Have the Bills gone daft? Since Wayne Simmons will be wearing one of their uniforms this afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts, the answer seems obvious.
The signing of Simmons goes against everything they've stood for since The Golden Age of Bills' Football was ushered in under Marv Levy and Bill Polian. There was a time when Bills' security checked out prospective players -- not with coaches, but with local police, campus security, workers in the athletic office and professors. Bad reports were red-flagged with the implied warning: "Do not import potential trouble."
Simmons isn't potential trouble. He is trouble.
Ask the Green Bay Packers, who dropped him at a time when he was considered one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Ask the Kansas City Chiefs who just dropped him as a result of his part in the most humiliating period in the history of their franchise.
There is nothing wrong with Simmons' football. If he is anywhere near his prime, he's better than any of Buffalo's current outside backers. There is more to football than football, however.
Simmons comes to a Buffalo team where there are no bad apples in the locker-room barrel. I'm not saying all the Bills are angels, but none of them are serious trouble.
Last spring at draft time Phillips was asked about Randy Moss, the best receiver in college football who had a troubled past, including a jail term for his part in a high-school fight. "He's not a convict," said Phillips. I agreed. At the time he had his problems, Moss was a kid. He had time to turn around his life, which by most reports he's doing with the Vikings.
I don't agree with Phillips on Simmons. When the coach announced the waiver claim of Simmons, he said he took the word of someone he trusted as opposed to the player's rap sheet. That isn't good enough.
Currently there is a book on the market, "Pros and Cons," which details the criminal element in the NFL. Its authors are Don Yaeger of Sports Illustrated and Jeff Benedict, director of Northwestern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society. It's well researched.
It devotes 13 pages to Simmons, many of them stomach-turning. This is a snapshot of his rap sheet, according to the authors:
1989: Arrested for assault and battery after he struck a girl "for ignoring him."
1991: Cited for assault and battery for striking from behind a Domino's pizza deliveryman. The deliveryman was a foreign student who, like Simmons, was attending Clemson University. The victim, an Asian, had his rights explained to him by police but he still declined to press charges.
1992: Arrested on charges of assault and battery on complaint of a fellow student, a female, at Clemson. In the company of 15 teammates, Simmons made an obscene gesture and obscene remarks. She confronted him. He struck her and one of his friends told her to leave before she got hurt.
1993: Arrested for his part in a melee in a South Carolina bar during which he shouted highly-racist remarks and obscenities. He was charged with donning brass knuckles and striking a peacemaker. The victim suffered a severe laceration which left him with facial scars according to the police report.
1997: Charged with the kidnapping and rape of a high school girl on her graduation night in Hilton Head, S.C. Simmons, 27 at the time, had been the commencement speaker. Ex-Bill Cornelius Bennett recently did jail time in the Erie County slammer for forcing himself on an adult woman. Maybe the Bennett case slipped the Bills' minds.
Simmons got off the hook on most of these charges. Typical jock justice. His supporting testimony came from teammates, sycophants and members of his entourage, as it usually does in such cases. In the rape case there was the always-handy "she was asking for it" alibi, although it was accepted in court that the girl was a virgin at the time of the crime. Coaches can almost always be relied upon to swear what sweethearts their players with thug personalities really are.
In the rape case, Simmons' business agent commented: "Wayne had a DUI and in college he got into a couple of fights . . . but he's not any different than a lot of the other guys. He's a highly-emotional person, like a lot of ballplayers. You don't become a professional football player without a high level of testosterone running through your body."
"Highly emotional?" "High level of testosterone?" "Like a lot of others?" That could be the personality profile of the inmates in a maximum-security prison. Simmons sounds like a garden-variety bum to me, no matter his football talent level.
So why would the Bills import such trouble? Do they they think they've become bullet-proof in the current "make-one-false-move-and-we're-leaving-t own" atmosphere? What could Phillips' trusted friend have told him about Simmons besides, "He can help you"?
If Wayne Simmons is the price of victory for the Bills, the price is too high.