mario williams

Mario Williams

*”Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is a valid sentence in the English language. It’s true. Check it out on this Wikipedia article.

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Incidentally, that sentence could have also summarized the speech of SportsCenter anchors this past week after one of the biggest free-agent signings in NFL history, as Mario Williams, left the sunny skies of Houston for the lake-effect snow of Buffalo.

Talk about a climate change! We can’t help but feel happy for the Bills and their fans, who must have been feeling like they were marooned in the NFL’s Siberia for almost two decades now – and that was after they lost four straight Superbowls. Now the Bills can toss out a bruising defensive line and at least a competent offense. Maybe there’s some hope in upstate New York after all.

The timing of the NFL’s free agent frenzy provided an interesting contrast compared to the other big player-personnel sports story of the week, the NBA trading deadline. If the Mario Williams story was the biggest story this week, the seemingly endless Dwight Howard “will-he-or-won’t-he” trade carousel was #2 with a 6-foot-11, 265-lb., shot-blocking bullet. In the end, all he did was decide to stay another year with the Magic – just leading to another year of this same old stuff. You have to feel sorry for the Magic fans, for another year of death by a thousand cuts, in the form of endless newspaper articles and sound bites. All this a decade after Shaq left. Hell, there’s not even a sentence involving repetitions of the world “Orlando.”

The contrast comes down to team versus individual, really. Unlike in the NFL, in the NBA, one superstar player can hold an entire franchise hostage for years; just witness the collective Dog Day Afternoon that was LeBron James with Cleveland and Chris Bosh with Toronto. We don’t see that in the NFL, for the simple reason that team comes before all in this league; in football, one superstar can kick-start a good team into another class, but they can’t drag a franchise up another rung all by their lonesome. If we look at the biggest NFL free agent signings of all time – Reggie White, Drew Brees, Deion Sanders – they all fit in as the final piece of the puzzle for an already-good team. As far as the teams they leave behind? Well, the players get replaced, and life goes on. That’s the way it is. Houston will survive without Mario Williams. After all, he was 1 of 53 – a great 1, but 1, nonetheless. Meanwhile, when a superstar leaves an NBA team … it’s cataclysmic. You can ask the fans in Toronto and Cleveland about that; it will take those years to recover from their high-profile defections. One superstar invariably decides the fate of an entire city’s team.

NFL vs. NBA, team vs. individual, two sports that battle for the country’s consciousness every winter. What side do you come down on?