Review by Budd Bailey
Sports fans have to do something between games. After all, teams don't play 365 days a year. So ... they make up lists. And argue.
If they need starting points, there are plenty of books out there to begin the discussion. Ask Robert W. Cohen.
He's written a long list of books about "the 50 greatest players in (insert team here) history." They mostly cover the teams in major league baseball and the National Football League, but he does have one coming out on the Boston Celtics. Cohen now has gotten around to doing the Buffalo Bills. This one is called, naturally, "The 50 Greatest Players in Buffalo Bills History."
As you'd expect, Cohen has the format down pretty well. After a brief introduction, he starts with the early days of each player's life, and works his way through high school, college and the pros. The highlights are told along the way, including some quotes from the player himself or those around him. The author deserves some credit for not turning away from some unfortunate or tragic events that have surrounded some of the players. Obviously O.J. Simpson comes to mind in that category, although a few others like Jim Dunaway also could fit in there. The chapters end with Cohen picking a particular player's best season, follow by individual highlights.
By coincidence, I had to pick my own best player in Bills' history for a discussion recently. I used my own way of coming up with the No. 1 choice. What player on the Bills could be considered for all-time list of the greatest performer in football history? In my opinion, Bruce Smith fits that description. Simpson might have been higher on that list had he played a few more years; that would keep him below players like Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. But as you'd expect, both Smith and Simpson do really well here.
I won't spoil the names and ranks here. Cohen went through the usual standards of rank on all-time team lists, games played, all-star/Pro Bowl selections, and so forth. It's always difficult to balance peak value in a season (think Josh Allen, at least for now) and career value (as in longevity as a high level). Let's just say I was surprised that Fred Jackson was ranked higher than Jack Kemp.
I had a bigger problem with the career highlights. Many of them come up in the body of the story, and the others just aren't that interesting at this point in time. Yes, it fills out the book, but I found myself skipping over large sections of the individual chapters for that reason. That's a bit troubling, especially for a $28.95 list price.
Still, "The 50 Greatest Players in Buffalo Bills History" is a pleasant enough trip down memory land. If you like this sort of approach, it's professionally handled and will make you well prepared for any discussions that come up along these lines.
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