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Underground Is the AnswerWide Right

As the disturbing events of the past couple weeks have shown, the dog days of summer are a difficult time to be a professional athlete. Whether you're Allen Iverson having to travel to an unpleasant West Philly neighborhood in the middle of the night to teach a lesson to the no-count cousin who dares to molest your young wife (and this after you have been paying to support him and his entire deadbeat family) or Al Unser, Jr., having to resort to drunken manipulation of the gear shift knob because your girlfriend still hasn't learned to drive properly, there's no end to the trouble you can find yourself in.

All this sports criminality only serves to make us wonder why more cities have not followed the Buffalo model when it comes to dealing with its potentially dangerous population of pro athletes during the off-season. I'm talking, of course, about the Buffalo Bills' mysterious underground residential facility, which is believed to be located somewhere underneath the village of Hamburg.

Perhaps the reason the Bills' ingenious idea has not caught on is precisely because it is shrouded in such secrecy. Even here in Buffalo, there are many local residents who remain blissfully unaware that such a facility exists. Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose.

But whether they are aware of its existence or not, every citizen of Erie and Niagara Counties (and particularly those who work as parking attendants at downtown nightclub) have the underground facility to thank for the fact that they never have to worry about getting into an altercation with a blitzed #4 rookie wide receiver as he stumbles from the nightclub door to his car parked nearby.

For the simple truth, which only Buffalo (and perhaps one or two other cities across the country) has had the courage to acknowledge, is that the professional athlete is a strange creature who, for his own safety and that of others, must not be allowed to mingle with the outside world. Al Unser, Jr., is masterful when driving at 200 mph on a closed oval track, but he should never be allowed to drive a normal car on an actual highway (not even from the passenger seat), as his recent run-in with the law has shown.

So it was that prior to the 1972 season (during O.J. Simpson's heyday, it should be noted) then-coach Lou Saban approached Bills owner Ralph Wilson with idea of constructing a massive underground complex in which his players could live in self-sufficient comfort away from the trouble that awaited them above ground when they weren't on the field.

Ground was broken on the complex, which was code-named H-3 (the "H" denoting Hamburg, and the "3" denoting that it was the 3rd of the alleged 6 sites that were identified as potential locations for the facility), in October of that year, and by early December it was ready for habitation.

The players were given access to some of the world's top chefs, along with a seemingly endless supply of willing underage girls and safe, non-addictive drugs. The wives were allowed to visit the complex only 1 day per week, and this only after being blindfolded and driven along a convoluted route that may have gone through Detroit. The players were happy, and the city's resident could live in peace. Some time in the early 1980s a series of tunnels was constructed to take the players to key locations such as then-Rich Stadium and the strip clubs across the Niagara River in Fort Erie.

This is precisely the reason that, throughout the Bills' triumphant but ultimately disappointing Super Bowl years of the late 80s and early 90s, there was never an above-ground mishap involving a Bills player awash in disappointment after losing the big game. Some players, notably Jim Kelly, would make a point of appearing at local bars and getting drunk with the locals, but for the most part the players kept to themselves.

To this very day, Buffalo has fewer athlete-related incidents each year than almost every other NFL combined. The statistics speak for themselves. So one must wonder once again why the rest of the country does not get in line and follow Buffalo's lead. How many more incidents like those of recent weeks must we witness before the rest of the world finally wakes up?

Born and raised in Hamburg, James R. Miller is currently completing post-doctoral work at London School of Economics.

 
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