I'd like to tell you a story about two family members going to their first Bills game together.
One had been to at least 10 games while the other was about to enjoy the NFL for the first time. The little brother was only 8 at that the time and had just started watching the Bills play. The youngster had just gotten his first Bills t-shirt, not knowing the team was about to embark on a 4-year run of dominance. He was a wimp who had always taken the easy road. Transformers, boogers, and TV, that was the name of the game.
The big sister was a diehard Bills fan who was suffering from the headache known as the 80's Bills. The headache may have also been a few too many hangovers, but that's beside the point. She could tell you everything about the 80's. The Bermuda Triangle wasn't some urban legend in the narrow sea. It was a set of 3 linebackers, but it may as well be a place in Buffalo where quality football disappeared. Just stagnation for the better part of the decade. But frustration had never drowned out the sister's sense of loyalty towards the hometown team before and it didn't now.
For years, the boy had watched the sister's stone cold face scowl at the TV, yelling obscenities. Inflicting the same amount of pain on the couch cushions that the opponent inflicted on the Bills was a weekly ritual. A sense of bewilderment would cover the face of the kid during all of this. Why would anyone get so into a football team that sucks? Why bother?
There was excititemnt in the cold, Buffalo air the day of the little guy's first game Winter was coming. He could feel the change. It was harder to breathe in the thick, suffocating air and the anticipation for the game made it even more difficult to catch his breath. Excitement and cold.
Fortunately, the sister had known exactly what to do that day. Grab as many pieces of clothing as possible.
3 pairs of socks...check
2 pairs of pants...check
2 plastic bags paper wrapped around your feet...check and huh?
She knew that time was a-wasting. "Hurry, hurry, hurry!! WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE!" The kid wasn't exactly known for quickness because he was chubby. He was only a few years removed from being dressed by his mom in the morning so you'd think the sister might be more understanding. Not on Sundays though.
The drive to the game was a unique adventure of stop and go..stop and go...stop and go...stop and go.."I told you this would happen. Traffic", the big sister said, eyes rolling. The kid just shrugged his shoulders. Then he saw the stadium on the horizon and for that moment, both brother and sister were on the same page. Excitement. Anticipation. The pageantry of a Bills game.
There was one problem. The kid didn't realize it was going to be this cold. How was that possible? He had lived in Buffalo for 8 years! While holding the hand of the sister, who was leading them to the stadium, the kid took his eyes off the Bills logo and just stared at the ground, willing it to heat up as the wind bristled past his chubby cheekbones. Someone was shouting "Let's go Buff-a-lo" and then someone else in the corner joined in.
The two found their seats. By that point, wind and hail were coming in sideways like astroids. The wind was so strong that the kid felt like he might lose his eyebrows. His feet felt like they were stuck in cold cement. His hands were still there but couldn't be felt. Knees were shivering, too cold to bend. What looked to be smoke filled the stadium, but it was nothing more than the air of 80,000 people breathing. The sky was a light haze of gray. This wasn't like the kid had envisioned. It seemed so much better on TV.
This was hell and yes, it had frozen over.
As kickoff approached, the hail and wind picked up. The brother, lacking the mental strength to block out the cold, was sure nothing could feel worse. He wanted nothing more than to peel off the wet clothes he was wearing and climb into a warm bed. 25 minutes outside and 3 hours to go. The temperature must have been around 25 degrees with hail and howling winds.
It was at that point that the brother began to cry. His quiet tears felt like they were turning to ice. He wanted to go home. His sister looked away from the player intros and a look of concern moved over her face. She realized that maybe the kiddo was a little too young to be here today. Maybe baseball would have been a better choice for now. She asked her brother if he wanted to go home. He did but he knew hiss sister had been looking forward to the game. He didn't want to be a disappointment. He wasn't sure what to say.
The sister said, with enough warmth to melt the Abominable Snowman, "The game means nothing if you and I aren't happy. I don't care about the game. I only care that we make your first Bills moment a special one."
