I haven’t lived in Buffalo since I was on summer break after my first year of college. To demonstrate how long I’ve lived outside of Buffalo – Buffalo wings were invented after I moved away.
But there’s one part of Buffalo that will always be with me, and will never, ever change – my love for the Buffalo Bills. I have been a Bills fan since they first existed: I was a child, but already a fan. I braved blizzards at the old War Memorial Stadium watching players like Cookie Gilchrist, Jack Kemp, “Golden Wheels” Dubenion, Tom Janik, Paul Maguire and Marty Schottenheimer with just a can of Sterno under the seat to keep warm. When I was 12 my little league team from Clarence played during halftime at a Bills night game. My name was announced over the PA as I took the field. We watched the second half from the sidelines and I got decked “accidentally” by Paul Costa when I went to shake his hand as he was running to the locker room. “What a great hit!” I thought as I was picking myself up out of the mud.
I will always love the Bills. I don’t care what anybody says. They’re my team. I don’t care if they win or lose. I don’t care if they’re good or bad. Why? Because the Bills have won, and the Bills have lost. They’ve been good and not so good. They’ve won my heart, and they’ve broken it – many times over. And in that way, they’re kinda like life. If you can’t appreciate the Bills, then you can’t appreciate living.
I admire everything about the Bills – the owner, the players, their coaches, and especially the fans. No matter how bad or how good the previous season was, they’re right back there every fall – hope springing eternal. They take all the slings, arrows, accolades, abuse, plaudits, brickbats, praise, insults and cheers, and yet they keep on coming back. Yeah, you could say all sports teams do that. But not with the in-your-face attitude of the Bills. ESPN’s Chris Berman said, “Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills,” and maybe when he created that phrase he was just trying to be funny and come up with some goofy cowboy analogy. But it turns out that he was absolutely right. There’s something about the Bills standing up against the world that’s different from anywhere else. It makes me proud to be from Buffalo, proud that no matter where I go, they’re my team and they always will be.
OK. They never won the Super Bowl. Really? I’ve heard about it. Big deal! I don’t care. YOU HEAR ME WORLD? I DON’T CARE THAT THE BILLS HAVEN’T WON THE STUPID SUPERBOWL! (OK, I’m done shouting.) The fact that they haven’t won a Superbowl doesn’t diminish me as a person or as a fan. It doesn’t diminish the team one iota. In fact, there’s a (small) part of me that hopes they never win the Superbowl, because, if they did, I’d probably die on the spot of a heart attack.
And what is it about so many idiot sports fans’ preoccupation with being number one? As if to say – if you’re not number one, then you’re nothing? Does anybody outside of Baltimore remember the 2000 Ravens? And just because an uncharacteristically off-center kick from Scott Norwood goes three feet wide right, does that make the rest of the team effort moot? You win the AFC Championship and get to the Superbowl four years in a row, and just because you didn’t win that last game that makes you a loser? So, just because you’re not Tiger Woods does that make you chopped liver? Try golfing against Phil Mickelson some time and we’ll see how much value you want to put on being number one.
Number one is transitory, ephemeral, fleeting. Just ask Tiger Woods. And it’s an illusion. You’d do better holding on to a cloud than holding on to number one. I’d rather hold on to the Bills.
You know what the Bills have given me? Reality. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real. A lot of times, it’s pretty damn awful. Yeah, I’ve watched them blow leads in Monday Night Football three years in a row. I’ve suffered through 2-14 seasons. I watched this past season when they started out 5 – 2 and ended up 6 – 10. Yeah, reality is tough. This is not news.
But sometimes, reality is just incredibly... amazing. Remember “The Comeback” game in 1992 where the Bills were down by 32 points against the Oilers? (If you haven’t seen it, go to YouTube for highlights.) And the final score was Buffalo 41, Houston 38? Best game I ever saw in my life. Best game anybody ever saw. Better than any Superbowl. Why? Because our team (under the leadership of the second-string average-guy quarterback Frank Reich) did not quit. They coulda quit. They shoulda quit. But they didn’t quit. Not by a long shot. Kinda like life. You have to appreciate it. You don’t, you have my sympathy.
Nothing (in football, anyway) makes me angrier than when I see some jerk from Buffalo knock the Bills on TV or in print. “Yeah, I live here, but this team is a bunch of losers. Losers in the front office, losers on the field. They’ve always been losers, they’ll always be losers. Just a bunch of frickin’ losers. That’s what they are.” Hey buddy, you want to be in a town with a Superbowl ring? Move to New York City. See if you feel like a winner there.
Because of a snow allergy, I live in Los Angeles. But here’s how much I love the Bills. In the early 90s, when the Raiders were slumming here, I was a Raiders fan – yes, I was a chump at the time. But not when my Bills came to town. When the Bills came to the LA Coliseum I put on my #12 Kelly jersey, my corduroy Bills hat and my shiny satin Bills jacket, went and sat in the Raiders stands. LA Raiders fans in the cheap seats were basically divided into two groups: the Crips and the Bloods. I managed to unite them in a common cause. Thought I was gonna die – especially, when the Raiders went up by a couple of touchdowns. I didn’t think I was going to make it out alive. After a while, my shiny Bills jacket wasn’t so shiny, but – against all reason – I didn’t back down. Why should I? I’m a Bills fan. I’m used to abuse. But then, in the second half, Jim Kelly lit up the stadium with an air attack that put a pirate’s dagger through all of their foul hearts. Final score: Bills 30, Raiders 27 (or something – I’m too lazy to look it up right now). The score doesn’t matter. What mattered is that the Bills hung in there until the fair-weather Raiders crowd deflated like the Goodyear blimp on a Tuesday. They oozed out of the stadium. Me? I strode out in my Bills colors with my head held high and feeling like a million bucks. At least until I got back to my Supra and found the windshield wipers bent into pretzels.
Buffalo may never be number one in anything. So what? Get over it. Life goes on. It’s good. It’s bad. It’s life. All things considered, as far as we know, life beats the alternative. Being number two isn’t so bad. Neither is being number three. You know what’s bad? Not caring enough to try. You try, you fail now and then. And sometimes, you win. But if you can’t pick yourself up off the mat and get back into the game after life hands you disappointments, then you should just check out now.
Me, I’m in it for the long haul – just like my Bills.