The Bills lost this past Sunday. Not exactly a newsworthy event, and neither was the headline on EPSN.com that read “Steelers claim overtime victory as Bills blow several chances.” We Buffalonians are accustomed to not simply losing, but losing in heartwrenching ways. We are used to the Bills giving us a glimmer of hope, making us think that perhaps some vestige of the days of Marv Levy, Jim Kelly, and Thurman Thomas has returned, only to watch, as happened this weekend, our starting wide receiver let a 40-yard pass to the end zone fall into and out of his hands during overtime. So, to be honest, the loss didn’t surprise me in the least.
But what did surprise me was a quote after the game from that same wide receiver, Stevie Johnson, in which he whined that he “would never get over it. Ever.” Eleven seasons ago I can remember making almost exactly the same comment. Despite an exhausting season-long quarterback controversy between former CFL star/one-time Boston College great Doug Flutie and California boy/loose cannon Rob Johnson, the Bills managed to earn a wildcard bid into the post season. Leading the AFC Wild Card game 16-15 with only 16 seconds left in the game, the Bills seemed on the brink of victory; only a miracle would save the Titans’ season. In fact, some have called what followed the “Music City Miracle.” We Buffalonians, however, prefer to call it what it was—an illegal forward lateral made by the Titans on a kick-off return, which resulted in a Tennessee touchdown. I said I was sure I would never get over the stolen victory.
My mom, though, simply laughed at my comment, much in the same way I laughed at Stevie Johnson’s comment this past Sunday. “You’ll get over it,” she assured me, “because if you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for a whole lot of disappointment.” She had, after all, lived through the “glory days” of the Bills, the simultaneously famous and infamous four seasons between 1990 and 1993. Four consecutive Super Bowls. Four consecutive losses, including the 47-yard field goal attempt by Scott Norwood in 1990 that sailed wide right of the uprights, an event every Buffalonian can vividly retell. Since those glory days, the Bills and their loyal fan base have suffered through the negative publicity of Hall of Fame inductee O. J. Simpson’s arrest and trial, gone through 11 starting quarterbacks and seven head coaches in a span of 11 seasons, tied the mighty Lions of Detroit for the NFL record for longest active post-season drought, and even stooped to such lows as to sign T.O. in his free agency.
The funny thing about growing accustomed to losing, and even growing to expect it, is that I’m not sure there’s any low-point that could ever make me stop being a Bills fan. True, Dan Marino once said on HBO’s “Inside the NFL” that Buffalo is one of the toughest places to play on the road because it has the meanest fans in the NFL “because none of us actually wants to live there,” and there are a number of days when the wind chill drops below zero and I’d be much happier sitting on a beach in Southern California, but through it all I’ll defend Buffalo.
Why? Despite a failing economy, a negative population growth rate since 1960 and some of the most miserable winters in the nation, we Buffalonians genuinely love our city. Sure, a lot of that attachment arises from the soothing effects of the copious amounts of beer we consume to keep warm in the winters (we are often referred to as “a drinking town with a sports problem”) but there’s something to be said about a city that doesn’t have much going for it, but is nevertheless always willing to come back for more. A city that despite having the most wretched winters in the NFL nevertheless has been consistently voted as having the best tailgating in the league. In fact, until the fifth game of the season, the Bills were enjoying a 26 home game sellout streak, dating back over three seasons, which is impressive given their losing record during those years. People certainly weren’t going because they expected the Bills to win; they were going because they love the whole experience of going to a game—cracking open their first beer at 8 a.m., simultaneously grilling white hots and warming their hands on a propane stove, jeering at the, um, pansies, who think five below is reason to wear a shirt, screaming the “Shout” song along with 73,000 other fans, and hearing Chris Berman’s famous “No One Circles the Wagons Like the Buffalo Bills.” Winning, we’ve been conditioned to understand, is secondary to the experience of being at the game.
So while I can’t fault Nick’s logic in an article two weeks ago when he compared CMS’s act of poor judgment to the likes of New England (or, after this weekend, the Steelers) rejoicing in a narrow victory over the Bills, I do feel that only Buffalonians are really in a position to make that sort of association. Only those of us who have suffered through Wide Right and Forward Lateral, not to mention the infamous No Goal of the 1999 Stanley Cup playoffs, can hate on Buffalo sports. Only those of us who know that, despite all appearances to the contrary, the Bills will find a way to lose when the stakes are highest, but continue to watch anyways, who continue to “Billieve” that “next year’s the year” (the glimmer of hope in all these narrow losses? a better draft pick!), are allowed to hate on the Bills because, let’s be honest, easy though hating on Buffalo may be, I think we’ve taken our fair share of beatings. It’s time to move onto teams like Carolina and Arizona, where at least fans don’t have to dress their children in snow suits a l A Christmas Story just to go to watch their teams flounder.