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Bills' past is checkered when it comes to drafting

It was the week the Aaron Maybin era of Bills' football ended without even beginning.

How can a team that has a history of drafting Hall of Famers like Billy Shaw, O.J. Simpson, Bruce Smith, Joe DeLamielleure, Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas also select such a collection of first-round flops as Maybin, Jim Davidson, Walt Patulski, Reuben Gant, Phil Dokes, Tony Hunter, Erik Flowers and Mike Williams?

The answer is that the Bills have a reputation for peaks and valleys selecting. There have been eras when they employed superb judges of college talent. There have also been eras when owner Ralph Wilson preferred to surround himself with insurance men, salesmen and old friends with whom he was more comfortable rather than football guys who knew what they were doing even if they did dribble tobacco juice down their shirt fronts.

Wilson stepped out on just the right foot when he founded the Bills. The first general manager whom he hired was Dick Gallagher, chief talent finder of the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that seemed to do no wrong for the 15 years they had been in business.

Gallagher's first draft in 1961 set the stage for Buffalo's American Football League champions of 1964-65. In that draft he selected an entire offensive line; the Bills had to outbid teams from the established NFL to keep them. Wilson's command to Gallagher was "now go sign them." It wasn't easy since three of those future Bills had been premium picks of NFL rivals.

In the 1963 draft Gallagher selected and signed two more NFL first-rounders, Michigan State center Dave Behrman and Mississippi defensive tackle Jim Dunaway. Along with them came Michigan State's All-America fullback, George Saimes, and Notre Dame quarterback Daryle Lamonica. Saimes, who came in a trade with Kansas City, was switched to free safety by Lou Saban in his first season and was named to the all-time AFL team.

Gallagher was gone by 1966. So was Saban, an excellent judge of talent himself, which is fairly rare for a coach. The departures resulted in a partial eclipse of winning football in Buffalo that lasted until 1978, when Chuck Knox of the Los Angeles Rams was hired as coach and brought Norm Pollom, another formidable talent judge, with him. Their second draft, in 1980, brought elite offensive lineman Jim Ritcher and running back Joe Cribbs.

When Knox and Pollom left Buffalo, it brought on another eclipse that was lifted only by accident when another businessman-general manager left the team because of bad health and was replaced by a little-known scout who introduced himself as "Bill Who." That was Bill Polian, the architect of the Buffalo team that went to four consecutive Super Bowls.

When Polian left Buffalo he went on to do an instant building job on the new Carolina franchise and eventually made the Indianapolis Colts one of the premier franchises in pro football. If there is any justice, Polian will be inducted into the Hall of Fame some day.

When Polian left Buffalo he was succeeded by two of his acolytes, the late John Butler and A.J. Smith. When they left for San Diego, another lengthy eclipse surrounded us. I have a feeling that present GM Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey may be eclipse-lifters. It could be that those nine sacks against the Chicago Bears last week were a harbinger of good things to come.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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