whether it's Jacksonville, whoever the team is, Buffalo, there's probably five or six, I think, other teams L.A.'s gonna try to lure to go there. Buffalo won't be one of them."

---Mark Gaughan

New uni features

Besides the return to royal blue as the team's primary color and a switch from red to white helmets, here are some of the other new features on the uniforms: The charging buffalo is above the name on the back of the jersey. The “Bills” wordmark is on the front of the jersey, above the number. (Arizona and Minnesota are the only other teams with their name logo on that spot.) The facemask is gray, not white. The red stripe on the helmet (between two blue stripes) widens as it goes to the back of the helmet, similar to the way the streak on the side of the charging buffalo widens. The buffalo logo is on the side of the pants. The stripes on the side of the sleeves are sort of a combination of the ‘60s and ‘70s styles. On the road jersey, there are two royal blue stripes, bordered by thin navy and red stripes. The road jerseys have royal blue numbers, with red then navy bordering.

Said Bills great Steve Tasker: "They’re a little bit of a modernized, tricked-out version of what we had when I played. When you put the helmet on top of it, it really jumps out. I love it. I think it looks great. From the top down to the black and white or the black and red shoes, the detail of the navy blue outlining the numbers on the jerseys and the charging buffalo and the back of the jersey and pants it’s really good. A lot of detail when into it and it looks great."

Said Hall of Famer Jim Kelly: "The uniforms remind me of back when we played which is a big plus. But what I like more than anything is the helmet. The white and how the charging buffalo charges, even though the tradition back in the 1960s was the standing buffalo, I’m all for going forward. The charging buffalo and aggressiveness stands out more on the white helmet, so that’s pretty cool. I like it."

---Mark Gaughan

Fans the impetus for new Unis

Why are the Bills changing their uniforms? Obviously they want to make some money on merchandise sales. But Bills Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon said feedback from fans made it clear to team officials that the current uniforms, used since 2002, were not popular enough.

"We take a lot of feedback from our fans and fan forums and focus groups," Brandon said. "One of the things we heard loud and clear over the last few years is that fans did not really care for our previous uniforms. We felt the uniform served us well over the past decade. But we felt it was time to make a change."

Brandon said 17,000 tickets have been distributed so far for the uniform unveiling Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Gates open at 5:45 p.m. The program starts at 6:30 and the uniforms will be brought out about 7:15 p.m.

Brandon also said the team will not wear its throwback, 1960s-style uniforms for any games in 2011. The new uniforms will be worn for all home and road games.

---Mark Gaughan


Decision on camp could wait

The Buffalo Bills are not bumping up against a deadline - yet anyway - on whether they can conduct training camp at St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester.

The Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday announced they will not take their camp to McDaniel College, as planned, due to the uncertainty over the NFL's labor talks with players. The Ravens will stay at their team facility instead.

Labor negotiations are showing some signs of promise after owners meetings this week in Chicago and with more talks between players and management scheduled for next week. Bills training camps is expected to open about July 28. Teams no doubt would like to have an agreement in place by July 7 to 10 in order to prepare for a normal start to camp. However, St. John Fisher could get ready for the Bills on relatively short notice. So the Bills probably can wait a little deeper into July than some teams before making a decision on whether to cancel camp or not.

"Fisher has been a great partner," said Russ Brandon, Bills chief executive officer. "I’ve been keeping President (Donald) Bain briefed. We’re in full prep mode to go to training camp at St. John Fisher College. One of the factors that assists us is the cooperation from the senior staff at Fisher and the campus to allow us that flexibility to come to camp."

Brandon would not offer much on the progress of labor talks. "There’s a mandate to not speak on it and I won’t," he said. "The only thing that I’ll offer is any time there is dialog and communication between the principles it’s got to be viewed as positive and I’ll leave it at that."

---Mark Gaughan


Brandon touts regionalism

Bills Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon spoke to reporters today about the team's uniform unveiling tomorrow. In addition, he was asked about how he thinks the small-market teams will fare in the collective-bargaining talks between NFL players and owners. Brandon would not speak directly on the talks, but he expressed confidence in the team's continuing efforts to regionalize the franchise.

"I know that we focus on the here and now here in Buffalo," Brandon said. "When you look at it from our standpoint, we’re always looking to do everything in our power to keep this team viable and as you’ve heard many times from me regionalization, regionalization and regionalization. Ten years ago when we went off to Rochester that was step one in the plan and a few years ago when we went north to Toronto that was another step in our process. When you look at our region of totality it’s a very large market and we’re looking to bring fans back to Ralph Wilson Stadium. It’s been a very successful venture for us and we’re going to continue that process moving forward."

On keeping the team viable in Buffalo, Brandon said: "I think the response is we just focus here and we focus now on everything that we can control and that’s keeping this building full, keeping all of our business platforms full. We’re a volume business. We’re a very affordable business as you know here with our ticket prices and that’s what we focus on. My job and everyone’s job in this organization is to focus on this organization and our fans and that’s really what we do on a day-in and day-out basis."

Brandon was in Chicago this week for the briefing meeting held for owners on the labor talks with the players.

