The first stop in my tour of the area was to see Mayor Byron Brown in Buffalo's city hall. I sat down with the mayor, Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey and communications director Peter Cutler in offices that looked like sports shrines as much as political headquarters.
We easily breezed through my allotted time and went on to discuss all sorts of local sports topics when the recorder was turned off. The interview came full circle when I ended with a question I posed but no one could answer when I first entered the room:
Who in Buffalo history would be described as flamboyant?
All three men agreed Buffalo doesn't offer many examples of flamboyance, especially not in sports. The most famous name we could agree on was Rick James.
Only a portion of my interview with Brown ran in the story, but I wanted to share his unabridged thoughts on Owens joining the Buffalo Bills.
What was your reaction when you heard the Bills had signed Terrell Owens?
Byron Brown: My first reaction when I heard he was available was "I hope the Bills take him, but they never will because it's not their style." When I heard the Bills signed him, I was absolutely shocked.
Why were you so surprised?
BB: The Bills have been a very conservative franchise. They do a lot of background and testing of the people. They want good character players and -- not [to] question Terrell's character -- but he has been somewhat controversial, and I didn't think the Bills would go down that path.
Are you a fan of the signing?
BB: He is a proven commodity. The one-year contract, I thought, was brilliant because, looking at his background, he does extremely well in the first year of his contracts. I think he's a guy that wants to win and has been one of his most productive receivers during his tenure in the NFL.
He's going to add some real punch to their offense. He's going to be a real weapon, a real threat that teams have to guard against. I think he's going to help them open up their running game as well as their passing game.
You know the people of Buffalo as well as anyone. If you could give Terrell Owens some advice about playing here, what would you tell him?
BB: My advice to him would be to be himself. He was drafted to be himself. He's a great player. He's a productive player. He's a passionate player. I think that's what the fans want to see. They want to see somebody that can put the ball in the end zone. He can do that. They want somebody that's going to be passionate about winning. That's the type of player he's proven himself to be.
The thing that I would tell him, though, is to be the kind of positive force that I think he has the ability to be in the locker room. The fans here want to see their players getting along.
If he can bring all the things he brings to the game, that passion, that winning attitude, that desire to have the ball in his hands and get along with his teammates, then he's going to be really warmly received by the Buffalo fans.
How do you think a flamboyant player like T.O. will be accepted by Bills fans?
BB: We have some real diehard fans here. We have some real tough, blue-collar sorts of fans that want their players to work hard and show up every game. They're loyal. While fans in recent years have been very frustrated, they've also been very loyal. The Bills haven't won a playoff game -- it almost sounds weird to say it -- but since 1995. We're long overdue in this community.
As mayor, if Terrell Owens gets us to the playoffs, I will proclaim a day in his honor. I will make it Terrell Owens Day in the City of Buffalo. And that's just for starters. Let's not even start talking about the ticker-tape parade.
(Brown takes a long drink from his mug to conceal a huge grin.)
Do you think fans are willing to be more tolerant when they're desperate win after losing for so long?
BB: The fans wanted to see some out-of-the-box thinking. They wanted to see some real creativity and some real aggressiveness in the free-agent market. That's what the Bills have done. It's really exciting the fans. People are pretty pumped up. It's also going to translate into putting more people in the stands for the Bills.
There's a belief this will be a one-and-done proposition for Owens and Buffalo. If it doesn't work, they won't want him back. If it does work, he'll make himself a nice payday elsewhere. Do you think this is a one-season opportunity?
BB: He looks to be a person who wants respect, and I think by the Bills making this move, it seems like he's really feeling respected by this organization. So my view runs a little counter. I think if the first year goes really well and he is successful and the team is successful, I think he is going to repay them with some loyalty because they have shown him a tremendous amount of respect and confidence in the abilities that he brings to the table.
Some teams went out of their way to say, "We're not interested." I don't see him as being a guy that, if he has a phenomenal year, is going to turn around and look at those teams.
What kind of financial impact do you think a move like this can have, even if it's for only one season?
BB: I think the Bills have made a very smart move. It's put the Buffalo Bills in the spotlight unlike we have been in many years. People already are talking about re-upping season tickets and buying tickets. There's a tremendous buzz in this community. The team and T.O. have an opportunity to do something great together.
Without looking at the Bills' financial books, do you think that, given the economy and the general fan dissatisfaction surrounding the team, a high-profile move was needed to generate ticket sales for 2009?
BB: I don't know if they had to have something like this, but it sure helps. With the economy the way it is, people are looking for hope anywhere they can get it. Certainly, the great fans we have in this community are looking for hope that the Bills are going to turn it around. People really wanted to see the Bills enter the free-agent market in a big way. The Bills have done that. For the first time in a long time, fans are saying, "Hey, they went for it." I think people are going to be really excited about coming out to games.
This is an attention-getting move that is going to put fans in the seats, and other players are going to be looking at the Bills organization and be thinking, "Hey, maybe I might want to consider
coming here." I think it's going to pay dividends for the Bills, and it comes at a time when people are thinking twice about how they're going to spend their money.