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Michaels talks 2 for LA

NFL power brokers like Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made it clear that having two teams in Los Angeles would be an ideal scenario for the league. If a billion-dollar stadium ever gets built, why not make full use of it, as the league does in New York?

NBC broadcaster and L.A. resident Al Michaels reiterated that thinking in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. Said Michaels, who recently accompanied Kraft on a trip to Israel: "There's no question in my mind that if a stadium gets built, they'll start with one team but get another team. The league may not come out and say this overtly, but where would you rather play a Super Bowl than Los Angeles? It's a great sports town, it's always been a great sports town. People denigrate it because people leave a Dodger game early. Does that mean you're not a great sports fan?"

More Michaels from the Times on L.A.'s reputation as a blase sports town: “It's a great sports town. What really bothers me is that when I see it written that L.A. won't support professional football because everybody is off surfing. So let me get this straight: In Southern California there's like 15 million people or something, and they're all out surfing, on a Sunday? When they say you won't have enough support, I say excuse me, so you can't sell 75,000 tickets on a Sunday? Of course you can."

---Mark Gaughan

Sestak, Saban on Hall of Very Good list

The Professional Football Researchers Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to the history of pro football. Membership is open to any fan of the game. It has been in existence since 1979. Since 2003, it annually has "enshrined" a group of players into the Hall of Very Good, which seeks to honor outstanding players and coaches who are not in the Hall of Fame and are not likely to ever make it. The PFRA does not promote any of the electees for the Hall of Fame nor does it view the Hall of Very Good as a springboard for the Hall of Fame. It simply recognizes there are many players and coaches who had great careers who deserve to be recognized.

No Bills player has been "elected" to the HoVG in the eight years since it began. However, Bills great defensive tackle Tom Sestak and Bills coaching great Lou Saban are on the list of 20 candidates for this year's selections.

Sestak was a Hall of Fame talent and was the best player on the Bills' dominant defensive cast in their AFL championship seasons. However, the fact his career lasted only 1962 to '68 has prevented him from getting Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration. He had five great seasons. His last two years were hindered some by bad knees and he retired at age 32. Sestak made the 24-man AFL team of the decade.

Saban compiled a record of 95-99-7 over 16 years as a coach in the AFL and NFL. He was 68-45-4 in nine years with the Bills, from '62 through '65 and '72 through the middle of the '76 season. He won the AFL title in Buffalo in '64 and '65.

The other nominees for the HOVG are: Ken Anderson, QB, Bengals (71-86); Bill Bergey, LB, Bengals-Eagles (69-80); Cliff Branch, WR, Raiders (72-85); Bill Bray, G, Bears-Packers (39-52); Charley Brock, C-HB, Packers (39-47); Bobby Dillon, DB, Packers (52-59); Ken Gray, G, Cards-Oilers (58-70); Cliff Harris, FS, Cowboys (70-79); Harold Jackson, WR, Rams-Eagles-Others (68-83); George Kunz, T, Falcons-Colts (69-80); Paul Lowe, HB, Chargers-Chiefs (60-69); Harvey Martin, DE, Cowboys (73-83); Eddie Meador, DB, Rams (59-70); Lydell Mitchell, RB, Colts-Chargers (72-80); Ted Nesser, T-C, Columbus (20-21); Andy Russell, LB, Steelers (63-76); Jerry Smith, TE, Redskins (65-77); Buddy Young, HB-DB, Yankees-Texans-Colts (47-55).

PFRA members vote. In my opinion, Sestak is a clear-cut choice for the top 10 of the above list. A nominee must get 60 percent of the votes to get in, and there's a minimum and maximum class size. The Class of 2011 will be announced by the end of the year. For more info on the organization go to

---Mark Gaughan



Merriman d. Laettner, con't

Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman has won several new rounds in a court battle with Western New York basketball great Christian Laettner, the former NBA star. Laettner and a former teammate and business partner, Brian Davis, failed to repay Merriman a $3 million loan he had given them for various investments. A court ordered in January that the two former basketball players should pay Merriman a judgment of nearly $4 million.

On May 16, a federal judge in Maryland threatened to hold Laettner and Davis in contempt for their failure to make the transfers ordered in the judgment. Federal district judge Roger Titus told counsel for Laettner and Davis: “At some point the patience of a federal judge is going to be exhausted and your clients going to be standing in front of me being ordered to show cause they shouldn’t be put in jail.” The judge ordered Laettner and Davis to make the transfer by June 16 or risk contempt and other sanctions.  Additionally, the Judge ordered Laettner and Davis to pay $420,000 in legal fees to Merriman. In a related ruling on May 31, a federal magistrate ordered Laettner to appear by June 24 for a deposition by Merriman and to reimburse Merriman’s counsel for fees associated with Laettner’s failure to appear for a previously scheduled deposition.
Marc Kasowitz, Merriman’s lawyer, said, “We are pleased that the federal court continues to vindicate Shawne Merriman’s rights. Mr. Merriman will pursue Laettner and Davis until his judgment is satisfied in full.”

