The Buffalo Bills have been down this NFL gender-barrier-breaking road before.
Long before anyone ever heard of Rex Ryan. Long before anyone ever heard of Terry Pegula. Long before Terry and Kim Pegula even met.
Quietly, the Bills were doing something that, at the time, was groundbreaking in league circles but barely discussed in Western New York or anywhere else for that matter: they were employing the NFL’s first and only female scout.
It was among the immediate thoughts that crossed my mind Wednesday night when the Bills announced they had hired the league’s first full-time female assistant coach.
I’m pretty sure Linda Bogdan never met Kathryn Smith, but I’m guessing that somewhere, she is smiling at the way the team is carrying on a tradition of sorts.
In 1986, Linda began evaluating players on a part-time basis for the franchise owned by her father, Ralph Wilson. She would eventually become the Bills’ vice president/assistant director of college and pro scouting.
In 2009, about four months before Wilson would enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Linda died after battling cancer. Wilson passed away five years later.
And now, under the ownership of the Pegulas, the Bills are making similar employment history – and drawing a whole lot more attention for it – with Ryan deciding to give Kathryn Smith, his former administrative assistant, the role of quality control-special teams. It’s a low-level job that mainly involves highly detailed work, such as studying the Bills’ tendencies and other trends in their kicking game and sharing the information with special-teams coordinator Danny Crossman and special-teams assistant coach Eric Smith.
But it’s a start and a significant career step for someone who has spent 13 years working her way up the NFL ladder, first as an intern and later as a player-personnel assistant with Ryan’s previous employer, the New York Jets.
Although Linda Bogdan had the benefit of being the owner’s daughter, it could also be said that the path she traveled to becoming a club executive was somewhat humbling in its own right.
Her initial reason for wanting to scout was that she thought she could help reverse the fortunes of a team that had suffered through back-to-back 2-14 seasons in 1984 and 1985. But as she went from part-time to full-time and became increasingly involved in the scouting process, she never wanted any publicity, discouraging the Bills’ public-relations staff from promoting it.
Linda wanted to be treated the same as anyone else. And as hard as it might be to believe, her fellow scouts on the Bills and other teams seemed to do just that.
I had the chance to speak with Linda many times. We mostly talked about her tennis matches; she was an exceptional player, a skill no doubt handed down from her father. We’d occasionally talk about the Bills, but she almost never went into detail about players she scouted or any other aspect of her work in player personnel.
There was one exception, however. It came after Wilson proudly shared with the media that it was Linda who had targeted linebacker Carlton Bailey as an NFL prospect after the Bills made him a ninth-round draft pick in 1988.
Bailey was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference nose tackle at North Carolina, but when Linda filed her scouting report she projected him as a linebacker. He would prove to be a solid contributor to their Super Bowl run.
One conversation I had with Linda that stood out actually came 25 years ago this week. Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the Bills’ 51-3 victory against the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC Championship Game, catapulting them to their first Super Bowl appearance.
As the Bills were days away from facing the Giants, Linda, speaking of her father, said, “I really think last Sunday was the greatest day in his life. Maybe this Sunday will be better.”
It wasn’t, of course.
But the Bills were better for their progressive thinking then … and now.