Every Sunday for nearly eight seasons, Bill Polian strolled down the Buffalo Bills’ tunnel alongside Marv Levy. The duo enjoyed one more walk down memory lane Sunday, a journey that brought them to midfield to watch Polian’s name go on the Wall of Fame.
The Bills honored the former general manager who put together their Super Bowl teams, with Polian becoming the 28th honoree on the walls of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“This is right at the top,” he said before the Bills’ 35-34 loss to Tennessee. “You learn as you go through a long career that the accolades and the trophies and even the rings don’t mean much. In the end what you’re left with are the experiences, the friendships and the memories, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything in the world.”
Polian stepped in as GM in 1986 following back-to-back 2-14 seasons. He put Levy, quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and defensive end Bruce Smith in position to reach four straight Super Bowls and the Hall of Fame. Those three joined Andre Reed, Steve Christie, Ruben Brown and Leonard Smith for the halftime ceremony.
“I’m on their shoulders,” Polian said. “They’re the people that put me there.”
The Bills fired Polian in 1993 following their third straight Super Bowl loss, but he insists there’s never been an awkward moment in Western New York.
“We come back quite often for Jim’s golf tournament and for family events and weddings and too often for funerals, and it never fails,” Polian said. “People that I haven’t met before, because there are no strangers in Western New York, will come up and say welcome home. That feeling has never left us.”
Polian spoke in front of a room full of family. Nearly two dozen accompanied him for the honor, including son Dennis Polian, a special assistant to Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak.
Polian’s wife, Eileen, quickly shook her head no when the topic of a new job came up. After his stint with the Bills, which featured the first two of his six NFL Executive of the Year awards, Polian enjoyed success with Carolina and Indianapolis. The Colts fired him following last season and he landed a job with ESPN.
“I enjoy what I’m doing with ESPN very much,” he said. “It’s given me an opportunity to stay involved and work in a business obviously I love and care about, and it’s given us an opportunity to spend more time with these [grandchildren] and watch peewee soccer and football and all the things that we didn’t do for 35 years. Our life right now is terrific.”
There couldn’t have been a better time for George Wilson to record his first interception of the season. Matt Hasselbeck’s pass found the hands of the Bills’ safety near the goal line with just 1:51 to play. A pick could have ended the Titans’ hopes and given the Bills a 34-28 victory.
Instead, the ball bounced off Wilson’s hands and onto the turf. Two plays later, Hasselbeck connected with Nate Washington for the winning touchdown.
“I personally feel like it’s on me,” Wilson said. “I had an opportunity to get an interception, and I didn’t come up with the ball, which would have sealed the victory. It wouldn’t have allowed them a fourth down. It wouldn’t have put our offense back on the field having to get points to win the game.
“Those are the plays we need to make in order to be a good football team. I didn’t make that play.”
The Bills’ offensive line continued its run of injuries. Starting right guard Chad Rinehart suffered a left ankle injury during the third quarter and had to be carted off the field. He was engaged with Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey on a running play when another Tennessee player landed on his leg.
Bills coach Chan Gailey had no update on Rinehart following the game.
Third-stringer Sam Young replaced Rinehart, who was already subbing for normal starter Kraig Urbik (ankle). Left tackle Cordy Glenn (ankle) was also out.
Punters weren’t needed much in the high-scoring game, but they were noticed when they hit the field.
Tennessee’s Brett Kern is from Grand Island. The 26-year-old punted three times and averaged 41.3 yards per kick with a 34.7-yard net. He had a 57-yarder that rolled into the end zone and put his other two inside the 20.
Bills punter Shawn Powell continued to kick himself into the fans’ bad graces. His only punt came with 5:40 to go while the Bills held a six-point lead, and he shanked it. His 22-yarder went out of bounds at the Bills’ 46-yard line, giving Tennessee ideal position for a potential winning drive.
The Bills stopped the Titans on downs.
Powell, who replaced Brian Moorman late last month, shanked a 30-yarder in the final minute of regulation against Arizona in the last game to put the Cardinals in position for a winning field-goal attempt that was blocked.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson moved into 10th place on the Bills’ all-time list by catching his 23rd touchdown pass, a 27-yarder late in the third quarter. It was the 21st time Johnson combined with Ryan Fitzpatrick for a score, making them just the fifth Bills duo to have more than 20. … The Bills’ inactive list included kickoff specialist John Potter. Only two of Rian Lindell’s six kickoffs reached the end zone, with one going for a touchback. The Titans averaged 23.2 yards on their returns. … Defensive end Shawne Merriman made his season debut. He didn’t record a stat in limited action. … The Bills’ other inactives were quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, defensive end Mark Anderson, linebacker Kirk Morrison, safety Delano Howell, Urbik and Glenn.