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Madden helped Bills' move to prime time Nov. 18 Patriots' game shifted under NFL policy

NBC football analyst John Madden was so in favor of moving the Buffalo Bills' Nov. 18 game with unbeaten New England to the network's prime-time package that he didn't even consider his personal traveling hardship.

All 2,609 miles of it.

Moving the game from 1 to 8:15 that night means the celebrated Madden Cruiser bus will leave after this Sunday night's game in San Diego to make the cross-country trek to Buffalo for the first "flex game" of the year.

The Bills-Pats game replaces a tentatively scheduled game in Seattle between the Seahawks and the Chicago Bears that was moved to Sunday afternoon. So the Bills, who waited 13 years to host a prime-time Monday or Sunday night football game, now get a second one in six weeks.

"[Madden's] not unhappy," Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports, said Monday. "John is my No. 1 on what I'm going to recommend to the league. When the game ended last night, we met at his bus. He heartily embraced doing it.

"Number one, because New England is undefeated. But number two, because you always like a strong, scrappy underdog at home. He was very much part of the whole process and was not in any way, shape or form reluctant. Because nobody in the world loves football more than John."

Madden is putting more than a few miles on his famed bus. He left his home near San Francisco this week for Sunday's game in Philadelphia, then planned to travel back home for a few days before he leaves for San Diego, which hosts Indianapolis this Sunday.

Ebersol said there were three factors in NBC's decision to ask the league to switch the Bills-Pats game.

"Number one, obviously, is New England's undefeated record and their sort of quest for history," said Ebersol. "Number two is the Bills' play over the last five games -- four out of five wins and barely losing an unbelievable football game to Dallas. And the third and magical factor in it all is the enthusiasm that Buffalo has shown toward the Bills throughout my long association with the AFC when we had it before.

"I watched pretty intently the Bills game with Cincinnati," he added. "I was watching three or four different games this week as we were looking to make a decision. And it was unbelievable the enthusiasm in [Ralph] Wilson Stadium. It was over the top."

Steve Tasker, the former Bills star and current CBS analyst, said he wasn't surprised by the choice.

"It looks like a pretty good game, particularly if the Bills beat the Dolphins this week, winning five out of six," he said.

Tasker then was asked how this game might differ from the Patriots' 38-7 drubbing of the Bills in Week Three.

"Certainly, it will be a little different," Tasker said. "This game is going to be in Buffalo, which is a little better. I think also because it is a division game, sometimes it is hard even for a good club to look that good twice against an opponent in one year."

Tasker also believes that a Bills win in Miami would give them a real opportunity to measure themselves the following week against the Patriots.

"[The Bills] put up a really good effort against Dallas on Monday night. By that time, maybe they'll be getting some guys healthy and healthier, and give them a scare."

The Bills, through vice president for communications Scott Berchtold, declined to comment on the time change for the game.

Others, though, discussed the obvious pros and cons for the Bills and their fans.

On the plus side, the game once again puts the Bills and their enthusiastic fans in the national spotlight; it says something about the team's abrupt turnaround from its 1-4 start; and it allows the players another chance to play in front of a prime-time national audience.

On the negative side, some fans -- especially those from Rochester, Syracuse and Southern Ontario -- who plan to go to work the next day may feel inconvenienced by a game that won't end until after 11 p.m.

And the game presents a huge challenge for local law enforcement officials.

"Can we ask the network if we can decline the privilege?" Orchard Park Police Chief Samuel M. McCune asked, in a tongue-in-check remark after he heard the news.

"It's always good for the team and the community -- the Bills being put in a positive light on national TV," McCune added, in a more serious tone. "But night games definitely are a bit more difficult than afternoon games for law enforcement."

The reason is obvious, and it can be stated in one word: alcohol.

For a 1 p.m. game, only the most hard-core drinkers start getting lubricated four or five hours earlier, at 8 or 9 a.m. For an 8:15 p.m. game, drinkers who like to wait until noon still have eight hours of drinking.

No further evidence is needed than the statistics from the Bills' first five home games this season. In five games, law enforcement officials have made 134 arrests for rowdy behavior inside the stadium; 64 of those, or 48 percent, came during the Oct. 8 Monday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys.

While the Bills weren't talking Monday about the decision to move the game to Sunday night, Ebersol suggested that the team assured the league that the fan frenzy from the Cowboys game would be repeated.

". . . the league office told us that [the Bills] called back and said, 'We just want to pass on to your television partners at NBC that we will bring that same level of enthusiasm that we've brought to everything we've done in the past with them. We will really work to make this a major event in our stadium.' "

Ebersol -- who said he has a good-luck charm in Buffalo and attended all four of the Bills AFC championship games -- also talked about his friendship with Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.

"Ralph is a seminal figure in the history of football TV," he said, calling him an important factor in the AFC going to NBC in 1964. Then, in January 1998, NBC determined that it wouldn't televise the AFC games.

"He wrote me a magnificent handwritten letter about what the association had meant to him through the years," Ebersol said. "He was reminding me how he and [late Dallas Texans owner] Lamar [Hunt] had made the original deals with the powers-to-be at NBC. He was very sweet to talk about what the association had meant to the Bills and how much he was appreciative of what NBC had brought to the old AFL and later to the AFC. It was a very classy gesture, not one that I have ever forgotten."

Ebersol also mentioned another reason that NBC wants to come here on Nov. 18.

"It is good for talent relations at NBC, because anything that makes [Buffalo native Tim] Russert happy makes all of us happy."

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