The January Path

via Buffalo News

We’re all pilgrims.

Some 50,000 intoxicated family members are hurtling down Southwestern Boulevard, or the I-90, or Route 5, or Milestrip, or Abbott Road and converging on gravel field in Orchard Park because just maybe something good will happen and hey, like I said, they’re intoxicated. We don’t make good decisions when we are intoxicated. I live in Winchester, Virginia now. I will not be one of those people converging on Ralph Wilson Stadium.

But others will be getting there from the far corners of the Earth. It’s one of the few things you can bank on with our city’s culture. We are migratory. We are pilgrims. Some birds travel for reproduction or for weather and that’s it. We migrate for uneven quarterbacking and disappointing red zone decision making. We make the journey because of some emotional and spiritual need within us. It’s the worst possible evolutionary reason for why we do what we do every fall. Yet we arrive where we always arrive. Sure as a swallow, we show up. As someone who has a longer way to go to get there now, I have a growing appreciation for our cultural repetitiveness.

Just getting to the stadium on this day in September is only the starting point for us, though.

I have no idea how this particular repetition of our cultural heritage will proceed, but yet I do. It’ll probably end badly. Peter King will say they have moxy or spunk or something. John Clayton will say they are a few plays away. Butch from the East Side will call up WGR and have a few comments about This Football Team. Someone will suggest that maybe the other quarterback should get a chance and no responsible media personality will put out the smoldering brush fire of a controversy as it develops. The coach will call a timeout that, let’s face it guys, we just can’t make those kind of mistakes on the sidelines. A Buffalo News Columnist who smiles smugly from his byline photo will insinuate that perhaps this team doesn’t know how to win. Twitter will be a gong show.

These are the mileposts on our migration together. It’s like we migrate to find our start point, and then we take our annual pilgrimage through sight, sound, and emotion to arrive at our football Mecca. Except our Kaaba is heartache and misery.

It might as well be religion to us. We all turn back toward Orchard Park on the first home game of the year and we all speak about our old stories, myths and legends. We share songs and chants. We do all of this to remind ourselves of who we are as a culture and to reflect on what makes us that culture. We talk about how we hate Tom Brady and how we can’t stand anyone who roots for the Steelers and how at least we aren’t the Jets.

We have made these cultural touchstones. They are important because we say they are.

Should sports carry this much weight? Nothing should, but something always does. It’s what we do as a species. If we were to be studied in the future by anthropologists from the massive bird-people race that will dominate this planet in a million years after we are dead and gone, they might have a hard time telling the difference between how religion looks and how sports look.

The stories and shared experiences of life hold us all together. In Buffalo, we’ve chosen the gridiron to be our holy site. Not much else survives around us. We’ve all scattered to the winds. We trust no elected official even though most of them have been re-elected. Talking politics with each other, man you take your life in your hands. That stadium is the only thing that has the power to bring us back. That team, God help us, is the only thing we have that pulls us back into a city. Sure we come back together on the regular for turkey or wrapped electronics in the wintertime. Even then, those holidays are nuclear family events. Football is different. The town comes alive.

The miracle of telecommunications means that even though I’m 500 miles to the south I can still try to make my pilgrimage too. I’ll be watching on the ol’ Internet my beloved Bills probably be eviscerated by the professional football team New England Patriots. I’ll watch with my extended family and with my city.

At 1 P.M. on Sunday, even though I’ll be three states over to the south, I’ll be home again. I’ll be ready to start our walk to January together. What do you say, folks, 9-7 with a wild-card berth? It could happen, just like every year. Go Bills, my brothers and sisters.