TORONTO — Eric Moulds couldn't be happier to see the Buffalo Bills' loyal fanbase being rewarded for its patience and loyalty.
Before the start of the '22 NFL season, a majority of prognosticators picked Buffalo as their Super Bowl pick. And thus far, the Bills (2-0) have lived up to the hype, registering convincing victories over the Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams (31-10) and Tennessee Titans (41-7 on Monday night).
Buffalo will certainly have history on its side Sunday when it visits division rival Miami (2-0). Bills starter Josh Allen, who has developed into one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, is 7-1 lifetime versus the Dolphins.
"I think (the Bills' resurgence) is great," said Moulds. "I played on some good teams in Buffalo and we had some bad teams but every time I looked up in the stands there was 80,000 people there.
"The fans are passionate, they live and die with the Bills. I think (GM) Brandon Beane and (head coach) Sean McDermott have created something many people in Buffalo are looking forward to and I'm happy to see it because of the fans there."
Moulds was in Toronto this week participating in NFL Canada's The Huddle program.
Moulds spent 10 of his 12 NFL seasons with Buffalo (1996-2005) before finishing up with Houston (2006) and Tennessee (2007). The Bills selected the six-foot-two, 225-pound Moulds in the first round, No. 24 overall, of the '96 NFL draft from Mississippi State.
Moulds' tenure in Buffalo started slowly as he registered 20 and 29 receptions, respectively, his first two seasons. But the Lucedale, Miss., native had a breakout '98 campaign with 67 catches for a then team-record 1,368 yards and nine TDs.
Moulds would crack the 1,000-yard plateau four times with Buffalo and in 2002 became the first Bills receiver to record 100 catches in a season. Moulds registered 675 career receptions for 9,096 yards and 48 TDs in Western New York before being dealt to Houston.
Buffalo posted a .500 or better record in six of Moulds' seasons with the club, reaching the playoffs three times.
Buffalo's turnaround coincides with the hiring of McDermott and Beane before the '17 season. Since then, the Bills have posted just one losing campaign (6-10 in 2018) and double-digit wins the last three years in supplanting the New England Patriots atop the AFC East Division.
A big part of that, too, has been the speedy maturation of Allen, the club's first-round pick (No. 7 overall) in 2018. The six-foot-five, 237-pound Allen was a career 56.2 per cent passer at Wyoming and completed less than 59 per cent of his passes over his first two seasons in Buffalo.
But that figure shot up to 69.2 per cent in 2020 and this year, Allen has completed 52-of-69 passes (75.4 per cent) for 614 yards with seven TDs and just two interceptions. Of course, it doesn't hurt either to have a receiver like Stefon Diggs (20 catches, 270 yards, four TDs in 2022), who has recorded four straight 1,000-yard campaigns.
However, in Moulds' mind, the biggest reason for Buffalo's turnaround has been the ownership of Terry and Kim Pegula. They purchased the Bills in 2014 after the franchise went up for sale following the death of long-time owner Ralph Wilson.
Three years earlier, Terry Pegula bought the NHL's Buffalo Sabres and NLL's Buffalo Bandits. When the Pegulas took over the Bills, that ended rampant speculation regarding the NFL club's future in Western New York.
Last March, the Pegulas reached an agreement with both New York state and Erie County on a US$1.4-million, 62,000-seat stadium that would be located in Orchard Park, N.Y., across the street from the club's current venue.
"It starts inside with the owners who've done just a tremendous job," Moulds said. "When you get owners like that who give you an opportunity to build a team and be successful, the sky is the limit."
The Bills have come close to winning an NFL title, losing 20-19 to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV when Scott Norwood's late 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. It was the first of four straight championship losses for Buffalo.
But the franchise's resurgence has again fuelled hope among Bills fans — and that includes a number of Canadians living in southern Ontario — that 2022 will be the year the club ends its Super Bowl frustration. And Moulds isn't worried about Buffalo players being hindered by the increased weight of expectation this year.
"Expectations come with being in the NFL," he said. "The day you step on that field, there's an expectation of you and the players know that.
"It's just a little bigger when guys come out and the media says, 'You know what? This team has a chance to be a Super Bowl favourite.' Each team is different ... I don't know if (the Bills) will win but I do think they have an opportunity to go (to Super Bowl.)."
These days, Moulds, 49, is living in Charlotte, where he operates a training facility for athletes ranging from high school to the NFL.
"We probably have 199 athletes playing football, basketball or on track scholarships," he said. "We have a couple of hockey players and a few lacrosse players.
"We've got a lot of kids to college and it's getting bigger."
One lesson Moulds looks to pass on to his athletes is understanding the importance of studying and being a student of the game they play.
"I tell them all the time it starts in the classroom," he said. "It's a cliché but it's true because you're in a classroom more than you're on the field.
"When you're in the NFL you study film, you sit in a classroom with coaches and you learn. Throughout the day, guys spend eight hours in a classroom with coaches and only two hours on the field. I tell them, 'Just don't get too honed in on the sport you want to do. You still have to study and get a degree.'"
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press