What keeps Bills fans coming back for more? Hope.
Throughout the past three decades, Buffalo Bills fans have endured a ridiculous amount of near victories and close calls—many of which have been so close to the damn finish line you could smell the hint of champagne in the air.
To recap, there’s Wide Right, four straight super bowl losses, the Music City Miracle, an endless turnstile of fired coaches since Marv Levy retired, and an even longer list of quarterback duds since Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly. Now, there’s even an extended playoff drought old enough to drive itself to college.
Any football fan with an ounce of self-respect would have walked away from the team by now, hopping on the bandwagon of other respectable, blue-collar city teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Bills fans are cut from a different cloth. I should know. I’m one of them. Walking away just isn’t an option.
After the news broke last week that Rex Ryan had been fired after a mediocre two seasons as the head coach of the Bills, I threw this little ditty up on Facebook: What keeps us coming back for more, Bills fans?
The responses varied, but all seemed to have one common thread—hope. No matter who replaces Ryan at the helm of the Bills next season, one thing is for certain: Bills fans will fill the stadium on opening day, and the wings and beer will flow endlessly as they always do. Another year, another chance at redemption. Buffalo is big on redemption. We’re also big on hope.
If you’re from here, you get it. This city becomes a part of you the day you are born. That blanket you had as a child that was torn, faded and in need of a good stitch? That’s Buffalo. Everyone else sees something that needs to be fixed, but to you it’s perfect. It’s beautiful. It’s special.
Back in the mid-nineties, my father told me to get out of Buffalo. It was a “dying city,” he said. “There’s nothing here for you.” I heeded his words. I left. I went to college in Virginia and moved to Boston, Massachusetts after graduation. What I came to realize, though, is that Buffalo already had everything I wanted. No matter where I went or how long I lived away from the Queen City, something always kept calling me back. In 2003, I returned for good. I’m not the only Buffalonian to experience this phenomenon, either. There are stories upon stories of people who have moved away from Buffalo only to eventually find their way back. When they were gone, they held on to one of the things that always linked them home: The Buffalo Bills.
They say character is the measure of a woman or man. But in truth, character is the measure of a city. And Buffalo has always had plenty of character. After all, this is the city of good neighbors, where a snow-shovel can be used as a winter tool but also a meaningful handshake; where good food can be found on every block; where nostalgia runs so deep that it pumps childhood memories through your veins for the rest of your life no matter where you reside thereafter; where “once you’re here, you’re family” is more than just a saying; and where character is more than just another word in the dictionary.
That’s why every August, when training camp begins, the optimism throughout the city is palpable. To us, the Buffalo Bills are more than just an NFL team—they’re family. That’s what people living in other cities don’t (and won’t ever) understand. It’s hard to watch a family member struggle like that, to keep coming up short, to get so close to the pinnacle only to have it snatched away by an errant kick. You don’t ever give up on them. You give them a chance to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and turn things around. I still remember what it was like when Scott Norwood returned home after missing the winning field goal (yes, wide right) against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV. As highlighted in ESPN’s 30 for 30, Four Falls of Buffalo, the entire city embraced him with open arms. And we meant it . . . because, family is family.
The burden that Bills fans carry isn’t a new one. Before the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Championship, before the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, and before the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series—and on and on and on—those diehard fans shouldered similar let downs and near misses. But they eventually got their redemption. One can only surmise that ours is coming. As a city, we can feel it. And that’s what keeps us coming back for more.
Well, that and a little bit of hope.