Posted: 2:45 p.m. Thursday, April 25, 2013
By Jared Smith
As a Central New York native my football loyalties have always been glued to the "hometown" teams.
Growing up a hour and a half from Syracuse, Orangemen football and men's basketball has been in my blood, however, the strongest loyalty has always revolved around the Buffalo Bills.
My family, specifically my father and his brothers, followed the Bills closely in the early 1990s and I took their passion to another level. Over the years, I inspired one of my closest friends to become a diehard and my mother's family to jump on the bandwagon. (Yes, this may make you question how good of a person or friend I am, but whatever.) Within my tight inner circle of friends and family there's one constant: a love for the Bills.
As long as I've been alive, there has been very little connection between the two entities despite the pairs geographical connections.
Only a few times has there been an opportunity to have the fun discussion: "What if (Syracuse player) were to play with the Buffalo Bills. That'd be so cool!"
Probably, the best chance for a star Syracuse player to end up in blue and red was in 2002 when Dwight Freeney, a future three-time All-Pro, went No. 11 overall to the Indianapolis Colts. Instead of selecting Freeney, the Bills selected Texas offensive tackle Mike Williams with the fourth overall pick, a decision that did not work out well.
Since then, the SU football program hasn't produced many top prospects -- although the 2010 NFL Draft produced wide receiver Mike Williams and defensive tackle Arthur Jones -- that would have gotten dual Syracuse/Bills fans excited.
But, the Syracuse to Buffalo streak of non-connections ended over the Winter when Doug Marrone and his assistant coaches, all coming off four pretty successful years at SU, bolted West to Buffalo.
Those of us with connections to both teams understood the hiring of Marrone, who's a fantastic coach of the game, game planner and leader. The only question surrounding Marrone, and it is a big one, is is he ready for this type of head coaching gig?
There's no doubt in my mind Marrone will make a good NFL head coach someday, but my fear, as a Bills fan, is it will come a few years after he fails as Buffalo's headman. Much like a Marv Levy or a Bill Belichick, the feeling that I have about Marrone is this first gig will teach him a lot, however, will not work out.
Now, this could be the pessimistic CNY football fan in me -- all of us have a lot of good reason to prepare for the worse -- and this new Buffalo/Syracuse connection could be the best thing to ever happen to the franchise; especially if the Bills are also led by quarterback Ryan Nassib.
See, despite what some non-Syracuse football fans may believe, there's a lot of upside in the Marrone/Nassib combination.
Not only did the pair help resurrect SU's football program they did so in impressive fashion in their final season, which featured a record-breaking offense helping the team rebound from a 2-4 start to finish 8-5 with a dominating Pinstripe Bowl victory over a Geno Smith-led West Virginia Mountaineers squad.
Plus, if a NFL franchise wants a brand new offense to takeoff right away, with a rookie QB, this is the best way to do it.
Like Marrone, Nassib comes with questions marks but those question marks are fixable; and Nassib is a player that will try and fix those flaws.
In my opinion, I see a lot of Joe Flacco in Nassib -- a quarterback that may not be good enough to make the Hall of Fame, but is tough as nails and has enough skills to help a team win a Super Bowl.
Because of that, and despite pessimistic CNY football self, I am all in for this to happen.
If the team I love the most is going to fail, I'd like it to do it with people I trust. I trust Marrone with Nassib. I am not as confident in Marrone with Matt Barkley, Geno Smith or E.J. Manuel.
So if you're asking: Yes, I am 100-percent down with the Bills taking Nassib at No. 8 despite there being a lot of talk from experts that this a "big reach" or Nassib is a second- or third-round quarterback.
For years this Syracuse/Bills fan has waited for a reason to root for both at the same time. On Thursday night, I BILLieve it will happen and I can't wait for it to start.