Marathon Monday

Almost exactly one week ago I did the same thing that I had done every 3rd Monday of April for 5 of the past 6 years.  I woke up bright and early, got ready, left the house before 9:00 AM and hopped on a train at Packard’s Corner in Allston to head down to the Hynes Convention Center station.  From there I walked up to LIR on 903 Boylston Street and took a seat at the bar to watch the marathon and the Red Sox game just as I have in each of those years before.

The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon

I wasn’t close to the blasts when they went off.  I was likely walking towards Commonwealth Avenue on Hereford Street when it happened.  I did not hear or feel the blasts (my level of intoxication at the time likely contributed to that) but as soon as I turned onto Comm. Ave. police cars and motorcycles were already racing to the scene.  I walked down to Kenmore and before crossing the street to go into Bertucci’s, and after a barrage of text messages made me wise to what had happened, I had to stop for the ambulances that were already starting transporting victims of the attack, not 10 minutes since the attack had taken place.

Unfortunately the perpetrators of the attack took the lives of 3 people and the livelihood of many more who will be forced to live the rest of their lives with debilitating injuries caused by the attack.  But what they did last Monday was not just an attack on our people or even on our freedom.  It was an attack on our tradition.  Every 3rd Monday in April.  That day has become more than just a marathon to the people of Boston.  Since 1968 the Red Sox have played a home game at Fenway Park at 11 AM every year to coincide with when the bulk of the marathon is being run outside Fenway Park.  It’s not just a drinking day, it’s a celebration.  It’s a day to spend with your friends and your family.  Many times you will see people that you haven’t seen for the entire year, by design or otherwise, down on Boylston Street drinking a beer or cheering on a friend from the sidewalk.  It’s a day to be a Bostonian.  The Patriot’s Day experience – the marathon, the Sox game, the celebration, the tradition – is as Bostonian as apple pie is American.

The events of the past week will stay with me forever.  I will never forget sitting in Bertucci’s watching the reports of the attack on that day, barely more than a mile from where it had taken place.  I will never forget being glued to the news watching as the investigation slowly unfolded for 3 days.  I will never forget hearing the sirens early Friday morning as policemen rushed to the aid the officers under attack in Watertown.  I will never forget the “internet manhunt” over two sleepless days led by El Presidente.  I will never forget being locked down in my home for the better part of a day and then leaving to go to the store after the lock down ended and finding half of the people of Allston out on the street.  I will never forget trying to have a peaceful beer on my porch after the lock down had ended until being interrupted by another cavalcade of sirens in the distance heading toward the final moments of the saga.  I will never forget the police guarded ambulance passing behind my house.  I will never forget the President’s speech, the Governor’s speech or Big Papi’s speech.  All of these events of the past week will both haunt and inspire me for the rest of my days.

There will be one moment when I will forget all of this though.  It will be in about a year, the 3rd Monday in April of 2014.  That day I will wake up bright and early, get ready, leave the house before 9 AM and get to that bar stool at LIR in time for the start of the marathon and the Red Sox game.  Thousands will join me in continuing their Patriots Day traditions.  Some will run, some will watch, some will sit in a bar stool and enjoy the celebration.  That’s the great thing about tradition – you can attack it but you can never really truly take it away.  And on the 3rd Monday of April next year the City of Boston will show the world that our traditions can not be broken.

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Do People Really Buy This Crap?

So DirecTV and Viacom are in the middle of a big contract dispute and Viacom might shut their channels off of DirecTV at midnight tonight.  Last year FOX did the same thing and had all of their stars of the big FX series’ do similar videos to the one the Hulkster did above.  This is preying on the ignorance of the American public at its worst.  DirecTV is basically the ones looking out for the consumers backs.  This article outlines that the reason that Viacom is looking for a 30% hike on its broadcasting fees from DirecTV is to make up lost revenue in advertising due to poor ratings.  Their argument is that since Viacom holds 20% of DirecTV’s content then it should get a large chunk of DirecTV’s revenue, conveniently ignoring the fact that the bulk of DirecTV’s revenue comes from the NFL and MLB packages as well as HBO and Showtime subscriptions.  DirecTV is basically trying to curb costs by negotiating fair market deals and keep the prices down to compete with the Comcast’s of the world.

