The Buffalo Bills' 50-year anniversary team, selected by the fans, is about to take shape. It's fitting that those who supported the team through the years, whether the caliber of play was for better or worse, get to have their say.
Nevertheless, I can't resist sticking my nose in here with the Felser version, which has a little different format and more positions available. My reasoning is that football changed over a half century. Defensive strategies changed as coaches were changed. For the first quarter of the Bills' existence the fullback was an essential ball carrier rather than the third guard of the current style. Extra wide receivers and spread formations came into being the last half of the Bills' life.
So my version includes three wide receivers as well as a tight end and a traditional fullback. The defense includes both a traditional line of two ends and two tackles as well as two inside linebackers instead of just a middle backer.
Fifty years of Bills' football brought a lot of great players, which creates a great deal of dispute. On the other hand, some positions, such as the backfield, seem to be a matter of naming the obvious.
*Quarterback: Jim Kelly, 1986-96. Is there any argument?
*Running backs: The two Hall of Famers, Thurman Thomas, '88-99, and O.J. Simpson, '69-77. Little argument here.
*Fullback: Yes, Cookie Gilchrist spent only three years, 1962-64, as a Bill but they were legendary seasons. He was the AFL's Most Valuable Player in '62. He's the best all-around football player I ever saw.
*Tight end: This position is basically a two-player argument -- Ernie Warlick, '62-65, vs. Pete Metzelaars '85-94. Warlick was signed as a free agent out of the Canadian League, where he was an all-star. Metzelaars came to the Super Bowl Bills in a trade. The team rarely made tight end a draft priority. An exception was 1973, when Paul Seymour of Michigan was drafted in the first round. He was one of the best blocking tight ends of his time but the Bills had wide receivers such as Ahmad Rashad, J.D. Hill and Bob Chandler so throwing to the tight end was not a priority. Warlick came here late in his career. Metzelaars, whose best years were as a Bills, is my pick.
*Wide receivers: The first selection is easy, Andre Reed, '85-99. He should be elected to the Hall of Fame eventually. After him there is a parade of outstanding candidates, which is good since I'm selecting enough for a three-receiver offense. The others are Jerry Butler, '79-86, and Eric Moulds, 1995-2005.
*Center: This is another two-player argument, Kent Hull '86-96 vs. Al Bemiller, '61-69. Bemiller might have been the most underrated offensive lineman in Bills' history. In 1965 he moved to guard in order to accommodate first-round draft choice Dave Behrman at center. When Behrman suffered an injury on the eve of the 1965 AFL championship game, Bemiller moved back to center and played a vital role in the title game. My pick is Hull, not only a great player but one of the foremost leaders in Bills' annals.
*Guards: Another case of the obvious -- the two Hall of Famers, Billy Shaw, '61-69 and Joe DeLamielleure, '73-79, '85.
*Tackles: Will Wolford, '86-92, and Joe Devlin, '76-82, '84-89, with a most honorable mention to Stew Barber of the AFL years.
*Kicker: Pete Gogolak, the first soccer-style kicker in pro football, revolutionized the game and was essential to Buffalo's two AFL championships, but I have to choose Steve Christie, '92-2000, the best clutch kicker in Bills' history. He still holds the Super Bowl record for the longest field goal.
*Ends: The obvious is Bruce Smith, '85-99, the NFL sack leader. It's difficult to say that Bruce was underrated in any phase, but his work against the run might have been overshadowed by his pass rushing. As his partner, I'll take 310-pound Ron McDole, '63-70, of the AFL champions, whom defensive coordinator Joe Collier used to drop back into coverage because of his quickness and nimble feet. After the merger, McDole was dealt to Washington in what Redskins coach George Allen called "the best trade I ever made." Quarterback Sonny Jurgensen nicknamed him "the Dancing Bear." McDole was also named to the Redskins' all-time team.
*Tackles: Tom Sestak, '62-68, and Fred Smerlas, '79-89. In the opinion of former Packers GM and Raiders super scout Ron Wolf, "Sestak should be in the Hall of Fame, even if a knee injury did end his career prematurely." The only Bills' nose tackle who would challenge Smerlas is Ted Washington, but Freddie was far more consistent, a player who went all out on every down.
*Outside linebackers: Mike Stratton, '62-72, was drafted as a tight end, then Lou Saban converted him to linebacker. He became one of the best weakside blitzers in pro football and made the game-changing tackle in the 1964 AFL championship victory over the Chargers. It's hard to pick between Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley of the Super Bowl teams, but I give it to Talley, '83-94, on the strength of his extraordinary leadership.
*Inside linebackers: Shane Conlan, '87-92, and Jim Haslett, '79-85.
Cornerbacks: Like the wide receivers, through the seasons the Bills had a flock of good corners. After all these years Booker Edgerson, '62-69, still looks like the best. Antoine Winfield was one of the team's best open-field tacklers ever and he's still playing at a high level for the Vikings. I'll still go with Robert James, '69-74, as Edgerson's golden anniversary fellow corner.
*Safeties: George Saimes, '63-69, was an All-America fullback at Michigan State who became the all-time AFL free safety. Steve Freeman, '75-86, was a hard-hitting ballhawk.
*Punter: There have been three superb ones -- Brian Moorman of the current team, Chris Mohr of the Super Bowl teams and Paul Maguire of the AFL champs. I give it to Maguire, '64-70, on the strength of his clutch punting, ability to back up at linebacker or tight end and his special teams work. His block sprung Butch Byrd on a game-changing punt return for a touchdown in the 1965 upset victory over San Diego in the AFL championship.
*Return man: Terrence McGee, 2003-present. Look for Leodis McKelvin on the 75th anniversary team.
*Special teams: No one did it better on any football field -- Steve Tasker '86-97.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.