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Nearing 80, Paul Maguire talks Bills, broadcasting and the time he hung up on Lou Saban

For Paul Maguire, it was an honor he never quite felt worthy of receiving in the first place.

A club seating area at New Era Field bearing his name? That was beyond flattering. However, as far as Maguire was concerned, there were far more deserving contributors to the rich history of the Buffalo Bills.

After all, Maguire's career as a punter/linebacker was over before the Bills' Orchard Park home was even built. And for all that he accomplished during seven seasons with the Bills – being a part of back-to-back American Football League championships in 1964 and '65 and adding to the numbers that allowed him to rank as the AFL's all-time leader in punts and punt yards – he never allowed himself to get overly attached to the tributes the team bestowed upon him, Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and broadcaster Van Miller in 1999 by putting their names on the club areas.

When Maguire received a call several months ago informing him of the plan to remove the names and replace them with those of companies paying for that right, he said he expressed no disappointment.

"Are you kidding me? It was an honor," Maguire says. "When they asked me if they could put my name on it, I said, 'Are you nuts? I can understand Van, I can understand Jim Kelly. But me?' How can I be ticked off about something that was absolutely incredible?

"I know it's all business. So now they're selling (naming rights) and they're making money. And that's good. But upset? Absolutely not. I was just elated that they did it."

Naming rights sold for three club areas at New Era Field

A month from his 80th birthday, Maguire is looking and feeling and sounding like the full-of-life character he was through 11 seasons as a professional football player with the Chargers and Bills, and 46 years as a network-television sports broadcaster. He still has the trademark wisp of blond hair framing his large, round face. He still has the trademark mustache. Over a recent lunch at Mulberry Italian Ristorante in Lackawanna, he is in peak form, delivering a steady stream of one-liners across the table, with plenty more for the owners, employees and a few customers who turn around as he walks by. A trademark bottle of Budweiser sits in front of him.

This is part of the four-month stretch Maguire and his wife, Beverly, spend at their condo near Brierwood Country Club in Hamburg. The rest of the time, they're at their home in South Carolina, where Maguire has been inducted into both the state's football and athletics halls of fame. Life is no longer about studying lineups and statistics, getting on and off airplanes, going from hotel to hotel and stadium to stadium. It's about enjoying time with his wife, their children and grandchildren, and golfing, which he does about three days per week.

It's also about memories. So many memories.

With a heavy dose of his typically salty language (for off-air purposes), Maguire tells story after story about his youth, his playing days at The Citadel military academy in South Carolina and the AFL, and one of the longest runs of providing national network TV analysis of NFL games for NBC and ESPN, as well as other sports for ESPN. Maguire treats every honor, along with the years spent on the field and in the broadcast booth, with the same appreciation that he has for those 18 years that people watched Bills games from the Paul Maguire Club.

He's satisfied. He's gratified. If there are regrets, he hides them well under his trademark cackle.

Youngstown roots run deep

The longer you speak with him, the more you realize he hasn't allowed himself to stray too far from his roots in Youngstown, Ohio. As the youngest of four children of Charles and Doris Maguire, Paul learned early in life to make the most of everything you have and to work for everything you want.

It took more than Charles' salary as a yard foreman at B&O Railroad to put enough food on the table to feed a family of six. The rest came from their vegetable garden, the chickens they raised, and, as Paul recalls with a savory smile, his mother's ability to do "marvelous things with hamburger."

Paul and his two older brothers, Jack and Bernard, would make footballs from crumpled paper bound by rubber bands. Whatever spending money they had came from delivering newspapers. That was how Paul bought himself his first bicycle, a $29 Schwinn with turn signals and a horn that he subsequently removed, along with the fenders. "You didn't ask for anything," he says.

You also didn't challenge the authority of the head of the household. Dinner was on the table at 5 o'clock sharp. Show up a minute late, and you might as well go back to wherever you were (in Paul's case, it was usually playing basketball with his friends) because you weren't going to eat. Paul learned the emphatic lesson about punctuality, although if he or his sister or brothers were in violation of the don't-be-late-for-dinner rule, they knew they could at least count on their mother to "make a half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and kind of sneak it to us."

