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A fanciful, fun-filled football Mailbag

This week's "mail" is heavy on the Bills and pro football -- though nothing about Tom Brady. I expected an all-out bombardment from people demanding that I call for his immediate expulsion from the NFL.
I said back in January that I didn't believe Brady's denials. He had to know the footballs had been deflated before the AFC title game. Roger Goodell has to suspend him to let the world know the NFL will not tolerate cheating -- and lying about it.This taints Brady's legacy as a sportsman and a guy. But it won't change my belief that Brady is the best quarterback ever.

On to this week's Mailbag. Direct your future questions to my Twitter account (@TBNsully) or my Buffalo News email -- Suggestions for my baseball quiz are also welcome:

Dr. Sidney J. Horton asks:  Jerry, what are your thoughts on Marv Hubbard, who died Monday? No one epitomized what football should be like Marvin, the best football player WNY ever produced. He was a native of Salamanca. We were born in the same hospital and he married my sister. My heart is very, very heavy.

Sully: Sid, I remember watching Hubbard play for the Raiders during the John Madden era. We loved those Raiders-Chiefs battles when I was a teen-ager. Hubbard was a rookie in Oakland in 1969, the same year Madden took over as coach. He was a star fullback for the Raiders from 1969-75 and made three Pro Bowls.

Madden would agree with you that Hubbard exemplified the rugged football of that era. Hubbard, who was 6-1, 225 pounds, was a power runner who averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry in his career.

In 1972, Hubbard, a product of Randolph High and Colgate University, had his best year in Oakland. He was fifth in the NFL in rushing with 1,100 yards on 219 carries. Hubbard, who succumbed to prostate cancer, finished his Oakland career with 4,394 yards, fifth in team history.

This is how Hubbard, who would have turned 69 on May 7, characterized his running style in an article that ran in the Salamanca Press in 2007:

"My running style was pretty much, 'Get the (bleep) out of my way.' But there was a method to my madness. I would intentionally hit tacklers. By the final quarter, defensive backs knew I was head-hunting."

Madden told a San Francisco radio station that he used to run Hubbard early in games to wear down defenses, then go back to him later in the game when the Raiders were protecting a lead.

"Marv Hubbard was one of the toughest players we ever had," Madden told the Contra Costa Times. "There are people that will have contact and people that won't have contact but only a few that will have it and really enjoy it. Marv was one of those guys who truly enjoyed the collision. He would look for it."

As for Hubbard being the best football player from Western New York, that's hard to say. But three Pro Bowls is tough to top. Daryl Johnston made two Pro Bowls, Jim Burt and Ron Jaworski one apiece. Rob Gronkowski just made his third Pro Bowl, so he's making a move.

Maybe that's a question for a future Mailbag.

Daniel Sanford (@sanford177) asks: Brandon Spikes visiting NE. Looking for a (Buffalo) reaction or looking for a job? I know it's a business, but this one feels weird.

Sully:  Daniel, there's nothing weird about the situation. The Bills told Spikes that if he wanted to come back as a starting linebacker, he would have to come to training camp and win a job on the roster first.

They told Spikes to hit the market and see if he could get a more solid offer. It hasn't happened yet. So the visit to New England makes sense. Granted, Spikes left the Pats on bad terms, but Bill Belichick would sign him if he felt it would help his team.

The Pats are deep at linebacker with Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins. But an experienced run stuffer can't hurt. The Bills could use the depth, too. But they seem content with Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown inside, with Brown making the calls.

Maybe Spikes is trying to nudge the Bills by courting their AFC East rival. More likely, he's thinking that if he can't get a starting job, he wouldn't mind playing for the Super Bowl champions.

Christopher Sugar asks: Lots of talk that BBrown is the odd man out after KWilliams was drafted. Why should Fred Jax be safe?

Sully: Yes, Sugar. Bryce Brown appears to be the odd man out now after the Bills drafted Karlos Williams. I don't see them tossing a fifth-round pick (their third overall) onto the practice squad.

They'll keep four tailbacks on the active roster, plus free-agent fullback Jerome Felton. Williams will make is as a special teams guy. That could threaten Bobbie Dixon's job if Doug Whaley elects to keep Brown because he traded a fourth-round pick for the guy.

But Jackson is safe for another year. He's the solid No. 2 and deserves to be. I don't care if he's 34. I've learned never to write him off. Jackson led the Bills in rushing and receptions last year. He's the best pass protector among the tailbacks.

And let's face it, the more dubious characters the Bills sign, the better it is to have a solid citizen like Fred in the locker room.


Mark Bennett asks: In a Dec. 29 column, you had a line concerning Kyle Orton that troubled me. You pointed out that he slid two yards short of a first down in a loss to Denver. You said, "Looking back, I wonder if Orton was looking to avoid a big hit because he knew he was sliding into retirement."

I found that statement to cross a line. In boxing terms, you suggested that he essentially took a 'dive'. Are you still
comfortable with it and what it implies?

Sully: Fair question, Mark. Given time, I'm equally comfortable with the suggestion. Orton had strongly considered retirement before signing with the Bills late last summer. The Cowboys cut him because they assumed he had retired, which allowed Orton to keep a $5 million signing bonus.

Orton had talked about wanting to be with his family, but he never addressed it in Buffalo. So when he retired at the end of the season, I was convinced that was his plan all along.

If Orton was playing with one eye on retirement, it was fair to wonder if he might be reluctant to take a hit that could cause him serious injury. Perhaps he even made some kind of promise to his wife that he would be extra careful in his final season.

It's a brutal sport, and I couldn't blame Orton for avoiding contact. But I believed then, as I do now, that self-preservation was on his mind, if only subconsciously, when he went into that slide.

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