The subplots in today's grudge match between the 1-4 Buffalo Bills and the 4-2 San Diego Chargers are more intriguing than the main course.
The Chargers are favored to beat the Bills by a touchdown at Qualcomm Stadium, thanks in large part to the work of general manager John Butler, quarterback Doug Flutie and a host of other former Bills.
This is a rivalry three years in the making -- the three years that Flutie and Rob Johnson wrestled over the quarterback job in Buffalo. Johnson was ultimately declared the winner during the off-season and Flutie was sent packing.
Today, they'll square off in a game that has the look of a family feud, so intertwined are the two franchises.
No less than nine members of the Chargers' organization were employed by the Bills last season. Acrimony was prominent in the departures of more than a few.
But the greatest animosity grew out of the exit of Butler, who spent 14 years in Buffalo and helped shape the Bills' Super Bowl teams. Unable to negotiate an extension to Butler's contract last season, Bills owner Ralph Wilson finally fired him before the last game of the regular season.
Slightly more than two weeks later, Butler signed on as general manager of the Chargers, leaving Wilson feeling betrayed. Butler had rebuffed Wilson all through the season, then rejected a three-year offer worth about $1 million a year in December.
"He signed pretty quickly, didn't he?" Wilson said during the off-season. "If people don't think after this chronology that Butler didn't have any intention of extending his deal with the Bills, then they think people don't drink beer in Munich."
There was more. In April, after the schedules were released, Wilson said he'd rather beat San Diego than win the Super Bowl.
In response to that comment, Flutie said last week: "He's got a lot of explaining to do to his players."
Flutie, 39, and Johnson, 28, are still at the center of this circus. Johnson once accused Flutie in a magazine article of back-stabbing him when they were together in Buffalo. Flutie, in turn, has taken shots at Johnson. Both tried to play down their tattered relationship during the week.
Asked if it felt strange facing Flutie now, Johnson acknowledged the Buffalo fans who have remained loyal to Flutie. "I don't have to face him," Johnson said. "He's not playing defense. Well, some of his fans probably think he can play defense."
Flutie's spin: "We weren't the best of friends, but there wasn't this hatred that everyone's made it out to be. I guess Steve Young and Joe Montana went through the same thing. Two guys trying to fight for a job."
New Monster of Midway
Could the greatest defense in NFL history be nudged out of the record book one season later? Don't look now, but the Chicago Bears are threatening the Ravens' NFL record for fewest points allowed over a 16-game season.
In five games, the Bears have given up 43 points, or 8.6 per game. That's a pace that would allow 138 over 16 games, shattering the Ravens' record of 165. With Ravens-like dominance, the Bears have given up just one touchdown in 13 quarters.
At the heart of the defense is second-year middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who already is being compared to Bears Hall of Famers Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. Urlacher is having no part of it.
"It's premature," he said. "I've only played a year, almost a year and a half now, and I haven't done anything compared to what they did. I get asked that question every day and I answer it the same way: It's premature because I've only played like 27 games now."
It could be payback time for the Bears when they meet San Francisco today in a surprise meeting of 4-1 teams. The Bears will remember last year's 17-10 loss in San Francisco, when the 49ers were still throwing the ball late in the game.
There were extenuating circumstances, however. The 49ers were making their final home appearance of the season, and wanted to give outgoing wide receiver Jerry Rice a fitting sendoff. They also wanted to give wide-out Terrell Owens a shot at a league record for most catches in a game, which he achieved with 20.
"We really should have been in a four-minute mode, running the clock out," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. "It was really uncomfortable to say the least."
Mariucci apologized to Bears coach Dick Jauron after the game, and called him a few days later.
Will the Bears remember? "How can you forget 20 catches?" safety Tony Parrish said. "You never put that all the way behind you."
Not ready for perfection
The St. Louis Rams are 6-0 for the third straight season. In both previous years, the streak ended with a loss the following game. If they get past New Orleans today, speculation about a 16-0 campaign is certain to follow. When will the Rams start thinking about a perfect season?