Five days out, I’m still in enough disbelief that putting thoughts to type seem silly. I just know that after writing sporadically at best for nearly six years here at DGWU, what the hell is the point if I don’t at least put something together for the greatest Buffalo sports moment in a decade? It was something so incredible, so cathartic, so confounding that it brought emotions to me and many that we thought had been killed off long ago. Really, most of us had no comparison as adults, nothing to point to and say “if the Bills pull this off, it will be unforgettable.” Sure, it would have been the playoffs for the first time, and as I touched on a couple weeks back, after such a shitty year as 2017, such an end would undoubtedly be special. But tears? Below zero airport trips? Six figure donations to the charity of a guy that beat us this year? Unfathomable.
Last Sunday my fiancé and I woke up hungover from going out with friends for the Penn State win in the Fiesta Bowl. Our plan was to celebrate New Year’s at her cousin’s place in Baltimore, so after purchasing the requisite rolaids, iced coffee and Excedrin we hopped in the car for the 80 minute drive. My plan was to go to the Baltimore Bills bar in the Canton neighborhood to take in the game; I’d first gone there in 2014, the Bills OT win over the Bears being my first game. Since then I’d watched plenty with them, done massive tailgates in DC and Baltimore for Bills games with them, watched the EJ horror show in London at 8am with them, and now, despite having not taken in a game with them since the 2016 opener, I had to watch this one.
I pulled up to the bar about 4:15, zubaz, Tyrod shirtsy, Bills hat. My fiancé, a die-hard Ravens fan and native Marylander gets out, kisses me goodbye and drives to her cousins while I head upstairs, post-up against the bar and order a bucket of Blue Lights, downing two before kickoff due to nerves and the need to kick the hangover. I see familiar faces, including the guy who wears shirts featuring each week’s opponent- today his is the Dolphins logo, except it’s a dick. The Bills Backers have the upstairs three rooms of this bar, and after taking an early lead you can constantly hear someone yelling out Bengals, Raiders, Jags updates, which solicit groans or cheers. There is t-shirt guy standing on a bench leading us in the shout song, and blue and red touchdown shots. Me or one of the guys on either side of me will say something regarding the Bills game to no one in particular and the others will answer. One of the guys is a little too hard on Tyrod for my taste but it’s okay because across the bar there’s a guy in a Tyrod color rush jersey. People pour down the stairs at halftime to smoke, a tradition I partook in during my time here but now as the only vice I kicked for good in 2017, I work on the second half of my second bucket of blue lights.
The Dolphins make a game of it, but after Kyle scores at 19-0, people are constantly clamoring for the Ravens game to be put on. The score updates of Oakland and Tennessee have long since stopped and it’s become apparent that we need the Bengals to play very unlike the 2017 Bengals. Poyer’s pick seals the win and soon after the Ravens take their first lead of the game.
It had been a good run, really. 9-7 from a team that I had contending for the first pick in the draft is pretty damn good in a vacuum. But the Peterman game, I’m already fretting that the Peterman game is going to be what keeps us out. Sure, the Bengals can score, but they’ve been outscored 17-7 in the second half and Andy Dalton is spraying throws all over the field. It’s fine though, we know what missing the playoffs is like, and hey, I did have fun for a little while there. Plus I can just root for Missy’s team in the playoffs; I’ve long rooted for the Ravens to do well, just as she texts me in the fourth quarter to say she understands why I can’t do so here.
The dagger INT is called back and there’s life but it’s 4th and 13. I have one blue light left, as I know I’m going to want to call an uber soon. My arms are folded in skepticism, not unlike what video shows Kyle Williams doing, standing impatiently with his hands on his hips.
Pandemonium. Grown adults, large and small hugging, high fiving, screaming. I black out, film a brief snap that is nothing more than me screaming “oh my god” into my phone, the biggest idiot smile on my face. We do another round of touchdown shots, and another when the Ravens come up short on their fourth and long and it’s official. Another round of cheers, hugs, screams. The shout song is done multiple times, led by multiple people. I find myself resting on my elbows, brushing tears from my face, stunned beyond belief not at just what happened but at the visceral reaction it had.
About twenty minutes after it ended, after assuring a few fellow fans that we’d once again be there for the big Bills-Ravens party next season, we sauntered downstairs. I sidled up to the bar, ordered a natty boh to decompress, took a joyous phone call from my buddy, hugged one last Bills fan and climbed into my Uber, gushing to the driver about what had happened as he smiled, perhaps not understanding what had happened but knowing whatever it was had been big and made me VERY happy. When I arrived to the party, instead of catching flack everyone is just happy for me. I’d packed two outfits for the evening, one for making the playoffs and one for not; the zubaz stay on, the jeans in my bag upstairs. Missy says it’s the happiest she’s seen me since our Europe trip because it without a doubt is. We’re the last ones to go to bed in early 2018, long after catching the videos of the Bills fans greeting the team at the airport.
Looking back, the only thing I can compare that evening to is Pominville. For anyone under 30, even that is somewhat tempered by adolescence so for them there is no reference point. Really, over 11 years after that night, there’s no reference point for us either. There’s been graduations, relocations, long relationships starting and ending, marriages, kids, mortgages in between, before even addressing the rapid decay of all ideals and institutions that would allow us to provide a world to our children that isn’t completely and irreparably fucked.
As the godforsaken hole that is Jacksonville is inundated with Bills fans across the country, I don’t know what to think for Sunday. They could win, though I don’t expect them to. Since the Peterman game, they’re 4-2 with their only losses against New England. Fournette is very good, though Blake Bortles is not. The Bills run defense looked stout last weekend, which is a thing. I know a fanbase of yokels serving crappy teal food to their fans Sunday certainly seems to be begging the gods of good taste to put an end to this. But seriously, it’s the definition of house money. Not only is the drought finally, mercifully dead and buried, it was done in a manner that elicited the most raw and spontaneous joy that this region- and those scattered across the land who call it one- has seen in decades. So I won’t ask for more.
But I wouldn’t mind it. Go Bills.