---Mark Gaughan

Expect more LA franchise talk

Expect more news items and discussion about possible NFL teams as targets for Los Angeles in the coming seven weeks. The leaders of the effort to build a new Southern California stadium want the Los Angeles city council to approve the issuing of $350 million in municipal bonds to help get the project going by July 31. That was the crux of last week's announcement by Tim Leiweke, chief executive of AEG (one of the world's leading sports and entertainment companies) that five teams had been contacted about a move to L.A. The Bills were not one of the five mentioned, because owner Ralph Wilson isn't selling. If he died before another team committed to L.A., the Bills would jump to the top of the list. AEG likely will want to step up the pressure on the council to get an agreement in place. AEG wants the council to act before it spends $45 million on an environmental study on the proposed stadium site, which is near the Staples Center. Can L.A. get its act together in order to aggressively woo an NFL team? That's a question that has been asked year after year since 1995, the year the Raiders and Rams both bolted the city. With the NFL due to strike a new labor deal, this would be an opportune time for L.A. to get its pro football act together.

---Mark Gaughan 

Fieldhouse gets new name

The Buffalo Bills' Fieldhouse has a new name, thanks to a sponsorship deal between the team and BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. The Bills will call the big barn "The Bills Healthy Zone."

In addition to new signage on the side of the building, the Bills' administrative offices will also have main entry signage with the new name: “The Bills Healthy Zone." The Bills and BlueCross BlueShield have been partners since 1998.

This evening and for the rest of the week the facility is hosting a high school development camp for high school football players who will be sophomores, juniors and seniors in the fall.

---Mark Gaughan

Smerlas' praise for Talley

Former Bills great Fred Smerlas had high praise for former teammate Darryl Talley on Monday. Asked about Talley's induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, Smerlas said: "Talley was one of the greatest guys I ever played with. We both hated (former Bills head coach) Hank Bullough equally, and that was what drove him out. The dumbest human being ever. We called him the brain cell. … But anyway, what you see externally is not exactly what he is. Talley was a brilliant football guy. He told Bruce (Smith) what to do all the time, and Bruce is a very smart guy.  Football-wise, Talley was as tough as there is, as smart as there is, an unbelievable teammate. He never got the credit. He was one of the great players of all time, a brilliant football guy."

Smerlas was a Bills team leader during the 1987 players strike. He says the players are going to have to make some concessions to the owners to end the current labor standoff.

Said Smerlas: “The owners want sovereignty. … Right now the split they have is not working for them. They’re bound and determined to get some of that back. It could be a long time. I think with the amount of money and the amount of people that get affected, there’s gonna be pressure. The government can put pressure on the NFL because the CBA gives them an exemption from anti-trust laws. Federal officials can say, ‘Listen, you want your exemption? Work it out.’ There’s going to be some give-backs by the NFLPA.”

---Mark Gaughan 

Wannstedt makes most of time

New Bills assistant head coach Dave Wannstedt would rather be coaching players in minicamp right now, but he admits he has benefitted some from the delay in the start of the NFL year due to the lockout.

"We’ve had a good offseason from a standpoint we have a good plan," Wannstedt said today at the Jim Kelly Celebrity Golf Tournament. "We’ve already gone through the first four-five opponents and some preseason stuff. It’s been good for me. Being out of the NFL for six years, being in the college ranks, I’ve really taken advantage of this time to see what has changed. So I’ve been studying some of our opponents, some non-oppoents, just to see what different people are doing."

Wannstedt on the affect of losing spring practices on coaching staffs: "You’re going to really have to make up your mind what you’re going to spend your time on. That’s probably going to be the No. 1 thing. In the past, we’ve got the offseason, we can experiment with it, if we get to training camp and we don’t like it, we can get rid of it, we can juggle things around. There’s not going to be that luxury now. … I think early on you’re going to probably see teams - I don’t want to say conservative – but you can only do so much if you want to do it good, and I think that’s the key."

Wannstedt on Bills No. 1 draft chice Marcell Dareus: "When we’re in our 4-3 look or our under or over front, he can play a 3-technique. If we jump into the 3-4 he can play end. He’s done both. He’s played some nose guard. His defensive line coach was Sal Sunseri. Sal went to Pitt, was an All-American at Ptit. His son, Tino was my quarterback at Pitt. So I talked to Sal. Dareus is an impressive guy. You always try to make comparisons with guys. He’s got a very upbeat personality. The first time I met him, he came in and spent the weekend. We went to dinner, some of us coaches, and he reminded me a little bit of a guy I had in Miami, Cortez Kennedy. Cortez had that upbeat, bubbly, great personality off the field. But when you got on the field you had a difficult time blocking him."

