On March 17th, 2020 I sat down at my laptop at home and began to write. The tone is upbeat, incredulous, tackling the surreal early days of the pandemic lockdown with some tongue-in-cheek exposition on why everything is closed and we’re hunkering down at home. Our son was due to arrive in late June so I figured why not attempt to chronicle this jarring shift in modern life, unfathomable only weeks earlier. At the time, long before I read my first Ed Yong article in The Atlantic or watched a PBS show on the virus, I figured our son might grow up with some curiosity about what it was like for us managing the grinding halt of society coupled with the typical excitement and anxiety of preparing to welcome your first child into the world. I figured it might be a six-month project, capturing the start of the pandemic, the universal actions that choked out the virus and the first few months of his life. I figured come fall I’d be back to the fulfilling times of tailgates and travel, at which point the pandemic journal would end. That was 529 pages and 300,000 words ago.
Like anyone reading this, I’ve learned a lot about myself, family, friends, employers, society, and life in general these past two years. The thing I’ve learned about myself that is the most applicable to this long defunct sports blog is this: I’m a much better writer when it comes to the negative than the positive. Grief, loss, anger, injustice, immorality, corruption, I have a natural ability to pluck out the right word, craft the right sentence, formulate those into the paragraphs that properly encapsulate the sheer melancholy of the moment on whatever scale that happens to be. Whether I was writing about the decay of lifelong friendships post-George Floyd or the insidious depravity that mutated the pandemic from an opportunity for positive societal change to an opportunity for consolidating power and ensuring the rest of us tear each other to bits while a million dead get brushed off as martyrs for Applebee’s or some shit, that’s the writing I push back from the keyboard satisfied.
Joy, love, gratitude, excitement, I struggle to convey sufficiently, at least to my own satisfaction. I feel like I’m grasping for the right words, that they don’t exist in the English language, though I am sure they do. The many joyful moments these past two years I’ve felt that I’ve come up short properly capturing and outside of private, intimate occurrences- I absolutely kill it in handwritten cards- it’s emerged as an alarming blind spot in my writing.
It’s been a decade since I first wrote here, an opportunity I got from emailing a guy who milkshake ducked himself a few years later as a creep but an opportunity that led to friendships that today make up most of my social circle. I’m proud of a lot of the stuff I put out here but there’s a reason that shit was good- the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres were two sides of the same cow chip coin. Go back and read a season review of the Sabres and then compare that to some shit about being happy Rex Ryan is here and tell me what’s better. Yachtsman (are we still using pseudonyms? Even our haters know our real names right?) was the best at this, righteous fury exploding off the screen so naturally, a visceral disgust that can only come from something you love wronging you.
I couldn’t copy that if I tried, the pure uncut shit (not outside 280 characters at a time, anyway), but goddamn was it easy to take that nauseating pit in the deepest part of my being that pulsated and grew with every failed Sabres season and rub it all over the page like the Long Kesh dirty protest. But ultimately the Pegulas, just like every other callous moron that makes up the upper echelon of society knew that eventually people get tired of calling out their shit. At a certain point what can you say? Those in power lack the capacity to feel shame and ultimately collective voice and action has proven meaningless. There was a time people in the street and an outraged electorate or fanbase could bring about change but like, Democrats are climbing over each other to see who can give cops the most money and Kim Pegula has a new keynote speaker gig every month, you know?
Outside of the obvious- the birth of my kid, the family weekend getaways that hit like a narcotic after a pandemic winter- the greatest joys of these past two years have been from sports. I spent the early months of the pandemic- you know, the ones where you were going to take up a new hobby, tackle that home improvement project, get in shape before not doing those things (I tried football manager but it’s such a good game that my failures drove me to Euro Trucking Simulator and Super Mega Baseball on easy mode)- watching old sporting events on youtube. When the Bundesliga became the first league to return, albeit behind closed doors, I eagerly tossed on Wolfsburg or RB Leipzig every weekend. While the empty stadiums look like a fever dream now, they didn’t bother me then. I was just happy sports were back.
- In Rhode Island
- With an outdoor television
- In January
I hurriedly walked through the small indoor bar, silently judging the many 20-somethings eating, drinking and enjoying themselves on a Saturday, ignoring the decisions I might have made if the pandemic had hit when I was 26 and living in Tonawanda. I was the only person on that patio, dressed in layers to watch television. What a world. When Johnson’s pick-six arrived I was screaming into the dreary, damp Providence night at the top of my lungs. A patron opened the back door to the patio, pointed at me, pumped his fist. I may have watched that game alone but the joy of that moment was a shared joy- I knew wherever you all were, whoever you were all with, you were feeling the same explosion of happiness, a release months in the making after untold despair. Why didn’t I write then? Shit, I’ve done something similar for the Pominville game in the past. I guess I didn’t feel I had the words.
That May came time to say goodbye to the greatest player to play for Man City, a club I first discovered playing Fifa in college (“another Manchester team? One that no one respects? Yeah that fits with my aesthetic!”). If City had been accessible viewing in 2005 I’m sure I would have watched them but as luck would have it, it wasn’t until 2011 and I’d moved back from Vermont that I finally got to watch them. While the aughts were a time of wheel-spinning mediocrity and rebuilds slowly driving us mad in Buffalo, I was captivated by Sergio Aguero. After I’d fallen out with my hometown friends he’s what got me to head to mes que for the first time and what kept me returning, making me comfortable going to a bar by myself for really the first time. City was something I introduced and bonded with my stepdad over, bringing him to mes que for Aguero’s four goal masterpiece against Leicester. He was a player who would make your jaw drop, one of those who makes “holy SHIT” the proper exclamation after a goal. He scored in the biggest games, scored the most in club history, the most of any non-englishman in league history, scored so much that the manager who wanted so desperately to replace him ultimately had to admit that sometimes the genius move is admitting you were wrong.
