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Marv on Ralph: "He wanted to show you he knew the game"

Marv Levy spoke with me this afternoon from Chicago about the passing of Bills owner Ralph Wilson. Here are the high points:

"I'm deeply saddened. I was out for a run-walk and got a call from another person with the sad news. It's upsetting ...

"First of all, he was a great guy to work for. That doesn't mean he wasn't demanding. He expected you to involve yourself heavily in your job. He would express his opinions, but he would listen back. Even if you disagreed with what you were saying, he would weigh it.

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Bill Polian on Ralph Wilson

I spoke briefly with former Bills general manager Bill Polian this afternoon during a break from his TV duties about the passing of owner Ralph Wilson. Polian, who was fired by Wilson after the 1992 season and reconciled over the years, said Buffalo owes Ralph a debt of gratitude.

"Obviously, he brought the Bills to Buffalo," Polian said, "and during my time he had more than a few
opportunities to move it to what many would consider greener pastures. He was a man of his word throughout his life. He gave his word that he not leave Buffalo in his lifetime and he kept that word. That alone was probably enough for induction into the Hall of Fame.

"During my time as general manager, we received a very lucrative offer for the rights to Jim Kelly when he was still property of the USFL," Polian said. "I took it to Mr. Wilson and spelled it out. He kind of
looked at me with a little glint in his eye, but one of firm resolve, and said, 'We're going to sign Jim Kelly.' I said, 'This is going to be probably be the richest contract in football history. He said, 'Sign him.' That tells you how he felt about Buffalo and the Bills."

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Ralph Wilson, a fan at heart

By Jerry Sullivan

Like a lot of Bills fans, I had mixed feelings about Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who died on Tuesday at age 95. It was difficult to reconcile the Hall of Fame owner, the visionary who gave Buffalo so many sporting thrills and was a driving force in the NFL merger, with the man whose small-minded decisions often contributed to management dysfunction and a losing product on the field.

More than anything, I wished I had covered Wilson in the early days of the franchise, when he was young and vibrant and full of ideas. I envied the late Larry Felser, who covered the Bills from the start. Larry knew Wilson more than half a century ago, when the AFL was in its infancy and pro football was just beginning to take a hold on the American public.

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Kevin Grevey loves the Bills

One of the biggest Bills fan in First Niagara Center this week has been doing the color commentary for the Westwood One radio network. Kevin Grevey, who played in the NBA for the Washington Bullets, has a good reason to root for the Bills: It's good for business.

You see, Grevey owns the top Bills bar in the Washington, D.C. area. "Grevey's Restaurant and Sports Bar," which is located in the northern Virginia suburb of Fairfax, has been a meeting spot for transplanted Bills fans on NFL Sundays for about a quarter of a century.

Grevey said he got the idea to feature the Bills from his restaurant manager, Roger Clark, a native of Dunkirk.

"I opened my restaurant in '87 and was trying to become a sports bar," Grevey said Saturday before the start of the Syracuse-Dayton game. "There weren't a lot of sports bars back then. We had a big dish satellite. Our first go was the Cincinnati Bengals and it flopped. Then Roger said, 'All right, it's my turn. I'm going to do the Bills.'

"He said 'I can get 50 peeople here from upstate New York, no problem. We'll do beef on wecks, bring in Buffalo lager and the Sunday morning newspaper'. And we did. We made people feel like they were in Buffalo those four hours watching the game. And it caught fire.

"The Bills went to four Super Bowls in a row and we became known as a Bills bar in our area," Grevey said. "That was the first recognition I got in the restaurant business."

Grevey, who was in the legendary Adolph Rupp's last freshman class at Kentucky, played 10 years in the NBA for the Bullets and Bucks. He was a starting guard on the Bullets' 1978 NBA championship team. Veteran Buffalo hoop fans will remember him playing against the Braves back in the old Aud. He does, too.

"It was a wonderful rivalry," he said. "I remember Elvin Hayes and Bob McAdoo fighting it out for the scoring championship. I remember Cotton Fitzsimmons when I was a rookie, he took us out
to dinner in town. We had good times here in Buffalo.  It was a lot of fun, it really was."

Wright remembers his first NCAA game

Villanova coach Jay Wright has coached in 23 NCAA Tournament games in his 20-year career as a Division I head coach. Unlike Jim Boeheim, he has a vivid memory of his first one. It was in the same place where he'll be coaching in Saturday night's third-round game -- Buffalo.

