Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Bills Make Me Wanna Shout! (but not always in a good way)

Q. What do the Buffalo Bills and a possum have in common?
A. Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

Q. How do you keep a Buffalo Bill out of your yard?
A. Put up a goal post.

Q. Where do you go in Buffalo in case of a tornado?
A. To Rich Stadium--they never touchdown there!

(Thanks for the jokes, Patriots fans.)

The people of Buffalo and the surrounding areas have become supremely adept at losing. First, Walt Disney decided to build a theme park in Orlando instead of Niagara Falls, then virtually every industry fled town, and now the Buffalo Bills lose football games on pretty much any given Sunday.

Okay, so I have never professed to be a football superfan, but I have watched quite a few games in my day. My comprehension rate is approximately 85%. If you live in Niagara Falls/Buffalo/Rochester/Syracuse, you basically become a Buffalo Bills fan by default. There’s not much else to do on snowy Sunday afternoons. It's a tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation. In fact, if you live in Buffalo and you're not a Bills fan, you'd better hide your face on game day.

The thing about the Bills is that they’re not a completely hopeless football team. Sometimes they play almost efficiently. But they always find a way to hand over the game to their opponent. Often gift-wrapped with a pretty bow on top. As you can imagine, this makes being a Bills fan a completely exhausting experience. In fact, one of my cousins recently said to another cousin, "I know you're just getting into football. Can I recommend not rooting for the Bills? Pick another team; it's just heartbreaking." Of course, she can't pick another team. Being a Bills fan has already been programmed into her genetic code.

But like the Goonies, Bills fans never say die. They will show up to tailgate at Rich Stadium at 8am in their red, white, and blue station wagons, minivans, and school buses (yes, full-size school buses) with coolers full of fattening food and trunks full of six-packs. And if you haven’t heard, there’s even one ridiculously dedicated fan that passes out bowling ball shots. You heard me—that’s Polish cherry liqueur served in the thumbhole of a real live bowling ball. He also has a red 1980 Pinto on which he grills meat, a pizza oven made out of a filing cabinet, and a chicken wing-cooking mailbox. He’s the MacGyver of Bills fans.

Sadly, there aren’t any bowling ball shots in Manhattan, but there are a surprising number of Bills fans. Organized by a group called the Buffalo Bills Backers, fans gather in a couple of designated bars around the city to watch the games (which are rarely shown on local stations), and reminisce about the good ol’ days of Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, and Buffalo’s own personal hero and almost-savior, the great Jim Kelly. When you step into a BBB bar, two of which are in “Little Buffalo” on 42nd and 2nd, you’re stepping about five hours upstate, since 99% of the attendees are from Lewiston, Henrietta, Gates, and other western New York towns. It truly feels like home. It’s inevitable that you’ll meet people who went to your college, or grew up next door to your aunt, or went to the same church as your sister-in-law's cousin's mother. In fact, if you ever encounter a person at a BBB event who hasn’t lived upstate for a significant chunk of time, the only appropriate response is: “Then what on earth are you doing here?”
Because “here” is where Bills fans get all-you-can-eat wings and all-you-can-drink beer for $20. “Here” is where everyone agrees that Bison French Onion Dip is the best dip in the world. “Here” is where you discuss the expansion of the Wegmans empire and dream of the day that a Wegmans will finally appear near a subway line. “Here” is where you sing the Bills’ version of “Shout!” with every score and shake your head with every critical fumble/turnover/missed field goal attempt that ultimately loses the game.

Here is what "here" looks like every Sunday:
Because the Bills’ terrible record essentially wards off any would-be fans, it virtually guarantees that there are no Bills fans who are not from upstate New York. There are no bandwagon fans because there hasn't been any wagon to speak of, band or otherwise. In fact, even though the Bills are a New York team, you can't purchase Bills merch in the city. But you can find gear for the Eagles and the Patriots, which seems incredibly insulting. 

It’s kind of genius when you think about it. The Bills inability to win has created a tight-knit group of deluded optimists. You really have to hand it to Bills fansthere is no real incentive, no wins, no payoff. You pour your heart and soul into a team that doesn't delivereverand yet there's no other team you'd rather root for. You remember the promise of those four Super Bowl games and hold on to that tiny seed of hope. Whenever I see fans in Little Buffalo sporting Zubaz pants or tourists wearing Bills hats, I know the exact heartache they’ve suffered. The way they died a little death when Scotty Norwood went wide right at Super Bowl XXV in ’91 (see below). And I know they believe with all their hearts that, like the South, the Bills will rise again. 

A scarily accurate commercial...

Poor, poor Scott Norwood...


  1. I can feel it, you cannot hide it--you write with such passion! The Bills are a part of you, even though you may not live upstate right now.
    Truly, it can be said that the Bills make us better people, more humble, if you will, more able to face challenges and to sometimes, overcome them. That takes a lot of heart! That is what is so much a part of every Bill and of every Bill's fan!
    That is a part of you! Thanks for sharing and for supporting the Bills in NYC!

  2. Wow--that's so poetic! And you're really does take a lot of heart.

  3. I am shocked you have no mention of #1 fan, Robert Klimeckzo on this blog!

  4. You're so right! I know of no one else whose groom's cake was Jim Kelly's helmet. He is truly the biggest Bills fan I know. Too bad he defected from the Yankees to the Red Sox...