Buffalo is and always will be a football town.
Hockey will always be a part of my life, but in this area it takes a special kind of team to get the type of response every Bills season gets in Western New York. Signs, billboards, prayers at church; almost every aspect of local culture gets penetrated by a mere football team come September. We all get ourselves hyped up every season, only to see them fall in the end.
And God does it hurt when they fall. Year after year it just isn’t enough, no matter how the story plays out. Sometimes you can sense it from the beginning, or sometimes they string you along just enough that you believe we can get there. The apex and milestones may vary, but the end result remains all too familiar. You keep that faint hope alive only to have your heart ripped out right around the holidays. Merry Christmas, you’re mediocre.
There should be a special word for the type of torture being a Bills fan is. It is almost self schadenfreude, really; an attempt to enjoy something that in the end only causes pain. With every new year comes a chance to end the torture and make it to the promised land, but with that chance also comes the opportunity for defeat. And we all know defeat is a creative little bastard.
Still, we keep coming back. We mock those that give up, reminding ourselves of the glory that is sure to come. All the while there is that lingering thought in the back of our minds: we are running out of time.
Last week I attended the wake of a family friend. For a long time she had been fading, and her family had plenty of time to recognize the signs and prepare for the worst. Now while it is sad to see anyone pass away, there was no shock attached to the loss, just a somber acceptance.
During the wake it didn’t really hit me until I saw the photoboard. They had taken the time to fill three big posterboards with photos of her along various points of her life. I wasn’t in any of them, but what caught my eye were the number of pictures taken at football stadiums or parking lots. No matter what decade they were from I could recognize the place, anyone around here could.
There were dozens of them, and as I watched her life as a fan captured moment by moment I realized that she never got to see the Bills win it all. How sad is that? There were pictures of her with my then-teenage parents, with her children dressed in red, white, and blue; and with her grandchildren at a game while they were up visiting. All those years, all those games, and she never got to see it happen. It made me wonder how many more lifelong fans were just like her, watching so long and never getting the chance.
I slowly snaked through the line in front of the casket, the worst part of any wake. There it is sitting front and center, the reality of life: it ends. It is our own little Snowden lying in back, and no matter how many times you try to shake it the truth is there. Of course, just to the left of the casket was a bouquet of flowers with a Bills flag sticking out of it. I could only wonder how many more of them are made each year.
There are a lot of people that can’t do it. Some people refuse to get excited about the football season for various reasons. Kevin did a nice job explaining his reasons and I don’t doubt him one bit. Even my own father can’t get excited about the Bills this year, and he was one of the long haired teenagers on those posterboards, the one who got me into this mess in the first place.
However, today I am excited once again. On Sunday we get another chance at that feeling we all secretly hope for when seasons start. Whether meaningless optimism or not, it’s another chance to finally win it all, and just knowing that chance is there is enough for me to wonder. Kevin is right, when you sit in that crowd and become a part of that first roar, it all changes. One moment can make all of the above go away forever, and that is worth being around for.
Sunday may be about a lot of things for a lot of people. Drinking, most likely. But underneath all that there remains the hope that it all works out one day. One day, the numbers will turn up right. It’s something many of us believe and the hope some have taken to their graves.
I would try to end this myself, but I could never finish as well as Jack Kukoda did with his Bills season preview on Deadspin. A year later, it remains my favorite thing ever written about the Bills. I hope he doesn’t mind the replication.
My prediction for the Bills record? No idea. They might go 12-4 or 5-11. I have no clue. If the Bills win the Super Bowl, I will cry, celebrate, then head home to help rebuild after the riots that will almost certainly engulf the city. If they miss the playoffs again, well, I’ll just get ready for next season. But I will not ask for, nor will I accept your pity. I’m dragging my perpetual disappointment of a father off that couch, and goddamnit, we’re gonna win that fucking potato sack race together.
There’s still time.