Whenever I tell people that I’m a Buffalo Bills fan, they typically look at me with pity. Their eyes become shaded with sorrowful lids and they suck in a little pinch of air before squeezing out a shocked “Oh…”
I have found that there are actually two types of people in the world. The type who either try to change the subject after my perceived confession, shuffling their feet uncomfortably and looking away, or the type who then laugh at me when they realize that I’m serious, before throwing a flippant “It’s gonna be another long season for you then, huh?” comment at me like a sharp, sloppy, paint ball, staining me with Patriots navy, Steelers gold, Seahawks chartreuse, or Cowboys silver.
Their words can’t hurt me though. Whenever I find myself in this recurring conversation, I wipe their slimy paintball words off of me, ridding my skin of the smell of Bill Belichick’s cutoff hoodie, and hold my head high as I quip, “We’re going to be good this year.” It’s the same response I’ve had for about 20 years now, but I believe it. Deep down in my soul, the belief that the Bills will one day win a Super Bowl holds a place in my heart formerly reserved for Santa Claus, and my dream of becoming a NASA engineer.
In all fairness to the naysayers, it’s true that the Bills have been plagued by a Super Bowl win-less history, O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco, wide right, the forward lateral, and Chan Galey. These are the terrifying images conjured in people’s minds when they hear: “I’m a Bills fan.” What people fail to remember are the organization’s achievements. The legends. The icons. Jim Kelly leading the Bills to four Super Bowls in a row (emphasis mine), the great comeback win by Frank Reich over the Houston Oilers, Jack Kemp, Marv Levy, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, not to mention the fact that the Bills are one of the original teams in the league with more history and significance than the Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans combined.
I don’t forget though. I will never forget. I believe that the Bills will win a Super Bowl in my lifetime. No. I BILLEVE it. No matter what happens from game to game, and season to season and field goal to field goal. No matter how each season ends, I will never give up hope, and I will never stop being a Bills fan.
Here are three reasons why I will always BILLEVE.
1.Buffalo will always be my home. Growing up in Buffalo, the City couldn’t exactly compete with cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles for high rank in grandeur and excitement. We have Niagara Falls though, but truthfully, the best part of Niagara Falls is actually in Canada, so it doesn’t really count.
What we do have as rightfully ours is our football team. The Bills mean everything to the City of Buffalo. Buffalo may be a Rust Belt City struggling to keep up with progress, buried under thick frozen layers of snow for most of the year, but we are a proud city, with generous neighbors and the conviction not to give up on our home. We don’t stay inside just because it snows. We dig ourselves out. We don’t move away when factories shut down. We rebuild. And we don’t stop being fans when our team doesn’t win.
The Bills are just like their city. They didn’t slink back home with their heads hung low after losing a Super Bowl (or the next one, or the next one, or the next one). They go back to work and kept fighting. They didn’t choose to maintain mediocrity when they couldn’t find the right leaders (goodbye Perry Fewell, thanks but no thanks J.P. Losman, take your popcorn on the way out T.O), and they certainly did not move to Toronto. They are fighters, and we are a City of fighters.
No matter where I go, and where I live, I will always carry with me the spirit of the City of Buffalo. When people whine about two feet of snow, I determinedly dig my car out and happily remind them “This is nothing. When I was in high school, it snowed seven feet in one day,” and then drive my carsicle to work. When people try to tell me “It’s not ‘pop,’ it’s ‘soda,'” I smile at them as I put my dollar in the pop machine. And when people ask me why I’m a Bills fan, I tell them, simply, “I’m from Buffalo. Buffalo is my home, and the Bills are my home team and I will never forget my home. And no, I don’t want any of your ‘Buffalo Wings.’ Those things are crap. Everyone knows you can only get good chicken wings in Buffalo.”
2. There is pride in loss. The more the Bills lose, the stronger my commitment to the team becomes. I have seen plenty of so-called fans over the years abandon their teams during losing seasons, and then dust off their outdated jerseys from six years ago and reappear out of the ether when their team has a resurgence. That’s not fandom. That’s bandwagoneering. True fans don’t just love their team when they’re winning. They love their team when they’re losing.
During the seasons when the Bills held their worst records, I held my head high and looked straight into the eyes of every laughing Jets or Dolphin fan who wanted to ridicule my fandom and push me overboard my perceived sinking ship. The more they heckled me, the more I wanted to win. The more they pushed, the more I held on until my fingers bled. Learning to hold your ground when others want to push you down, and learning to believe in your convictions when others tell you to give up, is not always easy, especially when your only retort is “We’re definitely on pace to be an ‘in the hunt’ team next year,” but it’s a necessary skill to survive so many adversities in life. Besides, odds are their teams will slump one day too, and we’ll all be on an even playing field. Unless they’re Patriots fans, in which case, I can always resort to retaliating by making jokes about Tom Brady’s Ugg boots.
