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Trading spaces: C.J. Spiller wistful about leaving Bills, but can't wait to be a Saint

They say moving can be the most stressful time in a person's life.

C.J. Spiller knows this now. He has been back in Orchard Park this week, packing up five years of Buffalo Bills memories before starting his new job with the New Orleans Saints.

"I thought it would be a smooth cleanout," Spiller said Thursday morning at a Tim Hortons around the corner from Ralph Wilson Stadium. "But you start packing up and keep coming across something that brings all the memories flooding back to you.

"It starts sinking in that you're moving on."

Spiller was taking a break from unloading the house he'd rented here. His first offseason camp with the Saints is next week.

Over a hot chocolate, he sought some degree of closure after five years that alternated between incandescent and disconnected.

"I'll always be a Buffalo Bill at heart," Spiller said in a gray Adidas hoodie and baggy Bills shorts. "This is where my journey began.

"I'll always have love for this city and look forward to watching them play and look for them to get back to where they belong. This is a special place, and I can tell they're building something special."

Early in Spiller's stay, Bills fans didn't quite know what to make of him or the decision to draft him ninth overall in 2010, leaving future Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mike Iupati and Maurkice Pouncey, Jermaine Gresham and Demaryius Thomas on the board.

That the Bills already had 1,000-yard backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson on the roster made the Spiller pick even more controversial.

Spiller had only 74 carries and 24 receptions as a rookie, then 107 carries and 39 catches in his second year. He detonated in his third season, rushing for 1,244 yards on a gaudy 6-yard average and catching 43 passes for 459 yards. He went to the Pro Bowl.

Bills coach Chan Gailey was fired after that season at least partially because he seemed to hold Spiller back. On critical third downs or in the red zone, Gailey usually went with Jackson instead and kept Spiller on the sideline.

Spiller's role decreased in Doug Marrone's two seasons. Marrone was agitated Spiller didn't hit holes harder, often getting tackled behind the line while trying to make a big play that wasn't there.

When the Bills reached the red zone, Spiller was on the sideline -- as far away from the coaches as possible -- with his arms folded or his helmet off. He knew he wasn't going into the game.

"It was frustrating," Spiller said. "I'm not going to sit here and say I was happy about the situation because I would be lying.

"Like any competitor, you want to be on the field, trying to help your team win, trying to score touchdowns. To have the opportunity ... I don't want to say 'taken away.' I guess I should say 'to not be given the opportunity' because of my size was tough."

Reporters asked Spiller about his lack of touches on a weekly basis. He never lashed out.

"Probably a young, college No. 28 would've said some things," he said. "But I grew as a player by watching guys like Fred and Marshawn prepare and from guys like Kyle Williams.

"Just watching the way Kyle Williams competed each and every Sunday, how he battled through injuries, how he gave it his all, his passion for the game, the energy he brought to he locker room and the way he handled himself off the field. Those are the things you take with you."

How little has Spiller been used? LeSean McCoy is 11 months younger than Spiller but has 897 more touches in his career (1,808 to 911) than Spiller. In fact, McCoy has more touches than Jackson (1,673), the NFL's oldest running back.

Spiller's rookie contract expired after last season. But with Marrone bolting, Spiller was excited about the chance to play for new coach Rex Ryan.

Spiller said Thursday he would've been willing to take a slight hometown discount to re-sign with Buffalo once the market dictated his value.

But he became extraneous when the Philadelphia Eagles traded McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Bills still have Jackson, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon at tailback and signed free-agent fullback Jerome Felton.

So Spiller had to leave. For the first time since he went to Clemson University, he got to choose his destination. After five years of frustrations over how he was -- or was not -- used, Spiller said he "would've been a fool" not to see what Saints coach Sean Payton could do for him.

"The mentality there is 'Super Bowl,' " Spiller said. "You want to win the division and then the conference. But they want to win Super Bowls, and so do I.

"At the end of the day, the window is closing in on everybody. I'm just looking forward to being a part of that, a piece of that puzzle."

With slithery speed, Spiller frequently has been compared to former Saints back Reggie Bush, an all-purpose threat who could score as a runner, receiver and returner. Spiller and Bush have worked out together in past offseasons. Spiller and another former Saints back, Darren Sproles, were clients to late agent Gary Wichard.

The Saints were Spiller's only free-agent visit. He said the New York Jets, where Gailey now is offensive coordinator, also showed interest.

Of course, the idea of playing with quarterback Drew Brees helped Spiller make up his mind.

"I'm excited to get down to New Orleans," Spiller said. "Coach Payton knows how to get the ball to the running backs.

"At the same time, Drew isn't going to force anything downfield, so he loves getting the backs involved in the passing game."

Spiller needed 1 minute, 58 seconds to rattle off the people he wanted to thank. There was Ralph Wilson, Buddy Nix, Chan Gailey, Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, Bud Carpenter, the ball boys, local restaurateur Dennis DiPaolo and even Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan.

Later in the interview, Spiller emphasized his emotional visits with sick children at Erie County Medical Center on Tuesdays during the season.

"That's what I'm going to miss the most," Spiller said, "going to see kids that are struggling every day with things you can only imagine about and seeing a smile on their faces. That's the one thing that kept my grounded throughout my whole time here.

"When people are asking why I'm not getting the ball, I would think 'How can I complain when I just saw a kid on Tuesday that's struggling to even live?' "

Marrone's name was noticeably absent from Spiller's long thank-you list.

Given a chance to explain the omission, Spiller was his gracious self. Turns out Payton contacted Marrone about Spiller before the Saints signed him. Marrone had been Payton's offensive coordinator from 2006 through 2008.

"He had nothing but nice things to say about me," Spiller said. "That caught me off guard.

"I'm not saying we had a rocky relationship, but for him to say nothing but nice things about me and recommend that Coach Payton get me, it was humbling, a great feeling to know he still respected me as a player and a person. That's all I can ask for."

Signing with the Saints was met with resistance from Spiller's 9-year-old daughter, Shania.

She lives with her mother in Atlanta and is a fan of the NFC South rival Falcons. She also has a thing for the "Shout!" song played in Ralph Wilson Stadium after a Bills score.

"When I look back, I know I gave it everything I had when I went out there on Sunday," Spiller said. "I never held anything back. I played through some tough injuries. I rehabbed to get back because of the passion I have for the game.

"If we would've made the playoffs, it would have been a successful time. That's the one thing. I just wanted to experience what the ride would have been like, when that 'Shout!' song brought so much energy to this town in those Super Bowl years."

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