By Tim Graham
The first time Chan Gailey looked like a fired coach was in the moments after the Week 14 loss to the St. Louis Rams in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass and added a two-point conversion with 48 seconds left to beat the Bills 15-12. Gailey looked more haggard than usual, like a goner.
A bunch of those defeats, Scotty Bowman says, can destroy a coach and kill a team's morale. The NHL coaching legend, East Amherst resident and former Bills season-ticket holder recently shared with me his thoughts on their season.
What stuck out to Bowman most were the last-minute losses to the Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots and Rams in a seven-game span.
"When you lose at the end of a game, that really takes a lot out of a team," said Bowman, winner of 12 Stanley Cups as a head coach or executive. "People think, 'Well, they just lost a close one. That's a good sign.' The close losses are tougher on a team than when you get whipped."
Bowman, considered by some to be the greatest coach of all-time in any arena, is a master of sport psychology. And whether on the field, court or rink, many of the mind games are the same.
"It seems like you can bounce back from a whipping, and I don't know the reason for it," Bowman said. "But when you lose in the late stages, they're rough on your psyche. Your confidence goes down, and then all of a sudden you're scrambling.
"That's what I noticed. I think that's what happened to the Bills' season."
Bowman compared those defeats to a weeks-long NHL skid.
"It might be tougher in the NFL," Bowman said. "When you're looking at 16 games and lose a couple of tight games you could or should have won, to equate it to hockey, that would have to be like a 10-game losing streak. That takes a lot out of you."
Bowman is an NHL icon, but his passion for sports goes way beyond hockey. His sports memorabilia collection is museum-worthy.
He became a Bills season-ticket holder when he coached the Buffalo Sabres, but he kept them even after he went to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991.
Despite the Bills' dismal campaign, Bowman has become a fan of running back C.J. Spiller.
"I like to watch that guy play," said Bowman, who added he's fascinated by the Russell Wilson storyline.
Imagine what a lift Wilson might've brought to Buffalo's sagging hopefulness.