CHIEFS, BILLS AND FINDING YOURSELF IN FANDOM

I remember the first time I saw the jacket. It was early fall 1993. I was wandering through Laux Sporting Goods at the mall with some friends and there it was, so pristine, hanging high on the wall like a beacon calling me home. The Kansas City Chiefs Starter jacket was all black with the arrow logo splashed across the back in white and red. I stared at it longingly. I wanted it. Bad.

As soon as I got home, I calculated how many weeks of collecting money from my paper route I’d need to have enough money for the jacket — $180 in total. Then I began saving up. A month later, I strutted back into Laux with $200 in my pocket and my father in tow. I proudly pointed to the jacket, still there where I left it hanging on the wall, and watched as an employee used a long pole to get it down for me. The next day, I wore it to school and didn’t take it off. It was the first big purchase I ever made in my life.

It’s hard not to think about that jacket now.

The last time the Buffalo Bills played the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game was in January 1994 at what was then called Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. It was only a few months after I had bought my Starter jacket and I desperately wanted to wear it and every other stitch of Kansas City Chiefs clothing that I owned to the game. My father didn’t think it was a good idea and said no. He was afraid I’d be razzed and harassed, and I don’t blame him. But at the time I was a little bitter about it. There I was, sitting in the stands of what was the biggest and most important NFL game of my lifetime, surrounded by rabid Bills fans, and my football heart was beating for the opposing team. It’s not that I didn’t want the Bills to win, it’s that I didn’t want either team to lose. I had been born and bred in Buffalo, my father had season tickets for years. Being a Bills fan was in my blood. But that day I felt like a stranger in the crowd, an imposter in my hometown.

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