Billboard campaign illustrates fan angst
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- It didn't take long for Ryan Abshagen to discover how many Buffalo Bills fans are unhappy with their team and want owner Ralph Wilson to make sweeping changes.
In a little more than a week, Abshagen, an unemployed 18-year-old from New Freedom, Pa., raised enough money -- $1,402 and counting as of Wednesday -- through an Internet campaign to rent a billboard and advertise a message of discontent for everyone in Buffalo to see.
"I honestly never thought it would ever be this big," Abshagen said. "Fans are disgruntled. It's out there. It's big. People are going to hear about it."
Starting early Monday and running for a week, the message will be flashed up to 3,000 times a day on a digital billboard overlooking Interstate 190 on the south side of the city, said Abshagen after signing a contract with an advertising company.
The display will feature a message that reads, "It's time to clean house, RALPH," referring to Wilson. Next to that will be a checklist of three names: Jauron; the team's chief college scout Tom Modrak; and vice president of pro personnel John Guy.
The level of fan frustration in Buffalo has been evident since the Bills missed the playoffs for a ninth straight season with their third consecutive 7-9 finish a year ago. It's reached a boiling point again with Buffalo at 1-4 and coming off an ugly 6-3 loss to Cleveland on Sunday.
Bills fans showed their displeasure by booing the team numerous times during a game in which the team's offense failed to score a touchdown for the second time in three weeks. Some fans were spotted wearing paper bags on their heads, while one group stood up to display matching white T-shirts with letters on them that spelled: "FIRE DICK NOW!"
Jauron, in his fourth season, is on the hot seat for the team's dreadful start. Modrak and Guy are being blamed for failing to build a competitive roster.
The Bills declined comment when asked about the billboard.
Jauron has declined to discuss his status, but has previously acknowledged the criticism.
Bills punter Brian Moorman rallied to Jauron's support when informed of the billboard.
"It doesn't discourage me because I know there's a lot more people out there that wouldn't do something like that. But it is a free country," Moorman said. "The important thing is that inside these walls, [Jauron] has our support. We believe in him."
Abshagen said he first proposed the billboard idea on a Bills fan message board following the team's 38-10 loss at Miami on Oct. 4.
A few days later, he designed a web site and began seeking donations. Abshagen said the site attracted little attention until several media outlets mentioned the campaign in stories, particularly after the loss to the Browns.
"That was the one that tilted the scales," he said. "That was embarrassing."
The response was so overwhelming that Abshagen said he raised the necessary $1,125 to rent the billboard for a week by Tuesday night. He's now begun a second campaign to raise another $1,125 to extend the rental for one more week or rent a second billboard.
Any leftover money, he said, will be donated to charity.
"We don't hate anybody," Abshagen said, when asked about how the message might be interpreted. "The donors and myself included, we don't mean any harm or wish to insult anyone. We simply just want to get our voice out as fans."
And he doesn't think it'll make any difference among fans should the Bills win on Sunday when they travel to play the New York Jets.
"I think the fans are fed up enough that it won't even have an effect," Abshagen said. "We are in too deep at this point."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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