Bill Polian grew up in Brooklyn, same as his father. His dad was a huge fan of the Dodgers in their glory days at Ebbets Field. But like so many fans of that time, the elder Polian swore off the Dodgers when Walter O'Malley moved the team to Los Angeles. He became a Mets fan. Bill rooted for the Yankees.
"He always referred to him as 'that goddam Walter O'Malley," Polian told me Thursday. "Years later, I was going through Dodgertown and talked to his son, Peter O'Malley. I told him about my dad and he laughed like hell. He said, 'It's a hard burden to bear.' Every October, my father and I would have lively discussions about who would win the World Series."
Polian has read "The Boys of Summer", Roger Kahn's retrospective on the Dodger teams that Kahn had to good fortune to cover as a young baseball writer in the 1950s. In fact, he has read it twice. I told him I'd read it three times. It was the book that made me want to become a sports writer. "Now you know who to blame," I said.
Polian has gotten to know former Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine while running the Colts in Indianapolis. Erskine, who settled in Anderson, Ind., was one of the subjects of Kahn's book, which revists the Dodgers as they grow into middle age. The Dodgers of that time were seen as beloved losers -- a supremely team and ill-fated group of personalities who suffered repeated disappointments in the World Series (before finally beating them in '55)
"I've likened those Bills teams to Roger Kahn's book," Polian said. "A great team that had a great
relationship with the town in which it played."
Polian has fond memories of the Super Bowl years. He put those teams together and was the general manager for the first three. He wishes they had one more timeout at the end of Super Bowl XXV. He wishes they had one more dynamic wide receiver. People forget that Don Beebe was injured and didn't play in Tampa. But mainly, Polian remembers that Buffalo loved its team, in the same way Brooklyn loved its Dodgers when they were losing to the Yankees.
"It was a very, very unique time and a unique team," Polian said. "They were very close, and they remain close today. They were the last team to really play together for a long time. Free agency came and broke things up. There hasn't been a team like that since, maybe for 49ers, although they were changing then, too.
"It's kind or ironic. This is the 20th anniversary of the first one for us. You probably have two franchises in the Super Bowl (Green Bay and Pittsburgh) whose relationships with their cities most closely epitomize the way it was with Buffalo and the Bills."