On the long-term economic viability in Buffalo, Brandon said: "We think that’s been a big part of it for us. Obviously in Rochester when we went to training camp there they play a very large role. On any given Sunday there’s 14 or 15 percent of the fans in Ralph Wilson Stadium from Monroe County. And when you look at what’s happened in Toronto, we’ve had a 44 percent increase in season-ticket holders from the Southern Ontario marketplace in just a few years. And again, on any given Sunday you’re looking at 15 to 16 percent of our fans from Southern Ontario. Regionalization works and it will be a linchpin to everything that we do from a business standpoint moving forward."\

---Mark Gaughan


No surprise for Bills in franchise rank

The Bills ranked 107th out of 122 major sports franchises in a ranking by ESPN the Magazine that came out today. It's no surprise for a franchise that has missed the playoffs 11 straight years. The Sabres ranked 11th out of 122, which is somewhat of a surprise. The exercise, of course, is a way to create some news in one of the slowest times on the sports calendar. Green Bay ranked No. 1, followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Orleans Saints, L.A. Angels, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Pittsburgh Steelers, Colorado Rockies, Memphis Grizzlies and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Lightning and Thunder over the Steelers, Yankees and Red Sox??? Whatever. Magazines must be sold. And blogs must be filled, as evidenced by this post.

The teams were ranked in eight categories. Breaking down the categories, here's where the Bills ranked: Ownership, 106th; Players, 108th, Bang for the Buck (how efficiently the team converts dollars from fans into on-field wins), 99th; Fan Relations, 106th; Stadium Experience, 106th; Affordability, 19th; Title Track, 109th; and Coaching, 94th. The breakdown for the Sabres: Ownership, 25th; Players, 49th; Bang for the Buck, 10th; Fan Relations, 18th; Stadium Experience, 52nd; Affordability, 6th; Title Track, 63rd; and Coaching, 12th. The NFL teams below the Bills were: Washington, 121; and Cincinnati, 122. The Toronto Maple Leafs were 120th.

---Mark Gaughan

Bills add scout for Midwest

Theo Young, an assistant coach at Baylor University, was hired by the Buffalo Bills as a college scout, the team announced.

Young's primary scouting region will include schools in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Young, 46, was defensive line coach at Baylor since 2008. He coached under Bills General Manager Buddy Nix at Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1992. He then moved to Clemson for a year and was at Rice from 1994-2005. He participated in the NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship program at Bills training camp in 1996. He has 21 years of college coaching experience. He played tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1987 and '88. Young's 12 seasons at Rice were on the staff of Ken Hatfield, who was one of the mentors in Chan Gailey's coaching career. Gailey worked for Hatfield at the Air Force Academy.

College scout Matt Hand has been reassigned to the West Coast and will be responsible for schools in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Hand takes over for Rashaan Curry, who was released after the draft. The Bills also announced the addition of Tim Atkins as a football operations assistant.  Pete Harris assumed a new title as scouting assistant.

---Mark Gaughan

Cookie for the WOF?

Cookie & GBSHOF vs. WOF

Late, great Bills star Cookie Gilchrist got an "official" place in Buffalo sports history Wednesday when he was honored as an inductee into the 2011 Class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. Gilchrist only played three years and 44 games in Buffalo - 1962 through 1964 - but he arguably was the Bills' first "superstar," and his presence on the Buffalo sports consciousness remains large and out of proportion to the short length of time he played here. That speaks to what a great player he was and the impact the first great Bills era had on Western New York sports fans.

So why did it take so long? It's complicated, and it requires an understanding of Cookie's career path to appreciate it. The short, oversimplified answer: Gilchrist was denied a chance to have a college football career and a shot at the NFL because of an unfortunate deal with Cleveland Browns legendary coach Paul Brown. Gilchrist singed a pro deal with the Browns out of high school; the NFL voided the deal; the door to the college ranks was thereby closed because Gilchrist had signed a pro contract; Brown tried to stash him in Canada; Cookie never got any money out of the proposition. Gilcrhist believed, with justification, that he had been used, and he spent the rest of his life being wary - if not somewhat paranoid - of being used for financial gain. So Gilchrist probably would not have showed up to accept an honor such as the Buffalo Sports Hall or the Wall of Fame.

Now he's going in, and Bills fans from the 1960s likley are very happy about it. Will a Wall-of-Fame induction follow? That's debatable. The rules for his candidacy are gray. When the wall was created in 1980, former Bills PR chief L. Budd Thalman decided a candidate must have played five seasons in Buffalo to qualify. The Bills' media guide says the requirement is three years. Regardless, Gilchrist has been discussed at length by the wall committee on several occasioins but has not had enough support to date to outrank other candidates.

Gilchrist and Ruben Brown, the other Bills inductee in the Buffalo sports hall class of 2011, make it 29 Bills in the GBSHOF. Phil Hansen is the 2011 Wall of Fame inductee. He will be the 27th WOF member.

Those in the GBSOF but not on the WOF are: Gilchrist, Brown, Butch Byrd, Steve Christie, Shane Conlan, Paul Maguire, Bill Polian and Lou Saban.

Those in the WOF but not the GBSOF are: Hansen, Robert James, Bob Kalsu, Pat McGroeder, Jim Ritcher and "the 12th Man."

---Mark Gaughan


WNYer running Hawaii raps NFL

The governor of Hawaii is a Western New York native, and he’s taking a pro-taxpayer stand against a subsidy for the NFL. The Hawaii Tourism Authority is paying the NFL $4 million a year for 2011 and 2012 to bring the Pro Bowl to Honolulu. The governor, Neil Abercrombie, says this is a waste of taxpayer money and the state should not kick in a subsidy to extend the deal for the all-star game. Abercrombie graduated from Williamsville High School in the 1950s then got a bachelor’s degree from Union College in Schenectady in 1959. The Transportation Authority says the Pro Bowl brings in $28 million in visitor spending, which netted $3 million in state taxes last year. The governor says the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Said Abercrombie last week: “You've got this spectacle of these multi-millionaires and billionaires out there arguing about how they're gonna divide it up and then they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to have a scrimmage out here in paradise. We've got to get our values straight and our priorities straight.”

Abercrombie likely would hold this view regardless of the lockout. But here's another case in which the NFL's labor standoff gives people more reason to look at the league with a more critical eye.

---Mark Gaughan 


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