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TEAM PLAYER <br> BILLS BACK TRAVIS HENRY WON'T GET DOWN AND DIRTY DESPITE DEMOTION FROM STARTING ROLE

Travis Henry has been trying to keep his emotions a safe distance from One Bills Drive because inviting them to Ralph Wilson Stadium would solve nothing. He might want to keep his mother at bay, too. She wanted to drive from Florida to Orchard Park to, as Henry said, "clean house."

She might not be alone.

Henry is angry about his reduced role in the Buffalo Bills' offense, but that much was expected. Pouting and becoming a divisive figure in the locker room will get him nowhere. Henry instead was intent on taking the high road and addressing his future in Buffalo after the season.

In fact, he calmed his mother last week rather than the other way around.

"My mom is ticked off," Henry said with a laugh last week. "That's her being a mom. She's worried about her son. She knows what her son is capable of doing. I had to calm her down, like, 'Mom, I'm all right. It's going to be all right.' She doesn't know that it's a business. We can't be doing that. This ain't high school."

That much is certain. Henry played the final six games last year when almost anybody else would have shut down a season going nowhere. Despite a hairline fracture in his right leg, he rushed for 1,096 yards in the final 10 games, outgaining Ricky Williams over that period. He posted back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons. He was a Pro Bowl pick in 2002.

None of it matters now.

Hurt? Yeah, he's hurt. Feeling betrayed? To a certain degree. But if Henry has learned anything over the past 18 months, it's that the NFL is a multibillion-dollar operation first and a football league second. The Bills took emotion out of their equation when they made their decision, and he ultimately will do the same with them.

"Things are going to happen for a reason," he said. "I think this whole process is going to play out the right way. It's something I have to deal with now and get through it. I have a lot of pride. . . . But it's bigger than me."

The Bills can spin this little running back controversy any way they wish, but Henry was among the first to laugh off suggestions from coach Mike Mularkey that they had co-starting halfbacks. Co-starters? In a one-halfback offense?

Terminology aside, Bills President and General Manager Tom Donahoe didn't spend the 23rd pick overall in the 2003 NFL draft on Willis McGahee because he thought the former University of Miami star would improve the team photo. Henry figured they would eventually turn to McGahee as the featured back.

"I'm just trying to get through this," Henry said. "I felt it coming. This is my fourth year. As a player, you know when things aren't going in your direction. It's cool. I knew it then (when they drafted McGahee). Now it's just reality."

The reality is the 1-5 Bills are desperate to turn around their record. McGahee has been slightly more productive than Henry. The Bills' offense has struggled, and it has not rushed for a touchdown. Both backs are averaging fewer than 4 yards per carry.

McGahee has three things going for him. He's bigger, stronger and younger. Many believe he's better. He gained 111 yards in a victory over Miami while Henry watched with a foot injury. In less than two weeks, Henry was pushed down the Bills' depth chart.

"I had a talk with him," receiver Eric Moulds said. "He's not happy about it, but he's a team player and wants to do what's best for the team. He doesn't want to be a distraction, especially when we're 1-5. He's been a gentleman about it. He did everything they've asked him to do. He can play on my team any day."

Two years ago, the Bills held up Henry as a consummate professional who spent the offseason in the weight room. His approach toward practice did not change last week after it became apparent McGahee would get the bulk of the carries. He promised to keep the same attitude for the remaining 10 weeks.

Afterward, who knows?

Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe has been there. He was injured in 2001 with New England and replaced by unproven Tom Brady. Bledsoe did not get his job back when he recovered and held his head high while Brady led the Pats to the Super Bowl. Bledsoe was gone the next season.

"Obviously, it's a difficult situation for Travis," Bledsoe said. "Travis is a guy who has the respect of everybody in the locker room and the organization. He's run for plenty of yards. He played with a broken leg. It's obviously not an ideal situation. At the same time, Willis has done some good things."

Looking back, Henry believes his decision to restructure his contract in 2002 was a mistake, a result of bad advice. He was coming off a Pro Bowl season and thought he would be the No. 1 back for a while. If he had known McGahee was going to be drafted, he would have played out his contract and gone elsewhere.

"I just have to get through this wrath," he said. "Whatever the situation, as a player, I try not to go above that line and let my emotions get into it. If I go over that line, I'll drive myself crazy and it would be an ugly scene. I don't want that. It ain't good for me. It ain't good for the team."
e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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