Which brings us to little gems like the above video.  Like FOX and others before them Viacom is praying on the American public who can’t go a night without Stewart or a week without their TNA rasslin’.  They encourage you to flood DirecTV with threats of subscription cancellations in order for them to make more money off of you.  So basically they are encouraging consumers to threaten DirecTV to raise their monthly cable rates and stupid people do it.  Ironically these are the same people who will likely complain when their cable bills go up not realizing that they helped facilitate it.  Do people really buy this crap?  I kind of feel like they do. I bet that DirecTV is getting absolutely bombarded right now with complaints.

The consumers best bet is to stay out of it and let the big corporations duke it out because I’ve got news for you – neither of them have your best interests in mind.  Realize that you may be sacrificing 10-20 dollars a month just so you don’t miss one episode of your favorite programming which is ridiculous.  Half of the stuff on TV these days is available on the internet within hours of viewing anyway.  Please don’t be stupid and contribute to my cable bill going up.  Thank you.

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Red Sox Player Preview: Jon Lester

Lester will look to wipe the stink off of last September this season

2011 was Jon Lester’s first year of being the unofficial ace of the Red Sox staff.  He made his first opening day start and, with the exception of his opening day start in Texas, had the best start to a season in his career.  However by the end of the 2011 season he was being talked about more for what he did off of the field than what he did on it.  It was a change for Lester who had been a Boston hero since his triumphant return from cancer treatment following the 2006 season.

Lester comes into 2012 with something to prove.  He wants to prove that he is the same guy that Red Sox Nation fell in love with 5 years ago.  He wants to prove that he can be a leader for this rotation and team.  He wants to prove that he can be a good teammate.  He wants to prove that the things that happened in 2011 are in the past.  To do that he needs to stay healthy and his arm should do the rest.

Here’s a look at his 2011 stats (with career highs in parentheses)

Games Started: 31 (33, 2008)
Innings Pitched: 191.2 (210.1, 2008)
Win-Loss Record: 15-9 (19-9, 2010)
ERA: 3.47 (3.21, 2008)
WHIP: 1.257 (1.202, 2010)
Batting Average Against: .234 (.220, 2010)
Strikeouts/9 Innings: 8.5 (10.0, 2009)
Walks/9 Innings: 3.5 (2.8, 2008, 2009)

2012 Outlook:

As I said, Jon Lester has a lot to prove this season and he started by showing up to spring training over a week early and leading voluntary player workouts with the group that had arrived in Fort Myers ahead of schedule.  Lester sat down with the media on the first official day of camp and took responsibility for what happened in the clubhouse last season and pledged to be a better teammate (The Globe’s Peter Abraham has an excellent write-up on his Q&A here).  Lester has said and done all of the right things since he arrived at Fort Myers a few weeks ago.  Still it comes down to action and Lester will need to show it on the mound as well.

Lester has been an early and eager participant at Sox camp this year

One thing that you might forget about Jon Lester in the wake of last year’s collapse is that he’s been a consistently good pitcher over his career so far.  Last year his .625 winning percentage was the worst of his 6-year career.  That means his 15-9 record from last season was his least productive.  Lester spent time on the D.L. last July and did not pitch well in September but his numbers generally stayed consistent with his career averages when he was healthy.  Lester was an All-Star for the second time in as many years last year and has become one of the premiere left-handed pitchers in the American League along with the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia.  Lester just needs to come in, stay focused, and keep healthy and he should be able to anchor the Sox rotation again this year.

One thing going for Lester this year to look out for is the “Age 28 factor”.  Lester, along with rotation mate Clay Buchholz, will be entering the year at the age of 28, an age that many of the elite pitchers enjoy their most successful seasons (I crunched the year 28 numbers in this blog I did about Buchholz last month).  Former Sox aces Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, and even current rotation mate Josh Beckett all had their best statistical seasons at age 28.  If Lester replicates their successes at this age might he reach the now elusive 20-win plateau?

