By Bucky Gleason
Former Bills GM Bill Polian, back in town to speak at the UB Kickoff Luncheon, often feels as if he never left Buffalo even though he has been gone nearly 20 years. Polian still has many ties to the region and maintains several close relationships that were built when he was building the Bills.
"Jerry Glanville told me when I first came, 'If you stay in Buffalo for two seasons or more, you'll be a Bill for life,' " Polian said. "There are very few of us that ever come here that don't leave with a positive attitude and warm feeling. It truly is the City of Good Neighbors. This place is really unique. This is a very special place for anybody. You make friends easily and they stay friends for life."
Polian was the architect largely responsible for the Bills' four straight visits to the Super Bowl. He left after they lost the third one after his brash style grew old with Ralph Wilson, but the two have since mended their relationship.
Polian will be added to the Bills' Wall of Fame, an honor he said was "overwhelming." He has not considered whether he'll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He has a place in Canton, in my book.
Polian built the Bills into one of the more dominant and dynamic teams in the early 1990s. He helped expansion Carolina get their feet under them in short order and turned Indianapolis into an annual contender. Peyton Manning helped, obviously, but Polian built the pieces around him. Indy won 10 games or more 11 times in his past 13 seasons and won a Super Bowl.
He and his son Chris, who worked as general manager in Indy under him, were fired after the Colts suffered through a 2-14 season without Manning. Polian said he was stunned by the decision but had no hard feelings for the Colts, either. He figured he simply stayed there too long.
"It was just time," he said. "I did not reflect on it [in Buffalo] because it was the first time it happened to me, but Bill Walsh soon after that told me, 'Ten years in one place is about enough.' I reflected on that when the run came to the end with the Colts. There was a lot of wisdom in that. After a while, you wear out your welcome in professional sports."
Polian, now an analyst for ESPN, said it was a little strange not going to training camp after 35 straight seasons in the NFL. Asked for his analysis of the Bills, he likes their makeup.
"I'm really optimistic for them," Polian said. "They've made the commitment on defense. The combination of the players and Dave Wannstedt's system is perfect. I believe [Ryan Fitzpatrick] has the capacity to become a winning quarterback in the league. I felt that since I saw him at Harvard. I'm a Fitz fan. Their running game is sound.
"Chan [Gailey] really knows football. Buddy [Nix] really knows football. They're moving in the right direction. You don't want to get too high because injuries and things like that can happen. They're untested in the playoffs, which is always a factor. It's small steps and it doesn't happen overnight, but they're certainly headed in the right direction."