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One Bill gets a ring

Even 13 years after the last time the Buffalo Bills played in the last football game of the season, the Super Bowl presents a bittersweet proposition.
Sweet, because it recalls nearly half a decade when the home team needed just 60 minutes of excellence, or even competence, to earn the city’s first-ever world championship in a major professional sport.
Bitter, because, well, you would have thought they could have done it even just once.
The late-January (now early-February, thanks to the ever-elongating National Football League schedule) nostalgia was stronger when you’d see Don Beebe running around in a Green Bay Packers uniform, or Cornelius Bennett roaming in the black duds of the Atlanta Falcons.
You don’t see such bizarre sights any more, since the Bills who played in Super Bowls XXV through XXVIII have all retired to careers in the fields of coaching, business, broadcasting or celebrity golf tournaments.
But there were a few twinges late in the Indianapolis Colts’ 29-17 win against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
One came early in the fourth quarter, when Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden returned one of the horrid passes thrown by Chicago’s Rex Grossman for the clinching touchdown.
The last Bear giving chase was Ruben Brown, who spent nine years in Buffalo before being banished by a certain white-haired former team president and general manager whose name is just as well forgotten.
Brown never played in a Super Bowl with Buffalo, but was drafted a year after the string of AFC titles ended and spent the early part of his career during the twilights of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and the rest.
His best seasons with the Bills came during the playoff years of 1998 and ’99, but he played on the winning side in only one postseason game, Buffalo’s 37-22 pasting of Miami at the end of his rookie campaign.
And here he was, finally playing in a Super Bowl and reduced to the same futility experienced by many of his former teammates – chasing a much smaller, faster man into the end zone.
A second flashback came moments after Hayden’s score, when Grossman heaved another pick to quash any hope of a comeback and ensure that a team built by Bill Polian would finally win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Polian built the Super Bowl Bills from the rubble of back-to-back 2-14 seasons in the mid-1980s. Of course, it helped having the rights to Kelly and the draft position that enabled the drafting of Reed and Bruce Smith.
But Polian collected and fit the pieces that would form the most dominant team in its own conference over a four-year span in the league’s history. For what that’s worth, given the way all those games with Roman numerals in the name turned out.
Polian’s knuckly style wore on Ralph Wilson and any number of others in the organization, though, so he was gone before the last Super Bowl year. He wore out his welcome even more quickly in Carolina, even though he put together an expansion roster that went 12-4 and reached the NFC title game in its second year of existence.
Maybe he’s mellowed in Indianapolis. At least there have been no reports of him demanding that radio guys “get out of town,” as he did after having his fill of Art Wander in Buffalo, or storming into the parking lot to direct traffic before a game.
Or perhaps Colts owner Jim Irsay gave him the control and time he needed to build a team that could finally win that last game.
Whatever the case, Polian getting his ring a day after Thurman Thomas, the greatest player on the best of the Buffalo teams he built, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame provided one more taste of the bittersweet.
Polian may not have put together as many star players in Indianapolis as he did in Buffalo, but Sunday’s triumph leaves little doubt that he has built a better team.

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