It was the final game of the 2002 season and the Buffalo Bills were on their way to an easy 27-9 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. But the fans in Ralph Wilson Stadium seemed to care very little about that. Their focus was on a guy playing for the opposition.
Linebacker Takeo Spikes was playing out his contract with the Bengals, and Bills fans made it clear they wanted to see him in a Buffalo uniform.
"As I sit back and think about it, I had a lot of good times in Buffalo and a lot of great moments," Spikes said recently. "But the No. 1 moment that I had, even before I had thought about being a Bill, was the time I walked in that stadium when I played for Cincinnati. I'll always hold that close to me. It was a special moment."
For most of his four years with the Bills, Spikes gave the fans plenty to cheer about. But those days are over with Spikes moving to Philadelphia after the long-anticipated trade was completed three weeks ago.
Even though Spikes is gone, he'll never forget how the Bills fans embraced him.
"From the day I came in for that first meeting with the Bills to the first game against New England in 2003 all the way to that last game in Baltimore last year, I enjoyed every minute of my time in Buffalo, the good, the bad and the ugly," Spikes said by phone from his home in Atlanta. "I appreciate all of the support I've received from all the fans in Western New York. Because of them, a piece of me will always be up there."
The Bills never really explained why they traded Spikes, saying only that it was in the best interest of the team and Spikes. It is believed his salary (he was scheduled to make $9.5 million the next two seasons) and concerns about whether he would regain his top form after coming off a torn Achilles tendon had a lot to do with the move.
But Spikes insists that the trade was a mutual decision. He didn't want to be a part of a rebuilding situation he thought the Bills were headed to after several veteran players were released, traded or left via free agency the past two years. He also had a feeling he wasn't in the team's future plans.
"Sometimes when new coaches come in, they have their certain guys they want to play. I just wasn't one of their guys," he said. "But I have no problem with it because that's part of the game. When they have things they want to accomplish and they are different from things I want to accomplish there's no need for us to be around each other if that's the case."
Spikes said he has no hard feelings about the Bills trading him, but he doesn't leave Buffalo without a couple of regrets. For one, he's disappointed about leaving after a year in which he wasn't at his best. After recovering from Achilles surgery, he spent a frustrating season trying to play through hamstring and ankle injuries.
Then there was the Bills' inability to make the playoffs. Spikes, who has played in the most games (126) of any active player without a postseason appearance, figured the Bills would get there at least once during his tenure. They came close twice, but couldn't get over the hump.
"The biggest disappointment was not winning enough games to get to the next level," he said. "I hated that. I wanted that for everybody because we worked so hard for it. I felt like, especially when I got there, the team that was assembled was good enough to get there.
"More than anything, I felt like the fans deserved it because it had been so long. That's why I hated to be leaving the way I did because I wished we could have given them more."
There's a good chance Spikes' nine-year postseason drought is about to end. The Eagles are one of the best teams in the NFC. If quarterback Donovan McNabb comes back from a serious knee injury, the Eagles have all the pieces in place on both sides of the football to make a run at Super Bowl XLII.
"I think it's going to be a real good opportunity from the aspect of knowing what they have accomplished over the past several years of consistent winning," Spikes said. "I really feel that it is almost like being put in the same situation I was in when I came to Buffalo because the talent is there. Me going to Philly, I really feel like it's not so much me coming in and being the savior, but maybe I can be the final piece of the puzzle."
The Eagles expect a lot from Spikes, but no more than he expects from himself. Because of how things ended in Buffalo, he is heading into next season with a big chip on his shoulder.
He said he has a lot to prove to the Eagles, his former employer and those who question if he will ever be the Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before tearing his Achilles.
"Regardless of what color I wear, know that I'm very eager to step back on the field this year to give everybody what they want to see," Spikes said. "I don't regret going through any single thing or any single moment last year because the past year has created a monster for the season coming up."
One game in particular he's looking forward to is the Bills' visit to Philadelphia to end the regular season on Sunday, Dec. 30.
For those who wonder how fired up he is for that game, he offered this statement:
"If you want to see a ball game on that day, better bring your peanuts and popcorn, baby."