The departure of Russ Brandon as President of the Bills & Sabres along with numerous other former Bills employees means the strongest  connection to the Ralph Wilson era is gone. To some that’s good news, to many others it’s the end of an era. Brandon was the most significant employee who had survived the transition between the Bills’ teams of the 1990’s to the present day.

Russ was not around during the Super Bowl years, but joined the team under GM John Butler in the late 90’s and was a key figure in the “Business Backs the Bills” movement to keep the team in town. Brandon was also instrumental in the efforts to sell the team to a buyer who would keep the Bills in Buffalo.

When the Pegula’s bought the Bills many felt the Russ Brandon era had come to an end, but instead he rose to President of both major league franchises. Obviously that’s where the success story ends and Brandon’s forced resignation is a sad ending to what had been a story book climb to the top. One Bills insider called Brandon’s rise and fall as “Shakespearean”.

The ouster of Brandon is also the most obvious change during a year of quiet turmoil over at One Bills Drive. The Bills may have made the playoffs for the first time in seventeen years, but for the past five months veteran members of the front office and long-time employees of the football department have been forced out. This was the off season one would have expected after McDermott was hired, not after making the playoffs.

The “retirement on hold” by Center Eric Wood is another strange development that has quietly gone away, but has not been resolved. Woods was more than a little embarrassed when he showed up to announce his retirement in front of media, family and teammates only to find out to do so would cost him mega bucks. Someone could have informed Eric before he arrived that day that the Bills and NFL were playing hard ball with the distinction between retirement due to injury and a voluntary retirement. One of the most bizarre incidents in the history of the team and not something a player of Woods legacy deserved.

The decision by Richie Incognito to “retire” may or may not be due to his salary being slashed. We can take him at his word that his health comes first or we can look back at his reduction in pay and then firing of his agent as the precursor to his sudden hanging up of the cleats.

There has also been a surgical purge inside the organization of employees who were with the team while it was owned by Ralph Wilson and specifically during the Super Bowl years. Last year Sean McDermott took some of the Bills players who were part of those teams out to dinner, but he has made it crystal clear inside the organization that he no longer wants to hear about the 1990’s.

Members of the football department who had been part of the Super Bowl years and excelled in their area of expertise to the point of being honored by the league were forced out or terminated. Their positions were eliminated so as not to give cause and the loyalty they had shown to the team was not returned. These individuals represented a past that was no longer celebrated by the new Bills.

I am told that the atmosphere inside the organization is one of paranoia as the purge continues. The sense of the “Bills Family” is gone and employees duck into doorways if they see Coach McDermott coming so they can stay off his radar. In fact, I know of two incidents where veteran employees were told they were “safe” only to be fired the next week.

None of this will matter if the team wins. Victories erase all mistakes or dirty deeds. Yet, this is not what I expected when Sean McDermott came to town. My impression of him was one of a young coach who had paid his dues, a straight shooter with a sound moral compass. I wouldn’t have expected him to be the type wanting to erase the proud legacy of the past and I’m not referring to the drought years. I also scratch my head over his dismissal of three coaches after just one season, coaches he personally hired less than a year earlier.

We all hope there is a “plan” and the recent draft helps fill the holes created by the loss of Taylor, Incognito, Woods, Brown and others. But, I may be getting sentimental in my old age because I became attached to people and faces synonymous with the organization that had represented an era and our community.

The Pegula ownership will now write a new history with a front office and football staff different that the one we have known for the past twenty-five years. Change is good if it’s better, but so far the Pegula ownership has shown it’s not easy.

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