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Chris Berman taps into friendships with Kelly and Bruce that go back, back, back

The wooden statue of Chris Berman that sits outside the Big Tree Inn in Orchard Park has had an arm missing for a couple of years now.  If there is someone out there who took the missing limb, Berman wants you to know that all is forgiven.

"I don't think anyone stole my arm," Berman said. "I think maybe people at the Big Tree were hanging on it after a couple of beers and it just gave way. I'd like to think that's what happened. But if someone has my arm with the microphone on it, well, enjoy it."

Berman's longtime affinity for the Buffalo Bills is well known. Berman gave the presentation speech for the late Ralph Wilson when Wilson was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.  Berman counts two other Bills Hall of Famers, Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith, as among his best friends. Berman's rapport with his two pals will be on display the next two Monday nights when Kelly and Smith are his guests on ESPN's Monday Night Countdown show, which airs from 6-8 p.m.  The show this season is featuring a series of "NFL legends" as Berman's guests for the two-hour program.

Mike Ditka, Michael Irvin, Joe Theismann, Dick Vermeil, Mike Shanahan and Joe Namath have all shared the Countdown set with "Boomer" Berman. (Due to the Monday night doubleheader in Week One, the legends series started on Countdown in Week Two.)

"Weeks 2-9, we will have had five Hall of Famers, we will have had two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks," Berman said by phone on Saturday. "And I cringe when I say that, with Jim coming on, I almost consider him one. And the Hall of Famers would be Jim, Bruce, Coach Ditka, Michael Irvin and my hero of all time, Joe Namath, who was just last week. And we have three Super Bowl winning coaches .. So that's only through early November."

Berman is looking forward to working with Kelly and Smith again.

"The beauty of Jim is, things like his golf tournament that raises money, and other events, through the years after football, he has kept those Bills together," Berman said. "Jim and Bruce are just a little younger than me ... we were friends back when they were in their 20s and I was in my young 30s, and it's a friendship that stayed from the late '80s and now we're here, almost 30 years later."

Berman mentioned Kelly's battles with cancer, which have made "Kelly tough" a catch phrase known throughout Bills Nation.

"Jim is everyone's hero as you know from what he's gone through a couple of times. Not because of the fact he beat it but because of how he's inspired everyone else."

Berman said with a chuckle that Kelly has been asking whether he should bring a costume to the Countdown set for the show on Halloween night.

"I said I don't know, Jim, it's two hours and I'm not sure anyone really wants that. But you know Jim, he'll do whatever the hell he wants."

Berman was at New Era Field for the Bills' Thursday night game against the Jets in Week Two ( a 37-31 loss for Buffalo). The team retired Bruce Smith's number with a halftime ceremony that night, with Berman as emcee.

"Bruce asked me personally, so I was happy to be there," Berman said. "Unfortunately, it was a disaster of a game for the Bills."

With the Patriots and Seahawks up next, what does Berman think about the Bills' quest to end their playoff drought?

"We've seen what they can look like when they're really good," Berman said. "Here's the problem, though. New England and Seattle, the next two games, may not be W's. And now all of a sudden, as good as that four-game winning streak was, they're looking at maybe being 4-5 heading into the bye.

"In these two games, if you're going to make the playoffs -- I'm going to say this on the show (Sunday) as my opening statement -- if they're going to make the playoffs they have to play big-boy football. And I'm not saying they don't. They shut out the Patriots, they looked great in some of these games, they beat Arizona handily. But to beat either New England or Seattle, and they have the team to do it with their offense and their defensive lines, they're going to have to play big-boy football to make the playoffs. So we're going to see how they play against these two teams that I think are going to play in the Super Bowl," New England and Seattle.

"The AFC doesn't have as many good teams as it had last year when the Jets won 10 and didn't get in," Berman said.  "Cincinnati has fallen off, Baltimore has fallen off, the South's not very good, so as I look at the big landscape there is room for the Bills."

Berman is an experienced analyst, but he's also a fan of his favorite team.

"This is the year the Cubs and Indians made the World Series, " he said, "so maybe the only NFL team that hasn't made the playoffs this century will get in also. Let's think that things happen in threes."

Berman has been part of ESPN's Baseball Tonight show during the World Series.

"By the way, did you see Marv on TV last night?," he said, referring to the shots of Marv Levy at Wrigley Field to cheer on the Cubs in Game Three.  "And he was at Game Seven (at Wrigley) in 1945, that's unbelievable!"

There has been a lot of talk in media circles this year about the slippage in TV ratings for the NFL. Everyone has a theory, including Berman. He suggests the game may be overexposed a bit on television.

"Now we all love football and I tune in for all the games," he said. "But the league has to decide, with everything on, is it as special as it used to be? I don't mean going back to the '80s when we just got two games. I just mean is it still as special now, when you have games on all the time?"

Berman pointed out that 28 of the teams in the NFL have two or more losses, "and we're still in October." The lack of super-teams may make some of the games less compelling, he said.

"Do people say, 'I'll watch it tomorrow, I'll watch it later today, I have something to do and there's another game on tomorrow.' I think a little bit has caught up with them, I hate to say it, and I'll tell the commissioner that if he asks me."

Aside from Berman, the other best-known Bills fan at ESPN is the SportsCenter anchor Kevin Connors. Do he and Berman compare notes on their favorite team?

"Kevin will come into my office with the most innocent of faces, like on a Friday night when I'm working, and he'll say, 'Boomer, do we have a chance this week?' So we're kind of the two biggest Buffalo fans in the building, at least on the air.  He'll run through the roster one through 53. He does a wonderful job, he's an earnest young man and he's an old-school sportscaster and I say that with the ultimate of respect."

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