There will also be a new approach this year as an organization in regards to the pitching staff.  Bobby Valentine is now the Red Sox manager and Bob McClure is his new pitching coach.  McClure will be Lester’s 3rd different pitching coach in as many seasons.  The Sox staff seemed to respond to John Farrell when he was pitching coach but Curt Young seemed to have trouble connecting with the Sox’ staff last season.  McClure started to take steps to make sure he didn’t have the same problems almost immediately after being hired by Valentine and the Sox (WEEI’s Alex Speier went over McClure’s off-season preparation in this blog).  McClure has been in touch with all the Sox starters’, including Lester, since December and has worked to create a rapport with the pitchers as early in the process as possible.  That should help Lester and co. feel comfortable with McClure and more importantly buy into the process that he is preaching as pitching coach.

Lester and Saltalamacchia enter their second season as battery mates

He also will be entering his second season with battery-mate Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Salty caught Lester in most of his starts last year and figures to be his primary catcher again this season.  Saltalamacchia comes into camp with a full year of catching Lester under his belt as well as a full year of tutelage from catcher Jason Varitek, who had become very familiar with Lester over the years.  There should be some added chemistry in Lester and Salty’s pitcher/catcher relationship.

The key to Lester this year will be health.  He has many things going for him that says he will have a big year if he stays healthy.  He has the motivation to wipe the stink off of the 2011 Red Sox, the age where many pitchers enjoy the greatest success, and a new manager and pitching coach to mesh with.  Lester had been pretty durable in 2009 and 2010 so I’m hoping that the health problems of last season were a one-time thing.  It seems to me that if Lester stays healthy he will pitch like an ace and be in contention for a Cy Young at the end of the year.

Lester surely hopes to be opening a series in October but that will depend a lot on what his rotation mates do through the course of the season.  Theoretically Lester should be the last guy in the Sox’ rotation that you need to worry about heading into the season.  And I think that will ultimately be the case.  Expect a big year from Jon Lester.  Check back tomorrow for my player preview of starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

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Sox, Ortiz settle at midpoint

David Ortiz and the Sox avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal that will pay David $14.575 million for the 2012 season.  Ortiz was the last open arbitration case for the Red Sox and a hearing was scheduled for later today.  Ortiz will be a free agent again after this season.  In 9 seasons as Red Sox GM Theo Epstein never went into an arbitration hearing.  New GM Ben Cherington came close but avoided it with Ortiz in the final minutes leading up to the hearing.  If the hearing were to have gone through then Ortiz would likely have been the highest paid arbitration case in MLB history.

Also of note today: Like Bobby Valentine, Adrian Gonzalez has arrived in Fort Myers.  Also Ryan Westmoreland, who is trying to complete a long comeback after having brain surgery, has been working out at the club’s facility in Fort Myers

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Merry Christmas to all!!!

And to all a good night!!!

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Standing Up To Cancer

I’m writing this blog for a lot of reasons.  I’m writing this blog because my mother spent the past year fighting Lymphoma.  I’m writing this blog because my father is also a cancer survivor.  I’m writing this blog because I lost two former co-workers to cancer in the past year.  I’m writing this blog because longtime Buffalo News sports reporter Allen Wilson passed away from Leukemia yesterday at the age of 49.  Another father, husband, brother and son lost to this horrible diseases.  I’m writing this blog because thousands of people around the world will be spending the holidays without a loved on that they lost to cancer in the past year.  I’m writing this blog because it in Jimmy V week on ESPN and I am reminded of a speech that I heard 18 years ago when I was 11 years old.  A speech that I’ve never forgotten and will never forget.