Charles Maguire was a big man. He only had a third-grade education; Doris went as far as eighth grade. Charles couldn't read or write, but he had no problem making certain that everyone in the house understood who was in charge. One night at the dinner table, he assigned each son a garden task. "He said to me, 'You weed the rhubarb patch,'" Paul remembers. "I said, 'Why?' He backhanded me and I went flying across the linoleum floor. He didn't hurt me, but he scared the (bleep) out of me. Then he got out of the chair, reached down, grabbed me by the collar, pulled me up and said, 'Because I said so, that's why.'

"That was the last time I ever said 'why' to anybody."

Then there was that summer day when the three Maguire boys were supposed to go to the local swimming hole. However, Jack and Bernard had no intention of letting their pesky little brother accompany them.

"They took me around the corner and beat the (bleep) out of me and sent me home," Paul says. "I waited until my old man came home and as soon as he walked in the door, I started fake crying. He said, 'What's the matter with you?' I said, 'You told Jack and Bernie to take me to the swimming hole and they took me around the corner and they beat the hell out of me and sent me home.' My old man grabbed me off the porch and whacked my butt about four times. I said, 'What was that for?' He said, 'That's for telling on your brothers. And I'm going to kick their butt when they get home.'

"That was the last time I ever told on anyone."

Charles did have a soft side. On the first and 15th of each month, he would go to B&O Railroad to pick up his paycheck. After cashing it, he would take his three sons to the Goody House to buy each a chocolate milk and glazed doughnut. "Then we'd go down to the train yard," Maguire says. "Remember those big, black steam engines? We'd get to drive them up and down the tracks for about 20 minutes. It was unbelievable."

Punting 'the right way'

While playing for the Ursuline High School junior varsity football team as a freshman, Maguire had a routine where, just for fun, he would do a little punting before practice. The field was next to Wick Avenue, with a large fence in between. Fifty-six yards separated Maguire from the fence, and his goal was to kick one over it.

Nick Johnson, a city worker who would occasionally help with coaching the team, knew a thing or two about punting. After watching a few of Maguire's kicks fall well short of the fence, Johnson asked if he wanted to learn how to punt "the right way." Maguire, whose maximum distance at that point was 30 yards, told him he did. Johnson's requirement was that Maguire stay after each practice and punt 10 times against the wind and 10 with the wind. He also had to keep his pads on because, even though practice had ended for everyone else, that was how he would be kicking during a game.

To this day, Maguire credits Johnson for the fact he never had a punt blocked in four years with the Chargers and only two blocked in seven seasons with the Bills.

"He taught me how to drop the ball," Maguire says. "If you want height on the ball, you just hold it a little bit higher. But if you're going to kick it into the wind and keep it down so it's going to fight the wind, you just drop it a little bit lower. It's just like hitting a golf shot."

The lessons continued through his sophomore year, when in addition to punting he was a starting receiver ("Every time we threw the ball, I never dropped it"), cornerback and safety.

"Every day, Nick would tell me, 'The first time you kick that thing over that fence, you're done for the day,'" Maguire says. "It would start out that, if I did get it over, it wouldn't be until about the 20th kick. Then it got down to the 15th. Then it got to the point where I could walk on the field after practice, loosen up, and on the first or second one, that thing was gone."

Besides football, Maguire also played basketball and ran track at Ursuline. But football was the sport for which he drew all-city and all-state honors. Colleges noticed and it wasn't long before Maguire began receiving letter after letter offering football scholarships. One was from Ohio State, which always had its pick of the best the state had to offer.

Woody Hayes, the Buckeyes' legendary coach, attended Ohio's annual all-star high school football game in Canton. Maguire was one of about 50 participants. Roughly 47 had committed to Ohio State. Maguire wasn't one of them. That infuriated the hot-tempered Hayes, according to Maguire, to the point where the coach called Maguire out in front of other players at a hotel serving as the game's headquarters.

"We were up on the second floor," Maguire recalls. "As Woody came out, I dropped a water balloon out the window and hit him right on the head. Then I yelled, 'Don't you ever yell at me again!' That's as far as it went."

