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NFL wrong to work against Bills

His intention was not to embarrass Roger Goodell and his cohorts who run the National Football League. He was not trying to disrespect Philadelphia or stick a knife into the belly of Buffalo or Cincinnati. Michael Vick was doing what has been asked of him since he left prison.

He was telling the truth.

In case you hadn't heard, Vick in an interview with GQ Magazine revealed that Buffalo and Cincinnati presented better opportunities than Philadelphia did when he completed his sentence for dogfighting. He suggested that Goodell and others connected to the league steered him away from the Bills and Bengals and toward the Eagles.

"I think I can say this now, because it's not going to hurt anybody's feelings, and it's the truth," Vick told the magazine, which hit the newsstands Thursday. "I didn't want to come to Philadelphia. Being the third-team quarterback is nothing to smile about. Cincinnati and Buffalo were better options."

One problem: It does hurt. It hurts not because the statement came from Vick's lips or because he wound up elsewhere or because he might have solved problems that have been with the Bills for a decade. What stings is Vick confirming what many long suspected, that the NFL is partial toward large markets.

Vick and Goodell quickly released statements Thursday, you know, to clarify that he made the decision on his own. It was a predictable reaction from both after they realized Vick and the NFL were caught in the middle of a public-relations storm. In fact, Vick's initial statement was more believable than anything he or Goodell said Thursday.

Let's not kid ourselves. Vick was a marketing machine before he was convicted. He was among the most visible athletes in the world, perhaps more so when he was released from the clink. More eyeballs on him meant more revenue, which meant more money for the league. When in doubt, follow the dollars and cents.

Philly is one of the NFL's largest markets, Buffalo and Cincy among the smallest. The league pushing one player away from one team and toward another is unacceptable on any level, but is it more? Did it break any laws? Do we need a full investigation? I don't know. It was sleazy at best, a slap in the face to the Bills and Bengals.

Vick the quarterback might not have solved the Bills' problems on his own, but Vick the megastar would have contributed to turning things around. Like him or not, whether you wanted him or not, he's a dynamic player who remains one of the best in the league. Fans are drawn to him, and players want to share a huddle with him.

He would have been, at the very least, a sales pitch for the Bills and a recruiting tool in free agency. He would have improved the offensive line with his mobility and improved a collection of average receivers. Vick and Terrell Owens in our passionate football town that season would have beaten the daylights out of Trent Edwards and Josh Reed.

Perhaps he could have even helped salvage Marshawn Lynch.

Vick certainly would have created a buzz that has been missing in Western New York, sadly enough, since the days of Doug Flutie. Kids who were too young to remember the glory days have been sent off to college. All they know is what they have witnessed, years of mediocrity or worse, for far too long.

For years, there has been an underlying sense that Goodell in the big chair, with his Jamestown roots, somehow translated to him looking after Buffalo. The notion was misguided. Looking after one team or his hometown team was not his job as commissioner, but the opposite also remains true.

He certainly shouldn't be working against Buffalo, either. How the commissioner or anyone connected to him could affect any personnel decisions is a mystery. The NFL shouldn't be manipulating the process for any player.

For years, the league has insisted it's looking for parity, selling the idea that the playing field would be level among markets large and small if teams did their homework and made good decisions. Buffalo and Cincy have earned their reputations as football Siberia, but neither needed the NFL contributing to their plight.

The Bills haven't been to the playoffs for a decade and counting for many reasons. Many of their wounds were self-inflicted. Their draft history is embarrassing. They haven't competed with other teams for top free agents. They haven't had a proven quarterback since Drew Bledsoe, if not Flutie before him, if not Jim Kelly before Flutie.

We need not revisit the coaching changes and first-round busts and game-day debacles -- defining the dreary Dick Jauron Era -- to paint the picture. Winning in this league is difficult enough. It becomes infinitely more challenging for teams like the Bills when trying to beat the team across from them and the league overseeing them.

I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but there are grounds for suspicion.

There is a sense of dread hanging over Buffalo every time Ralph Wilson celebrates his birthday. It makes you wonder if the NFL is determined to eventually pull the lowly Bills from their little city and get them into a town with brighter lights, a greater population and bigger money.

We view Buffalo as a terrific football town. Fans have been there for terrible years and triumphant years and everything in between. The latest revelation forces you to think that the NFL sees Buffalo as little more than a headache that will eventually run its course and fade into history.

And it makes you question what else is out there behind the scenes. Can we trust the league's revenues, its hiring policies, its concern for health among its players and its drug-testing program? Can we assume the NFL did right with its ruling on former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor? Or is this all about business?

The Bills' order of business Thursday was wrapping up training camp at St. John Fisher College and heading back to Orchard Park. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a rough day at practice Thursday, continuing a rough week. The Bills appear to be headed for another long season.

What can I say? The truth hurts.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com