Jim Valvano March 10, 1946 - April 28, 1993

In 1993 ESPN decided to have their own award show in the vein of the Oscars and the Grammys called the ESPYs.  Being a die hard sports fan I was of course excited for this show, after all I had sat around while my mother watched the Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards.  I wasn’t really prepared to see what I saw.  A few months back when I wrote about game 6 of the World Series I talked about when moments in time are frozen that you never know when they are going to come.  This was on of those moments.  Former NC State head coach Jim Valvano accepted the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award.  Valvano had been diagnosed with bone cancer in June of 1992.  9 months later Valvano was a frail version of himself but he stood tall that night.  I remember watching the speech from my living room in the house I grew up in.  I remember when he passionately unveiled the slogan for the Jimmy V Foundation that he announced during the speech that he was starting…”Don’t Give up…Don’t Ever Give Up.”  I remember being scared when he blew the producer backstage who told him he had 30 seconds, saying “I have tumors all over my body I’m not listening to some guy in the back.”  It was amazing to see so much life in a man who had so little of it left.  He also gave a lesson on life that I never forgot.  “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”  56 days after giving that speech Jim Valvano passed away of cancer at the age of 47.  He never got the chance to present the Arther Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award to its second winner, former major league baseball umpire Steve Palermo, as he expressed hope in doing in his speech.

Allen Wilson 1962-2011

Cancer takes good people away every day.  Yesterday it was Allen Wilson.  Wilson was the Buffalo News’ beat writer for the Bills from 1999 until he was no longer able to do so before the start of this season.  Wilson had a reputation for being a fair and honest reporter.  He was a low key sportswriter at a time where his brethren try to become as much a part of the story as the players that they cover.  Wilson was fair though, and he treated all of the players, coaches, and executives that he covered equally and respectfully.  Wilson was a large man in stature (back in the 90’s he often got autograph requests from fans who confused him with Hall of Fame Defensive End Bruce Smith) but his mild mannered personality was his trademark.  Football reporting in Western New York will never be the same without Wilson.  (Read Wilson’s obituary in the Buffalo News here)  This past January it was Carrie Strube.  Carrie was a former co-worker of mine, she was tough yet compassionate, hard-working yet fun-loving.  She was taken by cancer at the age of 44.  (Read’s article on Carrie here)  My co-worker, and my pal, Ed Drapeau succumbed to cancer on July 10 at the age of 46.  He left behind a wife and 5 kids.  Ed was a tough son of a bitch, he would drive 35 miles from his home in Southern Massachusetts to downtown Boston to get chemo and radiation treatments and then drive to Newton and work a 10 hour day.  His spirit never broke either.  When I first met him he was an easy going, jovial guy.  He was the same guy the last time I saw him.  You can walk up to anyone on the street and they can tell you ten sad stories just like these.

Mark Herzlich, cancer survivor, starting LB, New York Giants

Of course for every story like this there seems to be a success story these days.  Thanks to the tireless work of people all over the country and the world that have made this their cause we are really standing up the cancer.  These success stories are thanks to people like Jim Valvano and the countless men and women who have taken his torch at the Jimmy V Foundation and made it a smashing success.  These success stories, like my mother’s who after a long and brutal battle with cancer was recently given a clean bill of health, are made possible by people like Cam Neely, who has donated numerous dollars, time and effort into Tufts Medical Center, where my mother was treated.  Neely lost both of his parents to cancer and made it part of his life’s work to make sure the people that treated them at Tufts had everything available to them to make sure people don’t lose their parents like he lost his.  These success stories are facilitated by places like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, named after former Major League pitcher and Manager Fred Hutchinson, who passed away of lung cancer at the age of 45.  In the winter of 2006 the Hutchinson Center treated a young 22 year old man named Jon Lester for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Lester was given a clean bill of health in December and the following October he started, and won, the clinching Game 4 of the 2007 World Series for the Boston Red Sox.  Success stories like the one of Mark Herzlich, who was an All-American Linebacker at Boston College and projected to be a 2nd round pick if he came out after his junior year.  He decided to stay for his senior season and try to improve his draft status.  Instead of playing football he was diagnosed and treated for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer in his leg.  He had to have a titanium rod placed in his league.  He red-shirted his senior season in 2009 and came back and played in 2010 but was nowhere near the same shape he was before.  How could he have been, he had just undergone chemotherapy and radiation during the past year.  He went undrafted in the 2011 NFL draft.  Former Boston College coach Tom Coughlin, an avid cancer research advocate who started his own foundation to help treat children with leukemia, signed him to the New York Giants.  He’ll start his third game at linebacker for the Giants today.

