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The mess didn't begin with Mario Williams' failure to justify his $100 million contract early in the season. It didn't start with linebackers who disappeared or special teams that fell apart or when Ryan Fitzpatrick slipped from average to atrocious or even with Chan Gailey's comical play-calling. That only explains this season.

Swap out a few names, change a few dates, and the results for the Bills have been mostly the same since … the turn of the century? No. Since their glory days of the 1990s? No. Try the Kennedy Administration. The one constant has been owner Ralph Wilson, who blew out 94 candles last month while his team flamed out in spectacular fashion.

Ask anyone around One Bills Drive, and they insist the owner is still very involved with the organization. Really, truly, honestly, no joke, that's terrific for him.

But how is his involvement good for Buffalo?

Whatever their problems this year, last year, in 2004 or 1984, they start with Wilson at the top of the organization. The Bills have reached the postseason only 17 times in their 52 seasons. It means they have failed to make the playoffs more than two-thirds of the time in their history, a staggering record for futility over the past half-century.

In the real world, failed companies go out of business. In the NFL, it's a financial windfall. Wilson paid $25,000 when he founded the Bills. For the past several years, despite their record, he has made 1,000 percent annual profit, some $30 million or more, on his investment. They're worth nearly $800 million, according to Forbes magazine.

Is that success?

For all the beefs fans have with Gailey and GM Buddy Nix, my opinion of them hasn't changed since they climbed aboard. My issue isn't with them but the absence of credibility in the people who hired them, namely Wilson and top aide Jeff Littman, to make the right decisions.

Good coaches, proven coaches, are sitting behind microphones or out of the game. Even if the Bills were interested, why would someone like Bill Cowher or Tony Dungy come here? It's not a good situation. The Bills are left hiring substandard coaches who need the job. Over time, it has created a culture of losing if not utter incompetence.

It's not only Wilson, but it starts at the top.

Yes, I know it's disrespectful to criticize a man in his 90s. Maybe my mother should wash out my mouth with soap and send me to my bedroom for the evening. But professional sports can be cold and harsh. If anyone understands that truth, it's Wilson. And, quite simply, I have a difficult time showing respect for an owner for whom I have little respect.

To me, his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was laughable, Exhibit A of someone doing something ordinary for so long that other people think he's extraordinary. OK, so he helped push forward the AFL. He helped bail out the Raiders. If not him, it would have been someone else. Football would have survived.

The Hall of Fame is for the elite only.

Is he an elite owner?

Wilson has done some good things for Buffalo. The Bills have been great for this community. He kept them here when he could have moved them. It's true, but that shouldn't equate to a free pass or lowered standards. Simply having an NFL team in town isn't enough unless you're a sucker and looking for a copout.

It generally goes something like this: Fans see hints of improvement, hardly a lofty goal based on previous results. The Bills fall short of expectations, and fans overcome their disappointment by saying they want to support the local team and are happy to have pro football in little old Buffalo.

It's a means of accepting mediocrity or worse.

And it's weak.

The Bills had great teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which includes a four-year run to the Super Bowl that might never be matched. The biggest reason for their success was former GM Bill Polian, who had an eye for talent and built a strong team in spite of his owner. And what happened once he did? Ralph fired him.

Kids, did you know that happened nearly 20 years ago? He also chased out Polian's second-in-command, the late John Butler, a few years later. He also ran out his last playoff coach, Wade Phillips, and refused to pay him until Phillips took Wilson to court. Since, it has been a 13-year string of failure and disappointment.

The answer, or a start, would be hiring back Polian as president, general manager or whatever title defines him overseeing football operations, bringing back A.J. Smith, now on the hot seat in San Diego, reassigning Nix and finding a new head coach. Plenty of coaches would work for Polian, even if it meant working for Wilson.

Although Wilson has donated millions of dollars to charity over the years, he has given Buffalo far less than he has received. Now, the organization has its hand out again for assistance from state and local governments for stadium upgrades. This comes at a time taxpayers [see: fans] have enough trouble putting food on the table.