Back in 2000, the first year Buffalo hosted an NCAA subregional, Wright brought Hofstra to the tourney as a 14th seed. The Flying Dutchmen played Oklahoma State in the opening game. They lost, 86-66.

"My wife and I were riding over on the bus yesterday," Wright recalled Friday, "and it was the exact same snowy, lake-effect day. It was St. Patrick's Day. We got hammered in this building by Oklahoma State: Eddie Sutton, Big Country, Doug Gottlieb of all people! I heard Doug Gottlieb talking on TV yesterday about somebody's shooting. He couldn't make a foul shot in that game."

Actually, Big Country Reeves wasn't on that Cowboys squad, but what the heck, Wright was on a roll.

"We had Speedy Claxton at Hofstra," Wright said. "He was a great guard. They were big and physical. They had a two-guard (Desmond Mason) who went to the NBA. Speedy came off a ball screen early and ran over to me at the bench and his finger was like that (Wright bent his little finger on a 90-degree angle). I was like, 'Oh, we're dead now.' They re-set it, but they hammered us.

"I think Bobby Knight played his last game with Indiana here, too, that same night. it was amazing."

True. Indiana lost to a Pepperdine team coach by Jan van breda Kolff, which is another story.

"We got hammered, but it was a little different then," Wright said. "We were still happy. We got hammered, we were happy to be here. We got hammered, and we got hammered after the game. We were so happy to be here."

Boeheim: Mercer was the better team

Jim Boeheim's press conference on Friday was minutes after Duke's upset loss to Mercer. Boeheim, who is Mike Krzyzewski's good friend and Olympic assistant, watched the game and said it wasn't really that much of an upset. In fact, he said Mercer was the better team.

"Yeah, I watched the game and I watched almost the whole game," Boeheim said. "Honestly, I
haven't seen Mercer. It's probably the only team in the country I haven't seen play this year. I don't know how I missed them. Just watching them play, I thought they were a better team.

"I didn't think this was like Duke playing bad or anything like that," he said. "Whoever's playing
Mercer's in trouble, that's what I think. Inside, guard play, big guys ... I just think they a really good team.

"In this tournament, when you lose to a really good team, and it can happen anytime, that's just the way this tournament is. And it can happen any time to any team in this tournament. It's as simple as that. You watched those games last night and it was just a thread as to who was going to keep playing and
who was going home.

"That's what makes the tournament great and what makes it heartbreaking for the teams that don't quite get there. It's one play, one shot, one missed free throw. That's what it is, and it's very, very difficult."

You can't blame Boeheim for sticking up for his buddy. I consider Coach K the best coach in history. His Duke teams have now lost as a No. 2 seed (to Lehigh) and a 3 seed (to Mercer) in the last three tournaments. Boeheim knows how the early upsets can stick with a coach. He's still living down a loss to Richmond more than 20 years ago.


Boeheim's Senior Moment

Syracuse's Jim Boeheim is coaching in his 31st NCAA Tournament this week, a record for Division I head coaches. During Wednesday afternoon's press conference at First Niagara Center, I asked Boeheim what he remembered about his first one.

"My first as a coach?" Boeheim said. "I haven't been thinking about this, so I probably won't even remember. You''ll have to give me a clue. Let's see, first tournament. Is that when we beat Tennessee? I don't know. I swear to God. I wish I could remember. I think it was.

"We thought we had an easy tournament, and then we had Charlotte, and they had a guy named Cornbread Maxwell.  It didn't turn out so easy. I think that was it. I'm not 100 percent."

Pete Moore, the basketball sports information man for SU, confirmed that it was indeed the 1977 NCAA tourney. Syracuse upset Tennessee in the first game of the Mideast Region, 93-88 in overtime. The Orangemen lost to NC-Charlotte in the Mideast semifinal, 81-59. There were 32 teams in the field in those days.

"We had to go to LSU and play Tennessee and play Ernie (Grunfeld) and Bernie (Bernard King)," Boeheim said. "We had an unbelievable game."

"Overtime," Moore said from the side of the interview table.

St. Bonaventure fans will surely recall that '77 season, which was Jim Baron's senior year. The Bonnies were the only team to beat Syracuse between Jan. 1 and the NCAAs that year. Syracuse got them back in the ECAC playoffs. SU went to the NCAA tourney. Bona went to the N.I.T. -- and won it.

 

Live chat at 1 p.m.: Sully on Sports

Live chat at 1 p.m.: Sully on Sports

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