Years ago, we were Buffalo Bills season ticket holders. We’d park in the lot outside of Bills’ lot number 5A, close enough to the stadium where my brother and I wouldn’t complain about walking, but far enough away where we could get out onto Southwestern Blvd. quickly, post-game. My dad has mad parking lot escape skills. That tailgating scenario lasted until one year, some drunk tailgater put ketchup in the gas tank of our our Dodge Caravan. That was the end of parking in non-Bills’ lots without a locked gas cap.
We were extremely lucky as kids. The season tickets I mentioned were in the Van Miller Press Club seats which meant they were covered from weather, heated, and included pre-game lunch in the warm clubhouse in front of a wall of TVs. Our favorite thing to order was chicken fingers and hot chocolate. Without fail, my brother would always get a halftime hot pretzel or popcorn. One time at the beginning of the season, I walked halfway into the men’s room before I realized I was in the wrong place and a flurry of men laughed at my bewilderment. I hope they have since done a better job of labeling that entrance.
During my three decades on earth, I saw my team play in four consecutive Super Bowls. I thought that was the norm. As a 7 year old, I simply thought that the world was created in such a way that your hometown team went to the Super Bowl, every year. Because why wouldn’t they? I mean, my team wore America’s colors- red, white, and blue. That’s the team that goes to the big game because that’s the rules in America, right? In 3rd grade, I wrote a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl rap that went school-wide. It was a proud moment for me, in 1993. Those glory years, I knew every single player’s name. Every one of those guys. The year the Bills suddenly weren’t in the Super Bowl, and we didn’t have a Super Bowl party at my aunt Donna’s house, I didn’t understand why. It was like someone had canceled Christmas. As time went on, and our team fell from the rafters of unbridled success, I experienced what it felt like to feel intense frustration and the desire to quit watching. No matter how cranky it made me, or how much I didn’t like the teasing, the quarterback switching, or the never-ending underdog status, somehow, I kept following the Buffalo Bills. Despite my best effort to quit them, I couldn’t do it.
My dad warned me years ago that our time experiencing the Bills in Buffalo would be limited. He explained the Ralph Wilson situation, how our small market team simply couldn’t afford the same kinds of players that other teams could, the same caliber stadium, or keep the fans interested when every season was a losing season. Sometimes, he’d suggest we start to follow another team, “to prepare” for the inevitable: when Ralph Wilson dies, the team will move to (what we thought at the time would be) Los Angeles.
Ralph Wilson died this past winter. It was like a long, lone church bell ringing in the distance. Our time was up.
The drama that followed was unlike anything I expected with the bidding, the billionaire superstar involvement, the national attention, and the secrecy. Bills fans, Bills alumni, and politicians banned together to make it well known that we would not go quietly into the night (or in this case, Toronto.) After pouring the time, the tears, the profanities screamed at our TV sets, and the love into a team that had a lot of success, and even more struggles, we earned the right to put up that fight and make that ridiculous anti-Bon Jovi stink, because it’s all we could do aside from hope. I even prayed. I know there are more important things in the world to pray for but yes, I prayed to God that He would look out for the city Buffalo, and let us keep our beloved team.
Today, we won the game. Finally, we won. We weren’t the underdogs. We didn’t have to protest and carry-on. We got to keep our team. The first person I texted was my dad. When he gets home tonight, we will hug. Without my dad who instilled a love of Buffalo Bills football in me, without the extreme generosity of Terry and Kim Pegula, and without a city as passionate and diehard as Buffalo, New York, the feelings I felt today would not have come to fruition. I felt happy, hopeful, and relieved. Now, the memories that I made in the past can be the memories I make with my own kids in the future, in my hometown.
Look, I feel pretty corny writing this flowery, romantic blog post about the Buffalo Bills, but I heard grown men cry on the radio today. I am not alone. Together, we get to keep our team- for better, or worse- but always, for a long and exciting future in Buffalo, New York, where anything can happen.