I remember the first time I cried over a sporting event.
It was the 1983 Adams Division Final between the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins. The series went to seven games, and the Sabres had a 2-0 lead in the second period, but Boston came back to tie it. They then went to overtime, where Bruins defenseman Brad Park scored just 1:52 in to end the game and the Sabres' season.
I was 10-years-old, and I bawled myself to sleep that night. But before that, I remember my mom getting me out of bed to hold me and tell me it was going to be OK. That they still had a good season, and they’ll have another chance next year.
Those are the two words almost every fan base uses in every sport, every year. Even the ones who aren’t very good and probably don’t have a shot to win anything the following year, “next year” for them is all about draft picks, or acquiring better players in free agency or trades, or a new coach, or something else of hope. Only one team and fan base doesn’t have to talk about “next year.” They can celebrate “this year.”
The reason we turn our attention to next year so quickly, and it’s already started happening with people wondering who the Bills will re-sign, release, draft, etc., is because we don’t want to wallow in how much it hurt to end this season.
Sunday night's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game hurt. The season was such a fun ride, and we had only experienced three losses all season. It seemed like it was never going to happen again, even though we knew it was possible.
I don’t think most of us got to a place where we thought about the season ending, and what it would look like, and what it would feel like. Especially not the way it did - with a team that just didn’t look the same as what we’ve seen most of the season. A team that seemingly coached not to lose instead of being aggressive to give them more of a chance to win. A team that couldn’t execute on offense at nearly the same level they had for most of the season. An MVP-caliber quarterback who looked uncomfortable at times, and wide receivers who couldn’t get open like they have for most of the last 18 games.
A defense that basically had no answer or counter to the Chiefs’ passing game and speed. A defense that had been playing among the best in the league over the last half of the season, but suddenly gave up long drives and 38 points.
That’s not the way I envisioned the end of the season going. I doubt it’s the way many of you did, either.
But, here we are. Turning our attention to next year while trying to reflect on how it all went wrong at the end of this year.
There were so many awesome things about this 2020 Buffalo Bills season.
They finally found their franchise quarterback. We know that now. They have a coaching staff that’s very good, despite not having their best night on Sunday. Their general manager was named Executive of the Year in the league for a reason. He’s really good, and his staff is top-notch too.
The connection the fan base made with the team, and the team with the fan base, despite not even having fans in the home stadium all season, was absolutely incredible. It’s like nowhere else in the NFL.
And in this particular season, when we needed the positivity and distractions more than any other in the past, it came at the right time. Everything was right on point.
That’s all what makes it so hard to end the journey. If you went to bed hurting Sunday night, maybe even if you shed a tear, it’s understandable. There was a lot of emotion that went into this season, on and off the field.
In the second half, when it was pretty clear the Bills weren’t going to come back and win, I texted my wife to ask how our seven-year-old son Max is doing. He loves the Bills. He loves Josh Allen. He knows what dad does for a living and wants to team to win for me, too. She told me he had already gone to bed, but was sad.
I thought about 10-year-old me bawling over Brad Park, and how much it hurt. Then I also remembered that was almost 40 years ago, and there has been a lot more hurt and a lot more joy since then.
That’s what sports are about.
When Max got up Monday morning, I asked him how he was feeling. He still told me he was sad about the game. I told him exactly what my mom did 38 years ago. Only one team can win, the Bills had a fun and really good season, and they’ll be back next year.
But, for now, it’s OK to hurt.
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