With cancer a little can go a long way.  You don’t have to be rich to donate, every little bit counts.  I just donated to the Jimmy V Foundation.  You can too right here.  Jim Valvano is no doubt looking down with pride seeing what his vision has turned into.  Here is the Jimmy Valvano speech from the 1993 ESPY Awards.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it:


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What went wrong for the Bills?

Instead of giving thoughts on this week’s latest Bills debacle against the Dolphins I figured that we might just tackle the question of what happened to the Bills altogether in the last three weeks. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Injuries and lack of depth – I hate the injury excuse so I will get it out of the way early. Clearly Kyle Williams and now Eric Wood have been crushing losses for the Bills. The Bills, however, haven’t been able to overcome their losses like other teams can. Marcell Dareus is getting double and triple teamed every snap and no one else on the line can make a play. Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay know how to put pressure on the Quarterback but when they went out there was no one on the bench to match their production. Same thing at wide receiver and the offensive line. Depth is the problem on this football team and you can give Nix and Gailey at least some slack here, being in only their second season at the helm, but you have to wonder about the lack of production that comes from last years’s draft picks. C.J. Spiller and Torell Troup had to have stepped up earlier in the year and so far they haven’t.

2. Lack of a defensive identity – What is the Bills defense? I know that it’s a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense but what is it’s specialty? What is it’s calling card? They can’t rush the passer. They can’t cover particularly well. They go through stints when they can’t stop the run. They have decent players scattered through the defense but they simply have no defensive identity. Chan Gailey doesn’t give much thought to coaching the defensive side of the ball and that is fine as long as he is willing to go out and get himself a defensive coordinator who will give this defense an identity. I’m not talking about Dave Wannstedt either, I’m thinking more along the lines of a guy who has coached with Pittsburgh or New England.

3. Fix the offense – I’m not sure what has happened to the Bills offense but it’s on Chan Gailey to fix it, both this year and beyond. For this year it’s simple – utilize Fred Jackson as much as you can. Jackson is the best player on the offense and excels at all phases of the game. Let him put the offense on his back and loosen things up for Fitzpatrick and company. Long term they need a wide receiver with speed and they need to continue drafting and developing offensive linemen to create depth.

4. Change the culture – Just when you think that they are no longer your father’s Bills they become your father’s Bills. Just when you thought they’ve changed the culture of this team the ugly tendencies of a losing franchise come rearing its head. I sat right behind the Bills sideline and I can tell you that besides a few exceptions on the sideline, the Bills looked lethargic. There was a few guys that lashed out or expressed their frustrations as to what was going on. Marcell Dareus, who just came out of Alabama, and Nick Barnett, who spent years in the Packers organization were a few of the exceptions. They made a mistake a few years ago by drafting small school project players. They need to repeat what they did last year by drafting big program, winning players like Dareus, Aaron Williams, and Kelvin Sheppard. They need players that want to win and are used to it. Most of all they need players who don’t care what’s gone on before them, just what they can do to make the future better for Buffalo Bills football.

Twitter @ErikVenskus

South Beach blogging

I really didn’t want to write this blog, bragging about being able to blog on my new iPhone from South Beach but I guess I will do it anyway.

I’ll be heading to Sun Life Stadium tomorrow to take in the pivotal AFC East match up between the Bills and the Dolphins. It’s a huge game for the Bills as they can improve to 2-1 against the AFC East on the season and jump a game ahead of the Jets heading into their big match up next week in the Meadowlands.

For the Dolphins all that there is left to do is play the spoiler role. Such is a football life in November. Sure it’s almost time for the swirling winds and the heavy snows but for now I’ll take this.


The History of #1 vrs. #2

It’s an event almost like Haley’s Comet or Leap Year.  An in-season game between the #1 and #2 teams in the country.  This is only the 24th time since 1943 that it has happened.  The first #1 vrs. #2 game in history was #1 Notre Dame beating #2 Michigan by a score of 35-12 on October 19, 1943.

