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SAGA'S END PLEASES PLAYERS

The sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief from the Buffalo Bills' players that the Great Quarterback Controversy is over.

Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe announced Wednesday that Rob Johnson will be the team's starting quarterback. Doug Flutie has been released.

The decision had been expected for some time as Donahoe said the quarterbacks couldn't co-exist any more.

The players contacted Wednesday all agreed the Bills could win with Johnson or Flutie. But the players are glad the issue that dominated the franchise for three years has finally come to an end.

"It's something that unfortunately needed to be done," center Jerry Ostroski said by phone from his home in Broken Arrow, Okla. "It's a shame that we weren't able to keep both guys. They're both great quarterbacks. But for the sake of this team, the sake of the locker room and the sake of moving forward, we needed to make a decision."

The Flutie-Johnson issue was very divisive in the Bills' locker room. Some players took sides, while others tried to remain neutral. No matter who was behind Flutie or Johnson, the constant attention on them took the focus off the team.

"I don't know if it was a case of people taking sides as much as it was a constant distraction," Ostroski said. "It was hard to concentrate on the task at hand. It seemed like every week, we were more concerned about who was going to start at quarterback than who we were going to play. It was something we couldn't work through, and eventually it had to come to this."

Wide receiver Eric Moulds has plenty of thoughts on the quarterbacks, for he more than anyone will be affected by this decision.

Moulds supports the Bills' decision, but will miss Flutie. The two developed a close relationship, and Moulds had some of his greatest games when Flutie was the starter.

"Of course, I'd like for Doug to be there because he was a big part of my success and the team's as a whole," Moulds said from New Orleans. "It's very tough to see him go. We've spent a lot of time together off the field. I'll still keep in touch with Doug. I'm pretty sure some team will pick him up, and he'll have a lot of success there because the guy is still a winner."

Moulds added that he believes in Johnson's ability to lead the Bills back to prominence. In fact, Moulds thinks Johnson has as much, if not more, physical ability as Indianapolis Colts All-Pro Peyton Manning.

"I think Rob has tremendous upside," Moulds said. "Once he gets the same number of plays under his belt and learns the ins and outs of the West Coast offense and stays healthy like Peyton has done, I think he will really turn some heads.

"Coaching helps, but a lot of it is up to Rob. He has to make the decision where he's going to take his talent and this team. I think he'll come around and take command of this team on and off the field. He's up to that challenge."

Opinions vary on why the Bills chose Johnson over Flutie. Donahoe said Wednesday he, coach Gregg Williams and his staff felt Johnson is the best man for the job. However, linebacker John Holecek said age may have played a small role.

"Both of them are good quarterbacks, but when you look at a guy who is 27-year-old (Johnson) and a guy who is 38-year-old (Flutie), how much of a choice is it?" Holecek said from his home near Chicago.

"Obviously Doug has a better record, but a lot of it had to do with the teams we're playing and how good the defense is playing. Rob's a young guy who has a chance to get better."

Running back Antowain Smith, who may become a former Bill today, believes Johnson's chance for improvement is much greater now that he doesn't have to look over his shoulder.

"Now that it's set in stone, I think it will make Rob feel more secure about his situation," Smith said. "No one wants to look over his shoulder, and I think it affected Rob. You're scared to go out there and make mistakes because you think you might get pulled in favor of the next man. He doesn't have that burden anymore.

"I think Rob will develop the things he needs to be a successful quarterback in the National Football League."

Ostroski thinks Johnson's laid-back approach has created the public perception that he lacks the competitive fire that made Flutie so popular. That perception is incorrect, according to Ostroski.

"No one is as tenacious as Rob when it comes to preparation and being a competitor," he said. "I don't know if I've ever been around a person who competes more than him. Whether it's cards or football or whatever, the guy wants to win badly.

"I think those things are going to correlate into wins on the football field now that we have things settled and we have a definitive No. 1 guy at quarterback. Now, we can move forward."

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