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CHOOSING SIDES FANS OF FLUTIE, BILLS ARE TORN

Veteran Bills fans have argued the question for most of the past three years: Flutie or Johnson? But even young Bills fans like 6-year-old Christopher Cronin and 19-month-old Miranda Bologna have their preference.

"Johnson, Johnson, Johnson," chanted Christopher, wearing a very small Rob Johnson jersey Sunday at the annual gathering of Bills fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium called Jumbogate, which this year coincided with the long-awaited matchup between Johnson and the Bills and former Bill Doug Flutie and his new team, the San Diego Chargers.

Miranda didn't want to talk about where she stood in the debate, but there was no need: she wore an even smaller Doug Flutie jersey as she clung to her father's side.

In a game that highlighted the schism between Bills fans who believe the team should have retained Flutie and those who are glad they kept Johnson, Flutie prevailed as the Bills lost to San Diego, 27-24, in San Diego.

Johnson played gamely, leading the Bills downfield in the game's final minute to set up what would have been the game-tying field goal, but the Chargers blocked Jake Arians' attempt in the game's final seconds to preserve the win.

Instead, as he did so frequently when he played here, it was Flutie who was the hero, ducking under would-be tacklers and scrambling 13 yards for what proved to be the game-winning score with a minute and 19 seconds left to play.

For Flutie fans, the outcome doubtless will provide more ammunition for their argument that the Bills erred in letting go the quarterback who led them into the playoffs following the 1998 and 1999 sea
sons.

"They made a big mistake," said Miranda's dad, Mark Bologna of West Seneca. "They shouldn't have gotten rid of him. I don't think anybody respects Johnson on the team. Actually, I think a lot of the fans don't respect him, either."

At Jumbogate, where fans paid $15 or $30 to eat, drink and watch the game either in the Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse or in one of the end zone clubs at the stadium, it was clear that a lot of Bills fans agreed with Bologna.

Certainly there were a number of people wearing Johnson jerseys. But it seemed like there were a lot more Flutie jerseys.

"I'm a huge Flutie fan, and I miss him," said Vickie Weber, 31, of the Town of Tonawanda, who wore a replica of the Flutie's No. 7 Bills jersey.

Most of the Flutie jerseys were leftovers from his Bills days, but longtime Bills fan Bob Wynn felt strongly enough about Flutie that he spent $44 to buy a replica of Flutie's San Diego jersey.

"I like Doug," he said. "I'm an older guy, he's an older guy. I know how it is when they say your time has come. He's a leader."

But Wynn also was wearing a Bills hat and Bills shorts. "I'm a confused fan," he admitted.

So were a lot of others.

"I like Doug Flutie," said Paul Sajdak, 31, of Strykersvile. "But I would like the Bills to win."

"I like Doug Flutie. I think they should have kept him," said Chris Saville, 45, of Orchard Park. "But I'm rooting for Buffalo."

The Heritage Center, a Buffalo-based advocacy group for people with disabilities, was hoping to raise $50,000 from the event.

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