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SMITH RETURNS HOME TO BE WITH SICK FATHER

Defensive end Bruce Smith was excused from practice Tuesday to be with his father, who had become ill and was being treated in a Virginia hospital.

Bills coach Wade Phillips said only that Smith was excused for personal reasons. Sources said Tuesday that Smith's father had taken a turn for the worse. George Smith has had a history of health problems.

Smith and his father have a very close relationship. In the Bills' yearbook, the veteran defensive end listed his father as the person he most admires.

Phillips did not say when the defensive end would return, saying only that he would be back soon. However, if the condition of Smith's father becomes more serious, Smith would likely remain with him. It was unclear whether he would be available for the preseason finale Saturday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Phillips still had not decided Tuesday how much his starters would play in the preseason finale against the Steelers, although the first team is expected to play at least the first half or into the third quarter.

"We're going to try to get our team ready," Phillips said. "There are some things we can work on in this ballgame. We hadn't settled on how long our guys would play, but I think they'll play a good deal. We'll have a good, representative team in there all the time."

Phillips did not announce his starting quarterback, but it is expected that Doug Flutie will get the nod. The Bills have been trying to split the playing time between Flutie and Rob Johnson. Flutie is expected to start the season, and the game Saturday would serve as his final tune-up.

"Each time you step on the field, you get more and more comfortable, more and more relaxed and guys start getting the feel for things again," Flutie said. "I don't know how much the first-unit guys will be playing or how long we'll be out there together. I think we're all just anxious to get the season started."
Injured linebacker Dan Brandenburg (ankle) and rookie running back Lennox Gordon (ankle) missed practice again Tuesday. Brandenburg was out all last week. Gordon was injured Saturday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bills have set up four cardboard boxes in the locker room for players to donate cleats and turf shoes for high school football players in the inner city.

More than 100 pairs have been collected since the start of training camp. The shoes are sent to the Buffalo Public Schools athletic office and are distributed from there.

The program, which has been going on for several years, is designed to help players who don't have enough money for football shoes or have odd sizes that are difficult to find.
More than 3,000 youths and their coaches have been given free tickets for the game Saturday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in celebration of "Youth Football Night."

The tickets are going to football teams, youth cheerleading squads and flag football teams for boys and girls. Seven organizations in Erie and Niagara counties have been invited.

Some 50,000 free tickets have been distributed to children over the last 10 years in hopes of encouraging kids to become fans of the Bills and pro football.

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