It’s bittersweet, isn’t it? In a few short hours, thousands of us will flock to the lots surrounding Ralph Wilson Stadium in quiet Orchard Park, New York for the last time in – at the least – eight months. For me, it’s an incredibly jarring reminder of which team we pull for. We’ve grown into the reputation as the guys that are never for real, those that are way too good to be true. Then again, it’s much less of a reputation than it is straight fact – this team, this organization, is annually damned for failure, it seems.
When we assemble later (far short of a sellout) in the wintry Buffalo weather, we’ll forget all of that, though.
In a season that saw us fire out of the gates and making noise, garnering attention across the league throughout the first seven weeks, the Buffalo Bills have fallen flat on their faces and lost an embarrassing eight consecutive games. Sitting at the bottom of the division at an awful 5-10 record, the Bills are primed for a top ten pick in April’s rookie draft, a position that more losses would only serve to improve.
…and yet, when we get to the game, that number won’t matter. That, I think, is what’s always drawn me to these games and this stadium. The remarkable ability of an atmosphere and location to completely overrule everything else is astonishing. Never before have I been able to spend an entire day without the worries of the world – without even the worries of the sport. My undying loyalty to this team stems from the feeling I receive from being around them. When I’m in Orchard Park, tailgating off of the small stretch of Abbott that the locals lovingly embrace as Jim Kelly Boulevard, I couldn’t care any less about the record or the opponent. All that matters is that we’re getting together to gather around a team that we all (the die-hards, that is) have used as a crutch, as a safety net, at some point in our lives.
My purchase of season tickets back in 2006 came on a spur-of-the-moment decision between myself and a lifelong friend. A decision to do something with our spare time, to watch some football. Really, that was it. We each used some money that we had received during high school graduation from various rewards and the like to make down payments on the inaugural 10 games of our tenure as season ticket holders, and neither of us has ever looked back. I’ll never understand why I was rewarded for my attitude towards others (which was mostly bitter anger and unfounded resentment at the time) but I’ll always be thankful for whomever it was that thought they saw something positive enough in me to designate me with the honor. Without that, I likely never would have purchased the tickets, and I wouldn’t have nearly the interest in or knowledge of the team that I currently do. Without that, I don’t write. Without that, this site doesn’t exist.
I’m fed insults and personal attacks year-round based solely on my allegiance to an organization that has unknowingly given me so much over the years, and I’ve got to tell you, I couldn’t care any less. There’s not a negative word that you can throw me in regards to the Buffalo Bills that wouldn’t elicit a smile and a shake of the head that suggests that you really just don’t understand, that you really don’t “get it.” Really, unless you’ve been through it – unless you’ve felt what joy the Ralph can bring, you never will.
When the lots open up in a few short hours, we’ll be far more consumed with firing up the grills, tapping the kegs, and finding our friends than things as silly as ‘Tebowmania’ and ‘winning’. The gathering, the camaraderie exuded by the thousands of strangers that, for that day, are family – that’s more than enough for me. Yeah, it would be nice to be planning for a playoff game, but hey, there’s always next year.
…and there always will be.
As the seconds wind down and the home season comes to an end, the smoky jerseys are retired – the snowy hats get tucked away – and a glass is raised. So Buffalo, preemptively, I’d like to say thank you. They may not ever be a great team, but they’re our team. They’re our Bills, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything in the world. Thank you for another season of memories – another season of opportunities – another season of enjoyment.
Here’s to many, many more. Let’s go Bills.