Playing four years of hockey in college really immersed me into the sport. Considering that my time in college coincided with the Buffalo Sabres rapid rise to fame from 2005-07. That, plus other factors has really made hockey my game. While I can’t change my undying passion for the sport of hockey – a sport that is largely misunderstood by so many in the US – I can never turn away from the Buffalo Bills.What the Bills did throughout the 1990s captivated this city, galvanized us as fans and created a community around the Bills that remains today.
Despite the fact that the team hasn’t enjoyed much success for 12 years, we remain as fans. I gather that this is the same feeling that most fans have throughout Western New York. The Bills are that boyfriend or girlfriend that always lets you down but still manages to seduce you every weekend. Buffalonians hold true to a number of things; we make great wings, we hate chain restaurants and we will watch and root for the Bills no matter how tentative (or Trentative) the QB is or however porous the offensive line.
This is something that dawned on me last week. Thanks to an awesome hookup from my fiancé’s work, I was lucky enough to have a seat at the Buffalo Bills Kickoff at the Ralph event. This was the first time the team hosted the dinner and it would appear that this will be an annual occurrence. The event was, more or less, a dinner and cocktail reception for the Bills’ major sponsors, supporters and ticket holders. It was pretty much a who’s who of many familiar faces from around WNY. Everything was done on the field and dinner was held right at the 50. Well, tables probably spanned from 35-to-35, but everything was set up around the 50. The evening was replete with live and silent auction items and a player at each table, if you payed the proper amount. In part, it was a cash grab for the Bills Alumni Foundation.
This served as a chance for the important people who support the team (either as sponsors or ticket holders) to rub elbows with the players and other high rollers, for lack of a better term. And, most importantly, it served as an excellent form of fan outreach for the team. The event itself couldn’t have gone off better and showed that the Bills are fully capable of rolling out the red carpet for these type of parties. Chris Berman served as the MC for the evening and often tied his speeches back to the days of circling the wagons and the K-gun. At one point, Jim Kelly came up to accept his name being placed on a community award and he also brought about memories of the years between 1988 and 2000.That is when everything that it meant to be a Bills fan.
This is a team that you lived and died with from September until January every season. Sometimes, if you were lucky, it would be late January. This was a team full of superstars who could always be counted on to provide for a captivating Sunday. Today, things are a bit different. The team had spiraled into a state of near irrelevance before Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey quick slanted their way back into our hearts. Of course, in true Buffalo fashion, the team fizzled and missed the playoffs. But the foundation had been laid. Now Mario Williams leads a terrifying defensive front into a season with the most hype since the last time the team made the playoffs.
Even then, the Bills didn’t boast the talent they have at some of these positions. Maybe this season is the one that causes fans to Billieve once again.Belief is a word that gets tossed around the Bills every now and then. You might have believed when Drew Bledsoe, Peerless Price and Eric Moulds did their best impression of the greatest show on turf. Maybe Takeo Spikes and Lawyer Milloy planted some seeds. Certainly 2004 justified belief in a team good enough to find the playoffs, but not good enough to beat Pittsburgh’s second string. Maybe those fans who say it is time to believe are jumping the gun.
The Bills typically have some reason to point to that is the exact contrary to why optimists will be talking about the playoffs. This year you might say the linebackers and receivers remain as a bunch of misfits without a proper lynchpin to hold each respective group together. For what its worth, Stevie Johnson has turned out to be one of the greatest draft steals in Bills history and equally so for David Nelson in terms of undrafted gems. However, sitting at a dinner table with Marcell Dareus, mentally cataloging the talent the Bills have amassed for this year, I think I might be ready to buy. While I’m not expecting four-straight Super Bowls, I think the playoffs are an adequate goal to set my sights on. It has been a long time since the Bills entered a season with a largely incumbent, effective offense. It has been just as long since the defense was expected to be as dominant as they should be this season.
Lastly, it has likely been longer than 12 seasons since the Bills have stared down a schedule full of this many expected cream puffs. My point is that I want to believe in the Bills the way I did in the 90s. Thurman, Bruce, Jim and Andre were Gods in the eyes of every kid in Buffalo. I would imagine every inebriated Tom, Dick and Harry felt the same way on gamedays. Hell, all the lushes I saw fawning over Kelly at Cobblestone this winter haven’t forgotten his accomplishments. I want to believe in a Bills team that will rival those players for legend status in the city. It will take more than one season to do the job, but what better season to start that this one? To reference an overused Buffalo mantra, where better than right here, right now? For one of the first seasons since 2000, the Bills best player won’t be their punter. In fact, he won’t even be in the top five. That isn’t to say I’m not a huge Brian Moorman fan. I’m just saying it’s about damn time.
The 2012 season will not mark a new era in Bills football. That is too cheesy. This season should be the glue that brings the fans back together again. Bills games don’t just need to be an excuse to get drunk on Sunday any longer, they should be part of a 16-step journey to the playoffs and relevance once again. I can’t wait for the United States to hate the Bills greatness again. It is going to be awesome.