Sunday, October 8, 2023

Review: If These Walls Could Talk: Buffalo Bills (2023)

By John Murphy with Scott Pitoniak

This must have seemed like a simple enough task at the time.

John Murphy has been announcing the games of the Buffalo Bills on radio for many years. He started on the broadcasts as the color man for the legendary play-by-play announcer, Van Miller. When Van finally retired, John moved over a spot to take over those duties. A few different former Bills have worked with Murph on commentary over the years.

That's obviously a good starting point for a book. Murphy has been around the team for a few decades, and he knows several of the personalities involved in the game well. Certainly, Murphy and coauthor Scott Pitoniak had visions of sitting around with a beverage, cranking out some good stories, and publishing an entertaining book. The deal for "If These Walls Could Talk: Buffalo Bills" quickly came together.

But fate got in the way. The Bills were preparing to play the Bengals in Cincinnati late in the 2022 season when Murphy started to have some physical problems.  He never did make it to that game, which is also remembered as the one in which the heart of Bills' defensive back Damar Hamlin briefly stopped after a hit to the chest. Hamlin returned to action in 2023; Murphy wasn't so lucky. He was diagnosed as suffering a stroke, and he's been recovering from it since then. 

From the writing sense, it must have been interesting to try to figure out how Murphy should handle the issue - especially since it figured to be a long-term issue that wouldn't be completely solved by the time the book was out. Murphy and Pitoniak chose to deal with it quite simply as part of the life story; it's not particularly highlighted but several pages are devoted to it. This was a wise move, since Murphy is something of a public figure in his role as the Bills' radio announcer and many people have been rooting for him to fully recover. 

Otherwise, this is exactly what you'd expect in a book like this. The authors start with a chapter on Josh Allen, which is rather interesting. It probably shows just how popular the quarterback is in the Bills' community. Then Murphy spends a little time on his background. He reveals a few things that I didn't know, even though we've been friends for quite a while. We went to Syracuse University at the same time for three years, but our paths did not cross then.  That had to wait when we bumped into each other at sports events in the Buffalo area some years later. 

With that established, Murphy is off with his recap of the Bills over the years as he's seen it. The players, coaches and front office executives all get the once-over. There have been a lot of them, which isn't surprising since the Bills have been bad more often than they've been good during this tenure. As you'd expect he grew fond of the chief architects of the Bills' best run of success, Bill Polian and Marv Levy. 

There are a couple of points told along the way that surprised me. The first is that Murphy is absolutely, positively convinced that "Home Run Throwback" - the play that gave the Titans a playoff win over the Bills in 2000 - was a forward lateral. Having looked at that play a few dozen times (it's tough to avoid when researching team history), I've concluded that at best it's too close too call, meaning the play stands. But if I had to pick a direction, I'd say it was a legal play as a lateral.

Murphy also writes a bit about the problems that developed between Polian and owner Ralph Wilson. John is clearly on Polian's side on most items. I'm not going to say that Wilson was faultless in that relationship, but everything I've heard indicates that Polian could have handled the situation better ... something Bill admits now. 

Here's the key point, though, about Murphy. He's that rare individual who can take strong opinions, and still be universally liked. That's less common than you'd think. 

Reading "If These Walls Could Talk: Buffalo Bills" is like sitting down and having a nice long chat with John. I've done that on several occasions, and it's always been a pleasure. The book is the same way. 

Four stars

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