During the week of the Buffalo Bills game, San Diego Chargers General Manager John Butler agreed to discuss his time in Buffalo with local TV crews on one condition: They could not send the videotape back to their affiliates in Western New York.
That's how concerned Butler was that he might say something he'd later regret, some inflammatory comment that might give the Bills a rallying cry against the Chargers.
Football people have always been that way. I've never known a coach who didn't worry about one of his players uttering some brazen comment that could wind up on the opposition's bulletin board during the week of a big game. High school, college, pro -- it doesn't matter. Coaches are some of the most cautious, protective, almost paranoid people you'll ever meet.
So I can just imagine how Gregg Williams and Tom Donahoe felt that day last March. The new guys had barely unpacked their bags when their new owner, Ralph Wilson, made the spiteful and outrageous declaration that he would rather beat San Diego and Butler than win the Super Bowl.
Granted, emotions would have been high regardless for today's big Bills-Chargers grudge match at Qualcomm Stadium. But judging from the reaction of the San Diego players the last few days, the knowledge that Wilson assigned this game Super Bowl-type status has stirred their competitive fires even more.
"He has some explaining to do to his players," Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie said of Wilson's comments.
"That's something (the Bills) have to deal with," said John Holecek, the former Buffalo linebacker. "It makes no sense, and I'm sure he regretted it as soon as he said it. I mean, I hope he did. It's one stupid game. The Super Bowl is your legacy. That's what every player strives for. Next week, come Monday, who's going to talk about this game? It'll be over. Done."
A whole lot of talking has been going on in the past week, though. Chargers linebacker Sam Rogers, yet another transplanted Bill, said today's game will be "very, very personal." He said they want to beat Buffalo for Butler in the same way they wanted to beat Washington for Norv Turner, their offensive coordinator.
Butler said Wilson's comment was an insult to everyone who struggled to reach those four Super Bowls during the early 1990s. He said Wilson could have found some other way to express himself without cheapening the accomplishments of those great teams.
Marcellus Wiley said there was no need to tack Wilson's words on the bulletin board. They're posted on the Chargers' collective psyches, on the bulletin board of the mind. Wiley, never lacking for a colorful opinion, said Wilson was "reaching into thin air." He said he wouldn't appreciate it if he were still a Bill.
"I wouldn't say anything to his face," Wiley said, "but I think around the whirlpool with the guys and the coach, I'd be like, 'Man, he's tripping!' He is tripping. He won't see me over there anymore. I never had a conversation with him. You guys are talking to me more than I ever talked to Mr. Wilson. He didn't know my name until my fourth year, midway through the season. Phil Hansen and I used to joke about it. He called me Marcus."
Wiley said the Wilson-Butler rift is like a bad divorce. All the little subplots make it all the uglier. Holecek can't stand the new GM, Tom Donahoe. The Chargers are getting annoyed about all the negative stuff coming out of Buffalo about Flutie. Flutie scoffed at all the positive attention Johnson got for leading his team to 13 points last week.
Oh, and here's the latest from Wiley on the lingering Flutie-Johnson feud: "Flutie did not say that stuff in Sports Illustrated last year. The same guys that are blocking for Rob right now and in the past have said those things about him. He needs to understand that, suck it up and move on. This is a professional game we're playing."
Wiley said it's not personal between him and Johnson, but it sure sounds that way. It's certainly become personal for the Chargers. It could be the best thing for them. Last week, they beat Denver in their best performance of the season. You'd worry about a letdown the next week against a 1-4 opponent. But this is no ordinary opponent.
The Chargers will be primed and ready -- ready to win for Flutie, for Holecek, for Butler, and most of all, for themselves. Maybe Wilson is looking at this as his personal Super Bowl, but they have larger aspirations.
"You mean the real one?" receiver Jeff Graham said with laugh. "In New Orleans, right? That's the one, right? But, hey. He has the freedom of speech, so he can say whatever he likes."
Maybe, as Holecek suggests, Wilson would take back the comment if he could. But it's made for a very entertaining week. I can't remember being this excited for a Bills game since, well, since they were playing in the actual Super Bowl.
I hate to break it to the owner, but I have a feeling this one is going to wind up like the other four.