The Buffalo Bills' loyal fans were leaning Monday evening toward defense with the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and they were leaning strongly in favor of the owners in the NFL's labor standoff.
A crowd of about 750 suite-holders, club-seat owners and sponsors were in attendance at the Buffalo Hyatt Regency to listen to Bills executives Buddy Nix, Chan Gailey and Russ Brandon rally the fans in a state of the team message. An informal poll of 60 fans found two-thirds of them were in favor of the Bills drafting for defense over quarterback in the first round.
"We need a defensive monster, a front-seven guy who can stop the run and make plays," said David Paoletta of Cheektowaga.
"I think we need more players on defense that are explosive, impact players," said David Agnello of Cheektowaga. "There's going to be quarterbacks in the second round we could take."
The Bills ranked 32nd in the NFL in run defense last year and have ranked among the bottom 11 against the run six straight seasons. Of course, they also have ranked in the bottom eight on offense eight straight seasons.
The top defenders in the draft include Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
"Dareus, that's the guy," said Howie Rowcroft of Niagara Falls. "I think he's the best defensive lineman, plus he's been doing it for the last three years. He's produced. I don't trust one-year wonders anymore."
"We're not good enough on defense," agreed John Rowcroft, Howie's son. "Please, for the love of God, don't draft [quarterback] Cam Newton. He's a one-year wonder like Aaron Maybin."
"You win with defense," said West Seneca's Don Bartz, who said he never has missed a home game in the Bills' 51 seasons. "Newton is a running quarterback, and it's a passing league."
Agnello, echoing the comments of numerous fans, said he doesn't want the Bills to take Peterson, even though he's viewed by many analysts as the "safest" pick at the top of the draft.
"We don't want a cornerback," Agnello said. "We've had enough cornerbacks. If the pass rush is explosive enough, that will help the secondary out. I'd take Von Miller."
The vote for defense was not a landslide, however. There was a sizable minority in favor of taking either Auburn's Newton, who is visiting the Bills today, or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.
"Quarterback, without question," said Jeff O'Field, a Bills fan from Morgantown, W. Va. "Who wins the Super Bowl? It's the great quarterbacks."
"Definitely quarterback," said Evan Mann of East Amherst. "We haven't had a great quarterback in awhile. I like Newton."
"They've got to go with Cam Newton," said Bob Fildes of Tonawanda. "We need an impact player, and you can't get much more of an impact player than him. I like Ryan Fitzpatrick. I don't think we have to start Newton. I don't think we're going to do much this year anyway, so let Newton learn."
"I think good to great quarterbacks win championships," said Bill Miller of Buffalo. "Quarterbacks are picking apart defenses these days. You've got to have one. Gabbert would be my first choice."
"You've got to have somebody if Fitzpatrick goes down," said Williamsville's Tom Nola. "Newton can do it. Fitzpatrick can start this year. But he's not going to take us all the way."
The consensus among the die-hards was clear on the current NFL lockout. While the fans didn't have great sympathy for either side, almost all said they favor the owners' position.
"I lean toward the owners," said Phillip Basile of Williamsville. "They need to make some concessions. But the product is the NFL. My loyalty is to the [NFL] logo, to the team."
"I'm a union man, but I lean toward the side of the owners," said Brian Zachary of Lewiston. "It's their game. If I told my boss what the players are saying, my boss would say, 'Take a hike.' "
"It's hard to feel sorry for people who make millions," said Bartz. "They both have a lot to lose by not settling. If I were the owners, I wouldn't let them look at the books. They're not shareholders. I've never seen a union employee who got to look at the books in any labor negotiation."
Ron Hopkins of the Town of Tonawanda said he was fed up with both sides of the dispute.
"They're arguing over $9 billion and we've got people who can't pay for health insurance," Hopkins said. "I don't hear any of the players playing now arguing for the retirees. You've got older players who need more assistance."
"Why are the administrative people being forced to take pay cuts?" Miller said. "That's wrong. That's wrong. The owners should not be taking those people's money."
"I'm not going to say I'm for the owners, but I can't sympathize with the players," said Depew's Dick Zolnowski. "What nobody's bringing up is Ralph [Wilson] was right in 2006 when he said this was not a good deal."
"I'm with the owners, hands down," O'Field said. "Without the owner, there's no team."