No place for dentists

Long before Al Davis would launch his Hall of Fame career as a coach and owner of the Oakland Raiders, he was an assistant football coach at The Citadel. The regimented ways of a military academy made recruiting difficult, yet Davis was particularly adept at landing prospects from small towns in the Northeast. One day after school, Maguire arrived home to find Davis sitting in the living room talking with Charles and Doris.

"My dad just sat there and listened," Maguire says. "Then, pointing to me, he said, 'It's up to him.' My father and I had one agreement. He said, 'I don't care where you go, but wherever you go, you must promise me you'll stay for four years.' We had a bunch of guys in our area who were pretty good players, and we had a couple that were really prominent. They would go to a school, quit, change schools ... and end up in jail."

Maguire took Davis up on his offer to travel to Charleston, S.C., for a campus visit that ended at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with a seating capacity of about 10,000. "Nobody's around, I'm up in the press box and Al's standing right behind me, talking into my right ear," Maguire says. "He goes, 'Think about this. The place is packed. Now, the announcer says, from Youngstown, Ohio, starting wide receiver for The Citadel Bulldogs … No. 86 … Paul Maguire …' And then he makes the sound of a cheering crowd. I had goosebumps on my arm. I'm saying, 'I'm in, I'm in, I'm in.'"

That night, Davis took Maguire to a steakhouse and instructed him to order anything he wanted off the menu. "Money is no object," Davis said. Maguire, who had never eaten a steak, decided on a Porterhouse for $7.95.

"The waiter asked, 'How would you like that cooked?'" Maguire remembers. "I didn't really know, so I said, 'Well done.' The waiter says, 'Well done?' Al looks at the waiter and says, 'Hey, this man here knows his steaks. If well done is how he wants it cooked, bring it well done.' That thing came out and I couldn't cut it with a hatchet, it was so tough. Al said, 'How is it?' I could barely speak while trying to chew. It would have been easier to just eat the bone."

Davis was the consummate salesman, even though he often made promises that weren't kept. For instance, he managed to convince Maguire that he wouldn't have to wear a uniform or carry a rifle, both of which are standard issue for all students. He also told Maguire that he'd be able to study dentistry. "The Citadel is an engineering school," Maguire says. "My freshman year, when I put down pre-dent as my major, everybody kept telling me, 'There's no such thing.'"

But Davis did make good on his vow that Maguire would play, which he did as a receiver, linebacker, and punter. Davis and Maguire were at The Citadel together for only one year before Davis left to become an assistant coach at USC. He wanted Maguire to come with him, but he wouldn't go back on the agreement with his father not to change schools. Still, Davis' coaching made a lasting impression. "Al's the reason I got in the pros, because he taught me how to run routes," Maguire says.

Their bond would grow even stronger through the years. In 1991, when Maguire suffered a heart attack, Davis had a private jet transport him to Cleveland to undergo  quintuple bypass surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. "Al was one of the best friends I ever had," Maguire says. "He never forgot any of those guys who played for him."

Maguire's least favorite memory from college came in 1958, when The Citadel played a road game against the University of Georgia. The Bulldogs had a half-dozen All-Americans, including future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton.

"They were beating the daylights out of us," Maguire says. "The final score was 76-0. Our manager went to the hospital seven times with our players during the game. Because he had to keep taking off his cleats in the waiting area, he came back one time and someone had stolen his shoes.

"At halftime, with a few of our guys already at the hospital, our coach, Eddie Teague, came in and said, 'OK, boys, new game!' I'm sitting in the back of this trailer, and I lifted my head and said, 'I'm sorry, Coach, but have you looked at that scoreboard? You know, we have a perfectly good airplane that the government's paying for waiting at the airport. Let's get the hell out of here before they kill us.' He said, 'That's not a good attitude.' I said, 'It isn't a question of attitude. We have no business being here.' It was absolutely the most awful afternoon I spent in my entire lifetime."

'You sign this, you get that'

As commonly happened with the birth of the AFL in 1960, players were drafted by both NFL teams and those from the fledgling league. That year, Maguire found himself with a chance to join either the Washington Redskins or the newly founded Los Angeles Chargers.

