Trivia question: Which team owner in the old American Football League lobbied the most for the AFL to postpone its games the weekend after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963?
Answer: Ralph C. Wilson Jr. (The AFL did postpone that weekend, while the NFL played on.)
That factoid about the Buffalo Bills' owner is one of many to be found in a new book called “100 Things Bills Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” by Jeffrey J. Miller. The book is part condensed history of the franchise and part bucket list.
The history lessons, from the AFL years to the Super Bowl run, from Cookie Gilchrist to Jerry Butler to Bruce Smith to Fred Jackson, are a handy reference for any fan, particularly those who are too young to have first-hand knowledge of certain Bills eras.
The prescribed activities that belong on any fan's life checklist include tailgating at The Ralph, visiting the Bills' busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and attending a practice at St. John Fisher College, among others.
Miller works as a program coordinator at the Cantalician Center for Learning in Buffalo, and is also a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He wrote three previous books about the Bills, including “Game Changers: The Greatest Plays in Buffalo Bills Football History,” which he co-authored with Marv Levy.
Miller said that many of his fellow football researchers concentrate on the statistical side of the game; some spend their time searching the archives for inaccurate stats that need to be corrected, for example.
“I'm more about telling the stories of the guys who played, finding out what drove someone to want to be an NFL player,” he said in a phone interview this week.
One of his earlier books, “Rockin' the Rockpile,” was a history of the Bills' AFL years. Miller interviewed some 60 former Bills and coaches from that era, and was impressed by how so many — including the late Jack Kemp, Billy Shaw, and Booker Edgerson, to name just a few — “were extremely generous with their time and sharing their memories.”
The author has also learned a lot about the game from new perspectives while researching his books.
“Marv Levy and I collaborated on 'Game Changers.' I spoke to Marv while I was preparing a piece on Steve Tasker and whether he belonged in the Hall of Fame. Marv told me about the impact special teams have on a game's outcome. I had never written about special teams in my life before, so this was very enlightening.”
Miller displays in the book a nice sense of humor, as when he describes the (anti) climax of Super Bowl XXV between the Bills and the Giants:
“It all came down to a 47-yard field goal attempt by Scott Norwood. What happened next inspired what has become the most painful two-word phrase in Buffalo sports history which, in the interest of good taste, will not be repeated here.”
Writing books about the Bills has given Miller a sense of connection to the team's following around the world.
“I get emails from people in Saskatchewan, San Diego, from all over,” he said. “Some people will buy my book and ask me to sign it for their son serving in Iraq. I've heard from other readers overseas. There are hard-core Bills fans everywhere who are eager to buy anything Bills-related.”
One of the chapters in Miller's new book is about Jimmy's Old Town Tavern in Herndon, Va., one of the country's foremost outposts for Bills fans. It is run by Jimmy Cirrito, an Arcade native.
“Jimmy invited me to come down and do a book signing there,” Miller said. “Two weekends ago, when the Bills were playing the Patriots, I went down to Jimmy's and watched the game there. It was a pretty wild tailgate atmosphere, and I ended up signing 100 books.”
As rich in history as the franchise is, Miller knows that it wouldn't hurt his book sales if the team were to start performing better on the field on Sundays.
“I think the better they do, the more enthusiastic the fans are, and they might be more inclined to buy books,” he said.
“When Marv and I did 'Game Changers,' we made a lot of personal appearances promoting the book. And everybody wanted to talk to Marv about Dick Jauron. If we were talking somewhere for a half-hour, the first 15 minutes was on the state of the Bills currently, and what should the Bills do about Jauron.”
The names may change, but some things never change for Bills fans.
• Strat-O-Matic, creator of the venerable baseball simulation game, will be simulating the entire National Hockey League season during the league's labor shutdown. Starting Monday, results from the games will be posted each week at Strat-O-Matic.com.
• Steve Tasker gets the call as the analyst on the CBS broadcast of the Bills' game in Arizona today. Bill Macatee will handle play-by-play.