Shine A Light

By Chris

Set the scene.

There’s a city that’s been steadily on the economic decline for decades and has become a national punchline. The citizens of this miserable biggest small town rely heavily on their football team for inspiration and they watch games in order to escape from the clutches of the harsh, cruel reality that is their lives.

But wait. Onto the field comes an overachiever. A symbol of hope that will restore the glory of not only the franchise but the entire region.

The City of Light, long lost in the darkness, has perhaps found the one person who can push away the clouds and allow fortune to once again smile on this tortured community.

That’s what Peter Richmond’s feature about Ryan Fitzpatrick on would have you believe.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Ryan Fitzpatrick. His story could make a decent movie one day and Richmond’s piece could serve as an ancillary text to the novelization of the dramatization.

His journey to becoming an Opening Weekend starter is fascinating and I’m glad that ESPN wrote the story. However, Fitzpatrick is interesting enough without the theatrical prose. We don’t need to live “in a graphic-novel alternate universe [in which] Fitzpatrick has been predestined to visit failing American post-industrial towns until one of them recognizes his mission as Savior and anoints him.”

His story doesn’t need to be set in some post-apocalyptic, post-industrial cesspool. Does that add color to the narrative? Sure, but it also distracts from the piece because Fitzpatrick really isn’t a Christ-like figure.

Sure he’s kind of an outsider (he’s “spent seven years trying to convince people he isn’t too smart”) and he’s rocking a killer beard, but the guy hasn’t performed any miracles on the football field. And no, making the Bills’ offense watchable isn’t a miracle. Nice try, though.

Fitzpatrick showed last year that he’s a capable quarterback. He had some strong games and also made some throws he’d like to have back. He’s been easy to root for and he’s the best option the Bills have had under center in years.

However, there is no “Brainy-QB-as-Savior plotline.” The problems the City of Buffalo faces won’t be solved by its football team playing better. A bad football team in Orchard Park is a minor problem.

I don’t see how Fitzpatrick making the Bills great will turn the city around. Is he going to make sure the mayor doesn’t participate in pay-to-play schemes? Is Fitzpatrick going to pick the next superintendent of schools?

Is he going to buy a Bass Pro franchise to put on the waterfront? Build a casino? A bridge? An IKEA?

Is Fitzpatrick even capable of making the Bills great? The problems stem from the so-called “beloved” owner who is falling out of favor with many fans. Until Ralph Wilson truly shows the franchise is committed to winning, it’ll most likely be the same story year after year until he dies. And then the team might move.

The Bills are still very profitable, in large part because they don’t spend money to sign the best players. But people will continue to sell out the stadium and support them and love them for as long as they’re here.

Winning football games would put Western New Yorkers in a better mood and a boosted morale would make life a little sweeter. But it’s no cure to the real afflictions the area faces.

Richmond takes the Wikipedia approach of describing the city. Long gone industries, great architecture, Canadian influences, an upstart health care infrastructure, the site of a presidential assassination and chicken wings — oh, how could he not mention chicken wings?

For an operation as big as Grantland, you’d think they’d hire a few copy editors. Since this is the first real piece they’ve written about Buffalo (I think — I don’t check the site out nearly as often as I thought I would when it first debuted) and I’d like to think I’m a little knowledgeable about the area I live in, I caught some errors and omissions that really irked me.

In terms of just the Bills organization, Richmond claims that Buddy Nix signed Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick signed with the team in February of 2009. And although Nix was working as a scout with the Bills at that time, he didn’t take over as general manager until New Year’s Eve. Nix inherited the Amish Rifle.

The player was Tim Horton, the chain is Tim Hortons.

I highly doubt there was only one member of the media in the entire city who traveled to cover the Bills game in Denver. As Richmond writes, “When the team flew to Denver for a preseason game in August, the traveling media contingent numbered one, if one can be numbered.” If I’m wrong, I’d like to know.

On the weekend that Richmond alludes he was in Niagara Falls, Norm Macdonald performed at the Seneca Niagara Casino on the American side of the Falls. Richmond proudly promoted Dana Carvey’s upcoming performance at the Fallsview Casino on the Canadian side but totally dismisses the fact that a very similar event (stand-up comic at a casino) was going on. Granted Richmond missed it by a night, there is still stuff to do there. And while Canada’s Niagara Falls is certainly more bustling, it seems like Richmond learned about entertainment in the area from a radio commercial.

The Bills were 0-2 when the Fitzpatrick took over in the third week of the 2010 season (not the fourth). Fitzpatrick also started eight games in 2009, putting up OK numbers (1,422 yards, 9 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 55.9 completion percentage). But that ’09 season is lost in Richmond’s attempt to make it seem like Fitzpatrick really came out of nowhere (Fitzpatrick even started 12 games in 2008).

Leaving out the 2009 season is like “Invincible” writing Vince Papale’s semi-pro career out of the story. The story still packs a punch without those details but for an accurate portrait of the subject, they certainly don’t hurt.

I know “Invincible” isn’t a documentary and that’s kind of the point. Why skirt around the facts in an article on Grantland, a site that clearly doesn’t observe space restrictions or word counts?

It really makes you wonder what else their writers throw into articles that no one on staff cares to look into.

Having the football team and the journeyman quarterback restore hope to Buffalo fits Richmond’s narrative. It sounds lofty to have the brainy quarterback stroll into town and solve the riddle of the Sphinx, ridding the countryside of a horrible blight (as if there are other brands of blight). And that’s exactly what Richmond goes for.

From the quotes Richmond gets out of Fitzpatrick (easily the best parts of the article), it’s pretty clear the Fitzpatrick is a very interesting guy. He takes the time to think about the questions he’s being asked. He comes off as a normal guy. He’s focused on winning football games and raising his family. He won’t save Buffalo, but having more people in Western New York like him can’t hurt.

End scene.

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One Comment

  1. ben