#1 vrs. #2 games rarely fail to excite.  11 of the 24 games have been decided by seven points or less, including two 0-0 ties.  The last two #1 vrs. #2 games were SEC championship games.  The last non-championship #1 vrs. #2 game was between #1 Ohio State and #2 Michigan on November 18, 2006.  Ohio State won that game by a score of 42-39.  Including tonight’s game the last 4 #1 vrs. #2 games were between conference opponents.  The last non-conference #1 vrs. #2 game was just a few weeks before the previous game, when #1 Ohio State defeated #2 Texas by a score of 24-7 on September 9, 2006.  the 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes were the first team to win two #1 vrs. #2 games in one season since Notre Dame did it in 1943.  Overall #1 teams have the advantage in the series 14-8-2

Tonight should be no disappointment.  Both LSU and Alabama are evenly matched and there is an almost certainty that whoever wins this game will be playing in the National Championship with a weak division winner standing in their way in the SEC Championship game.  The stakes are high, the teams are hungry, the coaches are great, and the players are some of the best in the country.  Sit down and enjoy this game tonight, you never know when it’s going to happen again.

The history of #1 vrs. #2 games:

  • December 9, 2009 – #2 Alabama defeated #1 Florida 32-13 (SEC Championship Game)
  • December 6, 2008 – #2 Florida defeated #1 Alabama 31-20 (SEC Championship Game)
  • November 18, 2006 – #1 Ohio State defeated #2 Michigan 42-39
  • September 9, 2006 – #1 Ohio State defeated #2 Texas 24-7
  • November 30, 1996 – #2 Florida State defeated #1 Florida 24-21
  • November 13, 1993 – #2 Notre Dame defeated #1 Florida State 31-24
  • November 16, 1991 – #2 Miami defeated #1 Florida State 17-16
  • September 16, 1989 – #1 Notre Dame defeated #2 Michigan 24-19
  • November 26, 1988 – #1 Notre Dame defeated #2 USC 27-10
  • November 21, 1987 – #2 Oklahoma defeated #1 Nebraska 17-7
  • September 27, 1986 – #2 Miami defeated #1 Oklahoma 28-16
  • October 19, 1985 – #1 Iowa defeated #2 Michigan 12-10
  • September 26, 1981 – #1 USC defeated #2 Oklahoma 38-24
  • November 25, 1971 – #1 Nebraska defeated #2 Oklahoma 35-31
  • December 6, 1969 – #1 Texas defeated #2 Arkansas 15-14
  • September 28, 1968 – #1 Purdue defeated #2 Notre Dame 37-22
  • November 19, 1966 – #1 Notre Dame and #2 Michigan State tied 0-0
  • October 12, 1963 – #2 Texas defeated #1 Oklahoma 28-7
  • November 9, 1946 – #1 Army and #2 Notre Dame tied 0-0
  • December 1, 1945 – #1 Army defeated #2 Navy 32-13
  • November 10, 1945 – #1 Army defeated #2 Notre Dame 48-0
  • December 2, 1944 – #1 Army defeated #2 Navy 23-7
  • November 20, 1943 – #1 Notre Dame defeated #2 Iowa 14-3
  • October 9, 1943 – #1 Notre Dame defeated #2 Michigan 35-12

My prediction for tonight?  Alabama makes it 14-9-2 for #2’s when they defeat LSU tonight 35-31.

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Whiteout at the Ralph on Sunday?

So apparently there is going to be a whiteout this Sunday at the Bills/Jets game at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  How cool is that?  I wonder who’s idea it was.  I kind of feel like management thought that since they are going to wear the blues in the next two home games, why not get the whites out for a week at home, still they are still marketing the new jerseys.  Then one of the players, I’m thinking a Nick Barnett or a Drayton Florence, maybe a Stevie Johnson decided to start promoting a whiteout and bam, there you have it.  Regardless, you’ve got to love the makeup of this team.  They are hungry but at the same time they love to have fun and they love Buffalo and being a part of this franchise.

On the flip side Mark Sanchez is probably shaking in his little boots down in Jersey right now at the prospects of facing the Bills defense in all-white, led by Marcell Dareus AND now the 12th man will be screaming at you in all-white as well.  Not your day bro, just not your day.

Also apparently some guy Josh Wisinski came up with the whiteout – kudos to you man…great idea.

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