And then a song began playing on the PA system. A silly song that would be met with an eye roll in every other city, but not here. The crowd began singing, "The Bills make me wanna SHOUT!" The sister took her brother's hands and moved them side to side in a wave-like sequence that resembled a dance lesson. She began to sing the words in an exaggerated kiddie voice. The chorus was high-pitched and the sister's smile looked so over-the-top that the brother couldn't help but laugh. She began teaching him the song, not exactly challening since the word shout appears in it 16 times. Within 2 minutes of the song ending, the Bills scored a touchdown and after that, it didn't matter how cold it was. His older sister, the atmosphere, the team being awesome - they won 42-14 that day - and the little brother had an experience he'd never forget, one that almost every sports fan has some version of in his or her memory.
At that moment, the younger brother realized that there was no other place he'd rather be than right here and right now with his sister.
These are moments that make going to a football game for the first time such a memorable occasion. Its easy to have that first moment, to feel that first love. The ice, the snow, the cold... it all adds to the list of reasons why we love football. The thing is, the third or 4th time can get even better. And, that's where winning comes in.
I lived through the glory days of the Bills. It is a nostalgia that I love reliving and speaking about. Turth be told, there aren't many things from my childhood that can put a twinkle in my eye. The Bills are one of those things. The other thing that has that effect happens to be my sister, who was the main reason I got into watching the Bills. That's just the stepping stone, however. When the team actually wins, there's a magic in the air. It's a winter wonderland of sorts. If the Bills played like they have over the last 12 years during the 90's, my love for them wouldn't be anywhere near the same.
Sure, you'll keep going back to games, enjoying family and friends but the winning is what keeps the fandom evolving into something more special. It is a feeling that I want for anyone who is 22 and younger to experience. I want them to be able to go to the games for more than just booze. I want the 35-year-old parents to be able to pass on what they experienced as a child to their offspring. I want them to be able to tell their kids why the Bills are so great, just like their dads did for them.
I want the old-timer to move off of OJ as the greatest back in Bills history to see if someone else can carry the torch. I want there to be a debate between which teams were better. I want those younger fans to experience what it is like when the team is in the playoffs or the Super Bowl and see the lid blow off the city - bank tellers wear Bills gear, mayors are exchanging stupid bets involving chicken wings and BBQ, anchors throw away journalist integrity and root for the team. I want someone who doesn't like football to become captivated by the sights and sounds of victory. Young and old, I want you to feel what it is like. I swear to you, once you've felt that, the pain and the anguish of surviving the last 12 years will be worth it. I want bloggers to be able to write about what it is like to be in the playoffs and not about stupid camp battles. I want talk show hosts to be able to take calls after winning the AFC Championship.
I want you to experience what it is like to be a part of a winner.
It's not what you experienced last year with the 5-2 start. That's just bread and water before you sink your teeth into something that feels real and special. When you sit there and watch your guys run out of that tunnel during a playoff game, it feels like you are right there. You understand why they play 16 games. It's not so you can drink yourself silly, it is so we can be in a battle for the best. It is a time in which you put together all your hard work, the blood, the sweat, the tears, and the sacrifice to prove to everyone that you are the best in the fucken world. I want you all to feel that. So many of you haven't and I promise you, if we get in, you won't care who is the 5th WR, how many QBs we have been through, how many heartbreaks we've seen over the years. That will all vanish. It is like falling in love after being rejected countless times. Do you really remember the rejections after you find true happiness? I know we've been in hell for years now with this football team, believe me. We can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us or we can climb out of hell and into the football heavens.
It starts with the football team and us.
You can come up with all the reasons we shouldn't live vicariously through a football team. The city goes beyond the gridiron, right? All that crap, it does make for splendid reading material. But that's all bullshit. This is who we are and if we get back to what we were during the 90's, you'll see how this football team makes the city great. You gotta live through it to know it. It starts this Sunday. Just get in. If we get in, I promise you, you'll never forget the year your Bills made the playoffs or the Super Bowl. It will be a story you will pass on to your children. Getting into the playoffs will rekindle our football spirt and heroes will be made and careers and lives will change forever.
Me, I just wanna call my sister after we win the Super Bowl and say we did it.
Note: If you liked this piece, by sure to checkout my ode to football season starting.