Wannstedt also said he was encouraged by what he has seen on tape from young Bills D-linemen Torell Troup and Alex Carrington.

"We had that one day of open (contact) where I got a chance to talk to players," he said. "I met (Andra) Davis. I met Poz (Paul Posluszny). I met (Reggie) Torbor. I’m excited to meet these guys. I’ve just been watching them on film for four months. I think we have some good young players. Some guys who didn’t play much last year, particularly on defense. A couple of those young linemen I think have a chance to develop and be players. The one thing I would say in the short exposure I had to these kids, for the difficult year that we had last year. I was very impressed by the upbeat, positive attitude that this football team has right now."

---Mark Gaughan

Gronk undeterred by lockout

Even though the NFL lockout is into its fourth month, Amherst native Rob Gronkowski is very busy preparing as if there is going to be a season.

The New England Patriots tight end, who attended the 25th annual Jim Kelly Celebrity Golf Tournament at Terry Hills in Batavia, participated in a workout with about 40 teammates at Boston College last week. He has been training regularly with a few Patriots in New England and flying to Tuscon, Ariz., to workout with his former University of Arizona strength and conditioning coach and fellow Wildcats.

The strapping 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski looks very fit and is ready to build on a tremendous rookie season in which he became the first rookie tight end since the NFL-AFL merger with 10 touchdown catches.

For more on Gronkowski, ready Tuesday's Buffalo News.

---Allen Wilson 


Fina entering boot camp

Former Bills offensive tackle John Fina, one of the team's more quotable players during his tenure, is going to give the other side of the microphone a try. He is joining 15 other former NFL players at the league's fifth annual Broadcast Boot Camp from June 20-23 at the NFL Films headquarters in Mt. Laurel, N.J.

The camp teaches ex-players all aspects of the television and radio broadcasting industry. They will get work in tape study, editing, show preparation, radio production, field reporting, game preparation as well as get experience as studio and game analysts. They also will serve as live radio host on SiriusXM NFL Radio.

The instructors come from the NFL’s broadcast partners – CBS, ESPN, FOX, NBC, NFL Network, SiriusXM Radio and Westwood One Radio. Among the TV talent working with the players include James Brown (CBS, Showtime), Ron Jaworski (ESPN) and Mike Mayock (NFL Network).

Other former Bills scheduled to attend the boot camp are safeties Nick Ferguson and Dustin Fox.

Of the 90 players that have participated in the boot camps, 36 have landed broadcasting jobs after their careers were over.

---Allen Wilson

Kelly on mend, hosts record turnout

Bills Hall of Famer Jim Kelly served as host to his 25th annual Celebrity Golf Tournament this morning at Batavia's Terry Hills Golf Course. A total of 60 fivesomes (each including a celebrity) jammed the 27-hole course in what Kelly called a record turnout for the event.

The event benefits the Kelly for Kids Foundation and the Hunter's Hope Foundation.

Kelly was walking around fine but was not swinging any golf clubs becuase he's recovering from major back surgery three weeks ago. Kelly said he had two discs replaced in his lower back and a metal plate inserted. Bills orthopedist Dr. Andrew Cappuccino did the surgery.

"It got to a point where I couldn’t even play basketball with my daughter anymore," Kelly said. "When I got up in the morning, it took me 15, 20 minutes to even get loose. I couldn’t put socks on anymore. That’s not a way to live. From hits, twisting the body, a little bit of everything. It’s just been getting worse and worse and worse. I couldn’t handle the pain anymore."

"Once he got in there, there was a lot more damage than he thought there was going to be, so he wound up having to put a metal plate in," Kelly said. "He had to go through my side, so I have two nice scars there that just add to the other scars I have on my body."

The tournament and auction raises a couple hundred thousand dollars annually for Kelly's two charities. Golfers get to bid on the celebrity they want to play with the night before the tournament. This year ESPN's Chris Berman received the highest bid; drawing $10,000 from a foursome that got to play with him today. Many of the Bills from the Kelly era attended, as well as Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Freeman, Rob Gronkowski and other athletes and actors.

The Hunter's Hope Foundation continues to fight for increases in the number of diseases that are part of standard newborn screening in every state. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention recently cited advancements in newborn screening among the 10 great public health achievements in the United States from 2001-2010. New York screens newborns for 54 diseases; it screened for just 11 when Kelly's son, Hunter, was born in 1997.

The American College of Medical Genetics currently recommends screening for 55 diseases, which are broken into core and secondary panels. According to the CDC’s statement, “In 2003, all but four states were screening for only six of these disorders,” which include both metabolic and other heritable disorders. The CDC went on to note “by April 2011, all states reported screening for at least 26 disorders on an expanded and standardized uniform panel.”

But, Kelly said, the fight to increase screening continues. "We have states that are at 60 and we have some states still at 30. It's hard to understand why it's taking so long. But we continue to try to get it as high as we can."

---Mark Gaughan

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