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Be Careful What You Chant For

Fan favorite Gary Marangi, given a chance demanded by chanting crowds at Rich Stadium, produced the worst statistical season in NFL history in 1976.
Be Careful What You Chant For
Fans' Yelling Prophesizes Disaster, Inspires Blog

I’m seven years old, sitting in the lower bowl of Rich Stadium, along the visitors’ sideline, attending my first professional football game with my father.

The Buffalo Bills, led by superstar running back, widely beloved advertising pitch-man and aspiring movie star O.J. Simpson, mercilessly slash away at the Baltimore Colts for much of the first half. Simpson, two years removed from his national-headline-making 2,003-yard season and the midst of breaking the National Football League’s single-season touchdown record, hits the end zone three times in little more than a quarter, once on a run and twice with passes thrown by Joe Ferguson.

Buffalo leads 28-7 early in the second quarter, appearing to be perhaps the greatest football team in history, cheered on by the loudest crowd I had ever been in. For a few minutes, at least, until Bert Jones starts shredding a Bills secondary decimated by injuries, with an 89-yard bomb to Roger Carr cutting the margin to a single touchdown by halftime.

Now some of the fans around us, mostly young, very loud men, shift from joyously cheering on Simpson’s heroics to angrily belittling the defense and Ferguson, often using language I only heard my father use when he was at work or trying to fix something.

A few start chanting, “We want Marangi! We want Marangi!”

Buffalo’s backup quarterback, Gary Marangi, had won the undying love of Bills fans a year earlier, when as a rookie, he replaced an injured Ferguson and threw two late touchdown passes in Miami. The Dolphins, as they always did in the 1970s, won rather easily, but Marangi’s modest, if meaningless, accomplishment was enough for those who, for some reason, loathed Ferguson.

All I know is that Ferguson throws a beautiful spiral, a skill I am struggling to perfect with a small rubber football when playing catch with Dad. As I learn the game, I realize he also has a strong arm and excellent control of his throws—except on the occasions he throws one to the other team.

Then, and this is a big reason there are those who boo him at every opportunity, he jogs off the field with his head down, looking at the ground. That simple bit of body language is enough to enrage the faithful, turning a fair number of them into Marangi partisans.

At seven, I don’t understand any of this. All I know is that people are yelling obscenities at their favorite team, and demanding the replacement of one of their best, and most important, players.

“We Want Marangi” spreads throughout the stadium as the Bills struggle to move the ball in the third quarter, reaching a crescendo after the Colts tie the game early in the fourth and Ferguson throws an interception, leaving the field in the manner which is his wont.

“Why do they want Marangi?” I ask Dad, who played six-man football in the mid-1950s at the small rural school I attend.

He shakes his head.

“They’ve had too much to drink,” he says.

The Colts score to take a 35-28 lead. Ferguson gets knocked cold by Baltimore’s pass rush and the drinkers get their wish.

Whereupon their hero immediately throws another interception, this one setting up another easy touchdown that gives the Colts a 14-point lead with a few minutes left.

Marangi winds up completing only two of his 10 throws, but one produces another meaningless touchdown, and I hear one of the chanters blame the loss on the failure to get Ferguson out of the game earlier.

Ferguson returns the next week, but midway through the next season, suffers a season-ending back injury, and, at last, Marangi is truly The Man.

He proceeds to lead the Bills to seven straight losses, despite Simpson leading the league in rushing. For the season, Marangi completes 35.3 percent of his passes, finishing with a 30.4 passer rating. No regular quarterback has come close to undercutting either figure since.

Ferguson would return in 1977, and after a couple more tough seasons, lead the Bills to back-to-back playoff appearances. Simpson’s Buffalo career ended with a knee injury in ’77, and later proved, at the very least, to not be nearly the all-around good guy we seemed to think at the time. Marangi was out of football a year after his historically awful ’76 season, but went on to become a highly successful educator and football coach in Medford, N.Y.

And three seasons ago, when I decided to start writing about the Bills and their fans again after a four-year hiatus, I couldn’t think of a name that better summarizes our sometimes-misguided passion, and how little we actually know than We Want Marangi.


To the surprise of absolutely no one outside Dallas, the signing of convicted woman-beater and all-purpose misanthrope Greg Hardy didn’t take long to show how much teams are willing to overlook if someone can sack a quarterback.

Hardy, who was convicted of choking his girlfriend and throwing her onto a couch covered with assault weapons, but went unpunished by North Carolina’s hillbilly justice system, has compiled the following stat line through three games with the Cowboys: 12 tackles, three sacks, one interception, one sideline shoving match with a teammate, and one attempted assault on a coach.

Hardy’s inglorious return is a shining example of the macho bullshit that permeates sports in general, and the NFL in particular. With women now serving as the sole or co-owner of five of the NFL’s 32 teams, including Buffalo’s Kim Pegula, maybe the league that so desperately courts the female demographic will start culling sociopaths like Hardy from its ranks.

And maybe E.J. Manuel will lead the Bills to the Super Bowl.

David Staba has written about the Buffalo Bills, among other things, since 1990, and published since 2013.

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