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Walt Patulski: Bills fans should enjoy the ride

Bills coach Rex Ryan made headlines this season when he asked a question as “Walt Patulski of The Buffalo News” during a conference call. This column was written by the real Patulski, whom the Bills drafted first overall in 1972.

Walt Patulski
Special to The News

I see a lot of folks are pointing to Rex Ryan's decision to switch offensive coordinators for the Buffalo Bills' recent success.

But let's not forget the Bills didn't have a win streak until Ryan brought me into the fray by mentioning my name at a press conference. Waking me from some 40 years of virtual anonymity.

Win One for Walt is a thing now. WOFW!

You're not buying that? OK, so maybe I'm not the reason Buffalo has won four straight games headed into Sunday's game at Miami.

Just don't fault me for reveling in their streak more than usual. My name hasn't been attached to many Bill achievements.

Wait a second ... Or have they?

Out of curiosity, I went back to look at the win streaks from my playing days with the Bills and came away with a realization that applies to this year's team and top draft picks in general.

Perspective is important here, which I totally lost back then. and that's the great lesson in life.

We went 1-13 a season before I was drafted first overall out of Notre Dame in 1972. My rookie year we were 4-9-1, with one of those losses by a single point at Miami. Remember, that was the year the Dolphins went 17-0.

My second year we went 9-5. My third year we went 9-5 again, reached the playoffs for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who went on to win the Super Bowl. My fourth year we went 8-6, and then I got shipped off to St. Louis in a very large hefty bag.

Only four teams made the postseason in each conference back then. So imagine how difficult it was, especially in the same conference as those great Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders teams, to go from 4-9-1 to back-to-back 9-5 seasons and a playoff appearance.

In retrospect I am very proud of what we accomplished. Sad that it took me so long.

I was blessed to start and lead the team in sacks (although they weren't an official stat back then) on a defense that ranked seventh against the run in 1973, third against the pass in 1974 and fifth overall in 1975.

Yet I'm sometimes considered one of the biggest draft busts of all-time in any sport. I often wonder what criteria is utilized to draw such a fatalistic conclusion. What I do know is that once you are selected No. 1 in any sport, anything less than becoming a franchise player is failure. I know because I lived it.

I left Buffalo haunted by my unrealized expectations. But looking back now, during the quarter century between Buffalo's AFL championships and the Super Bowl teams, the early to mid 1970s were almost the golden years!

We deliver statements and draw conclusions and make snap judgments every year and every season in sports.

But compared to what?

That brings us back to this Bills season. They began 0-2 and were considered dead on arrival. Fans and football analysts began to contemplate who the Bills should take with the first overall draft pick that's awarded to the NFL's worst team.

There were 14 games left, but they were so inspiring. People wrote them off. Fortunately for us, they didn't write themselves off.

Rex and the Bills were so terrible on the surface, but compared to what? Nothing had happened yet. Fourteen games multiplied by 32 teams equaled 448 more NFL games still hadn't been played.

We lacked perspective. We were short-sided in the moment. We need time and context before we can look back and absorb reality.

So let's not put the Bills into the playoffs yet. Let's not make a bronze Hall of Fame bust for Carson Wentz. Let's not write off that rookie prospect who hasn't scored a touchdown or recorded a sack six games into his career.

Let's enjoy this ride and see where it takes us.

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