AFL teams knew they needed to be more aggressive in their pursuit of talent, so they sent a representative to Tempe, Ariz., to meet with Maguire before the Copper Bowl college all-star game at Arizona State. On Christmas morning, Maguire was in a hotel room looking down at 10 new $100 bills that the representative had pulled from his pocket and placed on the bed. Next to them was a contract, on which a starting salary of $7,000 was scratched out and replaced with $8,000.

"He says, 'You sign this, you get that,' pointing to the $100 bills," Maguire says. "I said, 'Are you kidding me? I'll just bite my finger and sign it in blood.' My father and mother had come out for the game and were visiting relatives in Phoenix. I took my father out in the backyard of my cousin's house. I said, 'Pop, this is for all the things you did for me and all the money that you sent me at The Citadel when I never had anything.' I gave him five of those $100 bills. He just cried."

Two years later, at 80, Charles Maguire died. When Paul opened his father's wallet, the five $100 bills were still there.

Soon after the San Diego Chargers beat the Boston Patriots, 51-10, for the 1963 AFL championship, Maguire approached coach Sid Gillman – who also served as the team's president and general manager – about a raise. Maguire was making $13,000 and wanted a $1,500 increase.

"Do me a favor, pull up a chair next to me," Gillman said. "I want you to see something."

Gillman then pulled down a screen, turned off the lights, and turned on a film projector. He had spliced together a reel of Maguire's eight worst plays during the season. The room was silent as the clip ran to the end.

"Would you get the lights?" Gillman asked.

After Maguire returned to his chair, Gillman said, "Now, let me ask you a question. Would you give me a $1,500 raise if you saw that (bleep)?"

Maguire walked out of the room with no comeback and no raise.

Saved by the Bills

That was only the start of his first taste of the cutthroat nature of professional sports. After encouraging Maguire to buy a house in the offseason for his wife and daughter (with another daughter on the way), Gillman suddenly waived him the day before the start of training camp in 1964. Teams had 48 hours to make a claim, but none had called through 47 hours and the clock was ticking. It turned out that Gillman had listed Maguire as "waived injured," even though he was perfectly healthy.

About five minutes before the deadline, Maguire's phone finally rang.

"The guy says, 'This is Lou Saban from the Buffalo Bills,'" Maguire recalls. "I said, 'How you doin', Coach?' He said, 'We just claimed you off waivers' and wanted to know how I was feeling. I told him there was nothing physically wrong with me. I said, 'I can get on a flight tomorrow morning.' He said, 'No, don't worry about it. We're not going to start training camp for another five days.' Then I went, 'Who the heck is this?' I thought it was one of the guys screwing around with me. I said, 'Everybody else is in training camp now. This ain't funny.' And I hung up."

It turned out that the caller was, indeed, Saban, as Bills public relations director Jack Horrigan verified in a follow-up call shortly thereafter. It also turned out that the Bills were beginning camp later than other teams because Saban felt his club became physically worn down during the previous season and wanted to take some stress off the players' bodies. And when Saban found out that Maguire's request for a $1,500 raise helped lead to his departure, he agreed to the pay bump.

The Bills would proceed to win back-to-back AFL titles, beating the Chargers in '64 (20-7) and '65 (23-0), giving Maguire a run of three consecutive championship seasons. He gave the ring he received for the '63 crown to his oldest grandson as a high school graduation gift. He did the same for his second-oldest grandson with the ring from the '64 championship. His watch from the '65 title has been promised to another grandson after he finishes high school.

Maguire wasn't the only colorful character on those AFL Bills squads. He and his roommate, defensive lineman Tom Sestak, were known to keep late nights and consume healthy amounts of beer. Maguire, who had been in the bar business in San Diego, opened Sestak & Maguire's Lounge on Cleveland Drive in Cheektowaga. "We made a lot of money, lost a lot of money, made a lot of money, lost a lot of money," Maguire says. "It was wonderful."

So was the wild, rough-and-tumble nature of the roster.

"I remember we had a preseason game at War Memorial Stadium against Detroit," Maguire says. "I don't know who the guard was for Detroit, but he kept holding (defensive tackle Jim) Dunaway. Dunaway's got him on the ground and he says, 'You (bleeping) hold me again, I'm going to punch your face in.' Dunaway was the strongest son of a gun I've ever known in my entire life. On his ranch down in Mississippi, he used to lift cattle and put them in the back of a trailer.

