We’ve joked around for years about how I’ve got a small blind spot on my Buffalo sports fandom resume.
In the mid-to-late 80’s, I was sort of wrapped up in a life that didn’t have me watching every football or hockey game. 2-for-1 screwdrivers at the old Continental, learning to play the bass, and just generally being immersed in a music scene as opposed to being consumed by sports all contributed to that.
I have no regrets.
That’s because that path ultimately would lead me to relocate to New Haven, Connecticut in 1988.
So I was there, living in New England, when I rediscovered my love for my hometown teams, and ultimately set out on the path that would define my adulthood and my professional life.
In a certain way, being out of town while the Buffalo Bills were becoming a force that would dominate the AFC brought me closer to them even though I was living 500 miles away. I’d buy a USA TODAY most every day when I dropped my, then, girlfriend at the New Haven train station. Eventually, The National, a short lived sports daily, also was a regular purchase at the news stand in those days.
Reading talented sports writers spin their stories about Marv Levy, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Darryl Talley and Bruce Smith became a daily pleasure.
Living far away in pre-internet days, the Bills getting good became a way for me to stay in touch with Buffalo. Eventually, it would become the driving force in leading me home to enroll at Buffalo State to pursue talking on the radio as a career.
We all know what 2020 has been like. You don’t need me to lay it out for you.
The new normal has become a way of life, at least for now. We couldn’t go to these games, at least not until recently. Large gatherings of fans in bars and even our homes are not happening.
Now, I’m not going to try to tell you that it’s better this way, because of course it’s not. 70,000 fans enjoying a night like Saturday at Bills Stadium would have been way better than only 6,700 and change. Being able to go meet your friends at the Old Pink or Coles last night after the game would have felt amazing.
But in a way, we’ve all moved away to New Haven. Or Florida, North Carolina or Albuquerque, New Mexico. Yes we’re all still here, but the normal amount of connectivity is absent right now. We aren’t enjoying all of this like we normally would, shoulder-to-shoulder at the stadium or at the Swannie House.
That’s what draws us all closer. We can’t be together, and that sucks, but in that way, we’re all the same. There’s no politics, nothing divisive to draw the many lines that separate us now more than ever.
We’re all just riding the ride.
If you’re my age, 55, it makes you think about the times you had and the friends you made way back when the Bills were one of the best teams of the big screen, standard definition era. If you’re young enough to have missed all of that, maybe you’ve got a fresh and clean outlook on all of it.
Either way, we’re all experiencing this the same way, and I believe that makes us feel closer to the team in a way that is tangibly immeasurable. While we can’t enjoy this Bills season together at the stadium in the familiar numbers, nor host dozens of our friends in our homes, that’s ok.
Mainly because it forces us to focus our attention on the team and imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of our friends. And things are almost always better imagined in their idealized version than what they end up being in reality.
Nobody drinks too much and picks a fight in the idealized version of all this. We’re all just hugging and high-fiving, buying shots for strangers in our mind’s eye in an imaginary bar somewhere that we once inhabited.
I think much of what keeps us coming back to our teams and sports, in general, is that feeling. Getting the bartender’s attention to buy a round of shots for friends, new and old. Saying, “Go Bills” to the person ringing up our groceries at Dash’s and having them answer back likewise without any hesitation.
It’s the worst best football season of our lives, and it’s still not over.