3. Super Bowl XXV. It was 1990. I was six. The Bills were playing in their first Super Bowl versus the New York Giants. The entire City of Buffalo was electrified with Bills fever. Even Buffalonians who had never watched a second of football in their lives were enthralled with the potential of a Super Bowl Championship. You could literally feel camaraderie in the air everywhere you went, like every person in Western New York was tethered together with one, impossibly long, impossibly strong, electric current of belief and excitement.
I remember the Super Bowl distinctly. I wore an oversized navy blue Bills Super Bowl t-shirt and used my Mom’s Apple Polish red lipstick to draw the numbers of my favorite players on my cheeks (34 for Thurman Thomas on one side. 83 for Andre Reed on the other). I did the same for my older sister (89 for Steve Tasker and 78 for Bruce Smith). We were having a party at our house and my sister and I danced around all morning singing The Buffalo Bills Polka (“Jim Kelly must be Irish/He’s got a four leaf clover/Gives the ball to Thomas for a hundred yards or OVER!”).
I remember going with my Dad to the local bakery that afternoon. The little old ladies who ran the bakery had baked special red Bills football cookies with players’ numbers on them. As a special treat, my Dad let me pick out a dozen to bring home. With my fingers flattened against the dessert case, I made my greedy selections (“Two James Loftons, two Jim Kellys, one Don Beebe…”). I ate one in the car on the way home. Sugary frosting dissolving like snow flakes on my tongue, and soft white cookie crumbs collecting in my lap like confetti. Oh yes. We were going to win. It was shaping up to be the best day of my life.
By the end of the game, after three and a half hours of partying, eating, celebrating, singing The Shout Song, and cheering, it all came down to a field goal. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was sitting in the rocking chair in our living room – tiny fingers and toes crossed, rocking back and forth saying silent prayers to anyone who would listen.
We are going to win. We have to win. We HAVE to win. Of course we’ll win. Please make this. Please make this. Please please please…
And then… devastation.
The words that have haunted me for 25 years. Even to this day, I cringe whenever I hear them, remembering the collective sound of hearts breaking all across Western New York.
I was devastated. I cried. Literally cried. I tried telling my Mother that I was too depressed to go to school the next day. She just smiled at me empathetically and told me that there would always be next year.
Next year? Next year?! I have to wait an entire year? What does that even mean?! How can I go on until then? There weren’t even any football cookies left! This was misery.
So why is this memory on my list of reasons why I’ll always be a Bills fan?
It was my first lesson in disappointment.
It was my first experience watching a dream build and rise to impossible heights like an air balloon, and then collapse in a devastating, fiery crash. You always remember your first of every type of heartbreak. Your first breakup, your first irreconcilable fight with a best friend, your first lost pet goldfish spiraling down the drain and out of your life for good. Wide right was my first of all first heartbreaks. That team is now nestled deeply in my heart in a place where all heartbreakers leave their charred remains; but just like with every loss, I learned from it. I learned what “There’s always next year” truly means.
It means hope. It means never giving up. It means never listening to the voices around you that tell you that you can never succeed, that your team will never win, and that you’ll never get what you want. From the moment Scott Norwood’s flawed kicked football went toppling end over end to the right of the yellow goal post, a fervent resolution was sparked to life inside of me that to this day refuses to let anyone tell me that I can’t have, can’t do, can’t win.
“You don’t have the grades to get into that school.”
“You can’t handle that dog. He’s too strong and you’re too small.”
“That car is too big for you.”
“You can’t run a marathon with asthma.”
“You can’t date a man 10 years older than you.”
“Your team will never win a Super Bowl.”
This world can throw all of the wide rights, forward laterals and missed opportunities they want at me, but I will never stop believing; and when the Bills finally do win a Super Bowl, and they will win a Super Bowl, it will mean more to me, to the little girl with crossed fingers and sugar cookie crumbs on her lap, and cheeks smeared with red lipstick and tears, than all of the Super Bowls celebrated by all of the bandwagon fans who adopted a winning team and claimed it for their own. It will mean everything. It will mean vindication, perseverance over adversity, and a collective dream come true for hundreds of thousands of fans just like me: Chicken wing-eating, Zubaz wearing, cold weather braving, Billevers who never give up.