At the very least, even though it wouldn't be nearly enough, selling the naming rights would be a start.

It would be a show of good faith that Wilson is willing to pony up some dough for improvements. Instead, the Bills continue to sell hope to fans who continue to show up year after year in a building named Ralph Wilson Stadium.

And, really, honestly, that's great for him.

But how is that good for Buffalo?

Shooting spree

Jack Taylor scoring 138 points for Grinnell College, a tiny Division III school in Iowa, was a remarkable feat that never would have happened if A) I was coaching his team; B) I was coaching the opposing team; C) I was playing for the opposing team or D) without him leaving the court with a fat lip.

NBA stars such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant praised him knowing darned well the performance was everything real hoop lovers despise. The beauty of basketball comes from five players passing the ball and working in unison, not dribbling past half court and jacking up three-pointers against a team refusing to play defense.

Largely overlooked in the game was David Larson scoring 70 points in the same game in a losing effort for Faith Baptist Bible. Larson converted 34 of 44 shots from the field, which means he had too many easy buckets while Grinnell refused to play defense on the other end. The two players combined for 152 field goal attempts … and one assist.

That's not basketball. That's embarrassing.

Entrance and exit

Only in the silly, goofy, entirely avoidable NHL lockout can the two sides agree to meet with a federal mediator — only to have the mediator quickly excused for Tweets that were bizarre if not downright creepy.

Guy Serota was one of three mediators assigned to help owners and players reach an agreement (slim chance, by the way), but he was booted when his Twitter feed included an array of strange messages about Sarah Silverman and David Petraeus, among others, outlined by Puck Daddy blogger Greg Wyshynski on Yahoo! Sports.

Serota later claimed his account was hacked.

“Yes, a Twitter hack that lasted multiple weeks, was unnoticed by a federal employee and didn't seem to have a point,” Wyshynski wrote. “A Twitter hack that seemed to have messages and themes … that oddly synced up with Guy Serota's YouTube account.

“Yup. Hacked.”

Exactly.

No holding the Mayo

O.J. Mayo, the former University of Southern California guard once hailed as the best schoolboy player in America, could be the best bargain in the NBA this season. He's making $4.25 million while scoring 21.5 points per game to lead a Mavericks team that has been without star forward Dirk Nowitzki.

Mayo signed with Dallas after four uneventful seasons in Memphis. He averaged 12.6 ppg off the bench last season and was greeted by a soft free-agent market. Failing to nail down a long-term deal for big money, he signed a two-year deal worth $8.5 million with the Mavs. He has started every game this season.“Right now, the shots are falling,” Mayo, who was 42 of 70 from three-point range, told the Dallas Morning News. “Been working hard for two or three years. Even when I was on the bench, I was still grinding, hoping for an opportunity one day. Hey, it's here.”

Stats Inc.

3 - Victories this season for Auburn before it fired coach Gene Chizik, two years after he led them to a national championship. Cam Newton was the quarterback of that title team.

15 - Consecutive victories combined this season for Ohio State's football and basketball teams, against no losses, leading into tonight's cage match with Duke.

72 - Free throws made in 145 attempts by Lakers center Dwight Howard, who led the NBA in attempts but was last in percentage (49.7) through 14 games.


Quick hits

• Hector “Macho” Camacho found his share of trouble before trouble found him, but he was a true showman who helped sell boxing in the 1980s and '90s. Buffalo boxing fans caught him in his prime in 1985, when he won a unanimous decision over Roque Montoya for the NABF title at the Aud.

• Niagara's hockey team has been listed under “others receiving votes” in the USA Today hockey poll ranking the Top 15. In terms of votes, Niagara is tied for 19th with Ferris State and ahead of St. Lawrence, Michigan and Michigan State. Goalie Carsen Chubak is the real deal.

• Never mind a contract extension. Midway through the season, I wondered if UB should keep football coach Jeff Quinn beyond this season. Quinn needed evidence that UB was going in the right direction, and it surfaced after making former Williamsville South star Joe Licata his starting quarterback.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com