ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Being competitive in professional sports is not a unique personality trait. It’s part of the gig.
So for longtime Carolina Panthers general manager and current Washington Football Team executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney to call Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane the most competitive person he knows, that means something. Hurney said that he won’t even bother going against Beane at certain activities anymore because of it.
While Hurney declined to say he was a mentor to Beane -- “I’m no mentor ... we always work together” -- the Bills GM begs to differ. And his competitive juices will certainly be flowing as he watches his team compete against some familiar faces this weekend.
The Bills are hosting Washington on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) thanks to the 17th game added to each team’s schedule this season. It doesn’t take much to note the many connections to Panthers teams past, from Beane and Hurney to players on the practice squad.
There are eight former Panthers on the Bills roster and six on Washington's team, including current starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
The two leaders of the Bills -- coach Sean McDermott and Beane -- spent years learning under now-Washington coach Ron Rivera and Hurney before taking over in Buffalo in 2017. McDermott spent a combined 11 years with Rivera on staffs with the Philadelphia Eagles and Panthers. Beane worked in the same building as Hurney with Carolina from 1998-2012. And while they are all still close, personal feelings will be put on hold for three hours on Sunday.
A North Carolina native, Beane started with the Panthers as a public relations intern and worked his way up to the assistant general manager role. Along the way, he learned from Hurney, whom he talks to at least once a week and sometimes as much as three times a day.
“Marty just taught me to basically communicate and ... listen. Marty is a really good listener,” Beane told ESPN. “That’s something I definitely needed to work on and that I brought here is collaborate, listen, communicate.
“... This is a hard job, and you take home a lot of stress and rarely when you walk out of here, are you done. Your phone is still ringing. You're getting a text, an agent, your owner, the head coach ... to do that as long as he's done it, if I can get half as many years, I’ll feel pretty good.”
Hurney and Beane text each other after wins but wait a couple of days after a loss to reach out. Beane and Rivera still talk about every two to three weeks, and sometimes Hurney and Rivera will call Beane together.
“I think we laugh so much together,” Hurney said. “We probably laugh more than we talk ... he’s just such a great person. He is extremely serious and passionate when it comes to what he does, but he also has that other personal side to [him] that is just fun to be around.”
Hurney points to Beane’s exposure to so many parts of the team, through his own work, as part of the reason for his success.
“I knew when he got his chance, he was going to do really good,” Hurney said. “And I think the results have proven that.”
On the coaching side, McDermott will face Rivera as a head coach in the regular season for the second time in his career. Rivera’s 2017 Panthers team beat the Bills 9-3.
This week McDermott referred to Rivera as one of his “biggest mentors in the business.” Both were on the Eagles staff from 1999-2003, and Rivera hired McDermott to be his defensive coordinator when he was hired as Panthers head coach.
“Sean, he's solid, he's smart, he understands, he gets it, and he knows me. I've been very fortunate that I've known Sean a long time and it was good having him with me for those years in Carolina,” Rivera said. “... He really built his own there, did a real nice job. And when he got his chance (in) Buffalo, he's done the same thing.
“He's built exactly what he and I talked about in terms of what we wanted to have in Carolina.”
Similarities between the two coaches with defensive backgrounds include making sure the attitude in the building feels the same after both wins and losses, as seen in the Bills’ 24-hour rule (moving on a day after games, win or lose), and both are cerebral and speak from the heart to their teams. Rivera noted one of the things he admires about McDermott is how “steady” he is.
For Bills defensive line coach Eric Washington, who also joined Rivera’s staff in 2011 and coached under him through 2019, a noted difference was McDermott blaring music throughout practice.
“That took some getting used to,” Washington said.
He noted the members of those Carolina teams keep joining together elsewhere thanks to the trust that is built and the shared values and philosophies in team building and looking for certain players -- something Hurney echoed.
But on Sunday for a few hours, the brotherhood will be put to the side.
“With him being in the NFC and us in the AFC, every other week I'm going to root for him. But this week, you also don't want to lose to your brother,” Beane said. “We definitely want to win this game, and those two do, too. When you go have a beer with them in the offseason a little smack talk goes a long way.
“... We’ll rib each other, we'll give each other a hug, and then we'll try and rip each other's heads off for three hours, and then hug it off and say, 'Hey, man go get 'em the rest of the season, pulling for you.'"