"The guy held him the next play. Dunaway hit that guy in the cage and bent it into his face. They had to cut it off."

The Bills' 1970 season finale was at Miami. Maguire had already made up his mind to retire after the game, which the Bills would lose, 45-7. After trotting onto the field for a punt late in the first half, he looked around the huddle and realized the team desperately needed a spark. Without the permission of coach John Rauch, who was no fan of the player he considered a "clown," Maguire called a pass to Ike Hill over the middle.

After completing the throw for an apparent first down at the Dolphins' 5-yard line, Maguire noticed a flag on the ground. Howard Kindig, the center, had taken off after the snap and drew an illegal-man-downfield penalty. With Rauch cursing at him from the sideline, Maguire called the same play in the huddle. His teammates assumed their punter had lost his mind.

"Ike says, 'I'm not going out.' I said, 'What do you mean you're not going out? You better go out, because I'm throwing the ball.' Then Howard gets to the line, he turns around and screams back to me, loud enough for the guys on the other side to hear, 'Are we going to throw it or are we going to kick it?' So I had to kick it."

'Tell them why'

Through the years, iconic NBC announcer Curt Gowdy, who loved the funny stories Maguire told when he would visit with him in the locker room before games, convinced Maguire to take a crack at broadcasting. Right after the '70 season, NBC hired him as a football analyst for $500 a game.

The first play-by-play man with whom he worked was Bill Enis. "Bill taught me how to announce," Maguire says. "He said two things that I would write on my flip card for every game: speak when you have something to say and tell them why they saw what they saw. I always wanted to talk about the guys in a positive way, because I was in meetings for 11 years and the next year, you're going to get your butt chewed for screwing it up. And when you talk about a guy that did a good job, you're going to see the mistake, too."

Kenmore native Don Criqui, another of Maguire's broadcast partners, provided the primary advice about conducting interviews: don't ever give up the microphone. "Because once you do, you may not get it back," says Maguire, who covered the Canadian Football League's Grey Cup for NBC. The most unforgettable was when Warren Moon, who would go on to a Hall of Fame quarterbacking career in the NFL, played for Edmonton and completed the first seven passes of the game with the temperature at minus-23 degrees.

Maguire never forgot this bit of wisdom from yet another NBC broadcast partner, Jay Randolph, because it spoke to the importance of having pride in one's work. "He said the only mistake that's ever been made is an uncorrected mistake. If you make a mistake in the first quarter, I don't care if there's one minute to go in the fourth quarter, correct that mistake. Because that stays with people. If you say something wrong, you don't just say, 'Well, who cares?' Boy, if you don't care and you're the one who said it, you don't belong in that booth."

Maguire flourished with NBC, rising to the No. 2 NFL broadcast team with Marv Albert before being promoted to the No. 1 pairing with Dick Enberg, with whom he called two Super Bowls.

The end with NBC came in 1997, when the network lost the rights to broadcast NFL games. Maguire remembers a meeting that year during which the president of NBC Sports said he didn't like the way Maguire looked on camera. "I kept saying, 'You know, we're only on camera for like two minutes at the beginning of the game and 30 seconds at halftime. How many kids can I scare?'"

Paul Maguire, top row, left, of photo was inducted in 2002 into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame along with (also in top row) Bill Cotter, Cookie Berger, Robert E. Rich Jr. and Joe Hesketh; bottom row, Mark Murphy, Larry Playfair, Nina Collella accepting for Tom Colella, Armand Cacciatore Larry Weise and Rick Cassatta. (News file photo)

ESPN snatched Maguire up quickly. His time with the cable network is best known for being part of the Sunday Night Football crew with Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann, beginning in 1998. However, he also covered college football and a variety of other sports including golf, skateboarding ("Ever interview an 8-year-old skateboarder? Everything's 'bitchin'"), and even a tiddlywinks match between fraternities at Harvard and Yale.

"I did anything I could do, because I got paid for it," Maguire says. "The announcing part, it was so much fun and I really liked the people I worked with."

He smiles, takes the last swig of his Bud and walks out the door. His 2011 red Mustang convertible sits out front of the restaurant.

Listen closely, and you can almost hear Al Davis making the sound of a cheering crowd.

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