There I was, sitting on my sister's couch north of Boston with a houseful of family largely apathetic of sports but for their preference that I am in a good mood after I watch a game in their proximity. I was ready, takes lined up, takes that had been forming for weeks, months, years, ruminating in my gut and on this blog with its name and aesthetic of yelling into the void about sports failure. Takes that are, objectively, as uncontroversial as I can manage, yet ones that seem to elicit some such scorn from too many fans of this team, fans with whom I find association for the most arbitrary of reasons, maybe - we love a stupid, idiot football team from Western New York. It felt good being pretty much alone as a fan at that moment, able to put down my phone and just sit in frustration with no one else there to amplify it with their own.
Alas, truth be told, it hasn't stopped feeling good.
Everyone has their own tales of woe and sorrow and heartbreak and frustration and anger over these 17 years. As fans of this team we're forced to annually engage in some sort of 12 step program from start to finish - my personal favorite are the yin and yang of denial and acceptance, for the record - and when people ask about the raucous tailgates and table bodyslams and sweatpants lit ablaze by equal parts ABV and the blessed energy of hometown love, I often find myself scratching my head. How could it be any different at this moment in time? Bundled up denizens of a town left behind by crippled industry, a town that's propensity to be covered by ice has become as famous a point of interest for national attention as any part of its identity except maybe its dumb football team's epic parade of failures. Quite the horrible status quo for a town that led technological innovation, architectural innovation, and yes, sports innovation. We had gorgeous, near-perfect Olmsted parkways, we had progress in electrical power, we had architectural marvels, and we had the K-Gun, and then we had the view of all those things getting ruined, ceasing to be, and we were left with something different if not desperately unfulfilling.
That the Drought came to personify our regional anxiety and inferiority complex was sad, but no less true. Focus in on ESPN coverage of the NFL in 2007 and be a fly on the wall of a Richmond Ave apartment teeming with Bills fans wringing their hands over how little respect the national media gave the Bills. Change the year, change the street. The Drought has been a vehicle by which we've been able to really exercise our inner Dangerfield as we've whined about calls that went against us, conspiracies wrought in the favor of other teams from other cities, visiting players insulting the small-town that we love so much that we're willing to call Tom Brady a fucking bitch boy because he made fun of a fucking Adams Mark. This football team that had given us all some weird, certainly misplaced yet nevertheless entirely understandable hope for the future during those Kelly years had morphed into a shell of that former self, replacing hope with something between despair and nihilism, with a sprinkle of spiteful jealousy. Hell, if you're younger than me, you may not have even gotten that beautiful preamble to the Drought, just the suck.
The reality of these last 17 years has, in football and in the rest of our shared realities, been something of a shitshow while the meaning of things we've come to depend on have morphed into things grossly undependable. The meaning of Justice, for instance, or even Truth, Facts. The absence of playoffs for our preferred football team reached peak metaphor last year as the Rex Ryan's squad hobbled to a losing season and Rex Ryan's presidential candidate of choice sprung to power. Ryan departed Buffalo a confirmed failure, Trump took office amid of a cascade of mounting lies about matters frivolous and material, and as white supremacy got a leg up on civilized society and the government's support of billionaires became far more open and notorious, it was admittedly tough to see this Bills season as anything other than a continuation of the metaphor. A vapid, troop-loving conservative Christian who probably also voted for Trump took over as head coach, Betsy DeVos remains Education Secretary, great players were shipped off to be replaced by virtual unknowns, the EPA and other corners of government including the fucking White House began publicly denying climate change, Anquan Boldin split town as quickly as he arrived, billionaire donors received a massive handout that will bankrupt social welfare programs, and the Bills fan base tripped over itself to make sure that everyone knew that Tyrod Taylor was no good while he quarterbacked the team to fun-as-fuck wins pretty regularly. Also, Peterm5n happened and Kim Jon Un called Trump old. L-O-L.
It's been shitty and joyous and frustrating and no small amount of maddening to be a Bills fan this season, much like many years really, and while it felt just like the others more often than it didn't, while nothing seemed to indicate that this Bills team would be the one to shatter the drought, they did.
Hope is what this sport is built on for those of us in the stands and bars and family rooms, and the hope we feel for these Bills is now the stuff of reality rather than flimsy dreams. This fucking drought - sorry, that fucking drought - has been tossed in the bin, our faces are glued into grins, and a fanbase known for losing and table jumping and insanity has with a flash been transformed into one massive expression of joy. A fanbase that has squeezed fun and charity and community out of a 17 year old stone for all these years has been given the gift of something more. Honestly, and this is wholly without sarcasm, imagine what kind of fun, what kind of good we can achieve, now that this godforsaken monkey is off our backs. A day on, the buzzing feeling that was ignited yesterday is still kicking around in our guts, if you're like me, and is being channeled into 26shirts sales and $57,000 for Andy Dalton's charitable foundation; it's being channeled into plans to get down to Jacksonville, to gather together again in bars and homes across our nation of expats. As one would expect, playoff bound, Bills fans are doing what they do best, but better.
Suddenly, for a region, its diaspora, and a football team that continues to bind them, much that seemed impossible now seems almost likely. Maybe. I hope. Buckle the fuck up either way.
Let's go Buffalo.