With his time at the club coming to an end I had made it my goal to get to the Etihad to see him in person. Most who know me know what happened- a freak winter storm caused them to postpone the game the morning of, news I received in our hotel in Manchester some four weeks before the world shut down. Perhaps if the world hadn’t shut down this would bother me more, perhaps if the world hadn’t shut down I would have been back to see him fall of 2020 but it wasn’t meant to be. So on a hot, sunny day where my wife and son would be heading to the beach- those couple post-vaccination months where we figured the death and suffering was at an end- I settled right down on the couch I’d spent most of the past year and put on Sergio Aguero’s final game at the Etihad.
It took an hour for the damn manager to put him on (I assume out of injury concerns with the Champion’s League final ahead) and he went out there and scored a brace. Pep cried, I cried, brushing off my wife’s texts about when I was going to come to the damn beach. I said that day that it marked the end of a certain kind of fandom for me, the fanboy mentality. I could appreciate greatness certainly but I was too old, too far removed to feel any personal investment in wanting them to succeed as people. Sure there would be jerseys bought and group texts lavishing praise on our favorite players but certainly none would make me *feel* that way again.
The Bills season started four months later.
I imagine I’m far from alone in navigating the pandemics ups and downs. One minute you’re hunched over your laptop reading dozens of obituaries in the “those we’ve lost” NYT feature, the next you’re at a house in the Poconos with your buddies screaming about soccer prop bets. You’re watching the Manchester Derby on the television with a live insurrection on the laptop. You’re at a BLM protest in your town one day and then the next some stranger online is shaming you for letting your wife take you to a birthday dinner. You shed tears of joy over your second jab and then attend a family reunion where that jab is ridiculed. You get excited for sports and then find out half a dozen guys have covid. You already take for granted going to a bar when not long ago you were pushing a stroller down at the dock, crushing seltzers out of a backpack cooler with a Bluetooth speaker providing the entertainment.
The key, I’ve found, is that the vertigo-inducing whiplash of living in modern times cannot take away acknowledgement of the, for lack of a better word, super cool shit that is happening around us all the time. That Ravens win took place ten days after the aforementioned insurrection but 14 months later they are in no way connected, linearly or otherwise. They are just memories, one good, one less so. The Buffalo Bills currently operate in the good vibes business. I counted eight Josh Allen jerseys at the NCAA Tournament last weekend, a first ballot hall-of-famer arrived to tackle the Mahomes Problem and Brandon Beane is the most beloved guy who doesn’t wear a jersey on this side of Rick Jeanneret. All Autumn plans remain in limbo until the schedule comes out and draft talk becomes somehow more contentious when the roster has few holes than copious ones.
One of Teddy Roosevelt’s most famous quotes is “Get action. Do things…create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” As you get older you realize that many of the paths that were once available in life have become overgrown, blocked, closed. You look at your resume and realize that shit, while this path has been a successful one, any future additions to that resume will have to fall on that same path. You realize that “World’s 100 Best Hikes” coffee table book you got as a Christmas present is mostly just a paperweight with some nice pictures. You plan a vacation to Nova Scotia and then after the excitement fades a little you realize holy shit a two-year-old can’t do this. You recalibrate but you can’t be stagnant.
This will not be news to anyone reading this but the current state of discourse is a hell of a lot different than when this site was chugging along (with a new piece every two months). It seems everyone I know has a podcast- and while I am sure they are all good, the only one I have time for is the roost- and the written form is dominated by analytical content- the all-22 for the Bills, your various charts and graphs with the Sabres. And while I’ve come around on the value of both of those things for us lay fans- that is to say there is some and I won’t call for the guillotine for those most passionate about it- it remains something I’m disinterested in. I don’t need to play football coach but I’ll read someone else doing it and I won’t play hockey abacus but I do enjoy seeing a nice graph that confirms what I’ve watched. As for social media, well shit, I think everyone could use a reminder that it’s okay to not vibe with someone, to find someone off-putting on a visceral, instinctual level. People who make twitter their own little animal crossing, the place they do their living and socializing have a tough time with this, and it makes the platform less a place to shoot the shit about the game and more Freeform’s most boring teen drama.
My favorite writer when it comes to Buffalo sports has long been my friend Ryan (fun fact in the early days when we both lived in Buffalo we both thought the other disliked us) because he tackles the experience of these times as a fan, what excites you, what you feel. He’s much more thoughtful about it than I am but that’s something I think we need more of. This time is too exciting, too hopeful to be confined to tape eating and spreadsheets. People don’t put “ALLEN/ DIGGS 2021” signs on their lawn because they read Joe B’s column.
We need to capture the experience of this time in Buffalo sports. The joy of watching Eichel infect the Knights like a diseased corpse thrown over the Toulouse city walls in 1348 need not be checked for veracity. It’s fun. The Bills cutting bait with every sentient pair of truck nuts is fun. Everything Stefon Diggs says and does is fun. Everything Josh Allen does is fun. Do I believe he hates Eichel even though Paul Hamilton retracted it? Of course I do! It’s fun but also insanely plausible! Wild generalizations are fun, conjecture is fun, a guy being a bum or a stud based on their only what their face is, is fun. Saying Tua and Mac Jones are rag armed dipshits is fun. The Buffalo Bills are Super Bowl favorites. Shit, I’m in a Sabres group chat that I was added to against my will because even that guy knew that months later I’d be rushing home to watch some college goalie hoover up everything in sight and talking playoff windows. That is fun.
And that is the action I want in on.