A few weeks back our office FedEx guy came by. Our Operations Manager usually handles them; there’s numerous packages arriving daily that need to be exactly what he expects not just for our sake but the sake of our customers and the various third party agencies that run communications between those customers and ourselves (very Office Space, but that’s advertising). Occasionally the Ops Manager is out in which case the FedEx guy comes to my office for a quick signature and confirmation of my name to cover their ass.
The guy was probably late-40’s to mid-50’s and while I signed the tiny screen with the matching tiny stylus he said “I think I have that exact same pennant.”
I wheeled around as if I have multiple pennants behind my desk but no, still just that one, a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl XXV champs one purchased off eBay for in the early to mid-aughts. I was in school and didn’t have a credit card at this point so I called my Mom, explained to her that no, eBay wasn’t going to rob her account for this $6.99 relic to an era that never existed and she assented. It’s been in various offices and apartments throughout the northeast before landing here in my office in Rhode Island in my mid-30’s.
While I’ve always had a little “no, you don’t have this one but ok” response in the past I decided to let this fellow Bills fan have his moment (besides in the years since I’ve found more than a few of these "Norwood makes the kick" bizarro penants around). I smiled and asked how he felt they were going to do this year.
He didn’t miss a beat. “Oh I stopped watching them after they benched Flutie for Johnson in the playoffs.”
This blog is as close to “writing for fun” as I get these days- in a cliché of mid-career average guy I too have a novel I need to get back to- though writing and communication is also my career. I work in real estate negotiation, hashing out leases with folks that run the gamut in education, income, business type and location (with a noticeable skew of nearly all being white males of course). Over the past few years I have seen a shift; one that was barely perceptible at first but has snowballed into the status quo in business discussions to the point where what was once the rule is now the exception and vice versa. It is abandonment of fact, abandonment of reason, abandonment of the mutually beneficial agreement. Not long ago I could sit down with a property owner, explain that we’re offering X because our profits are Y and while there may be hemming and hawing and some movement in one direction or another, discussions would be amicable because everyone deals in facts and figures and we want a partnership as opposed to an adversary. Deals would move quickly because they existed in a vacuum devoid of emotion and were conducted professionally because after all, we’re both just doing our jobs the best we can. The best way I can summarize this is quite simply that words meant things.
Emotion has replaced reason. Where lessors previously saw a partner, they see an adversary. The concept of mutual benefit, of win-win has been replaced with zero sum antagonism. “Let’s crunch the numbers and see what we can do” has been replaced with “fuck you, pay me.” Every negotiation, every cent to claw is a symbol to them, a symbol of what they deserve, of who they are as people. They can only feel good about something if someone else feels bad about something. It’s not enough to have something; no someone else must go without in order for them to feel fulfilled and even then, only for a moment. Nothing is “just business,” just like nothing is “just football.”
(This is where I’m doing everything but grabbing you by the shirt and screaming “this doesn’t stick to sports” so any sputtering anger you encounter from here on out is on you.)
They are not subtle about this, not with their flyovers, not with their weekly troop worship, not with their revolving door of mediocre players whose faith is stronger than their field awareness. They are not subtle when they draft not the most talented quarterback on the board but the one most malleable to fantastical brand speak, to say with a straight face that a Sabres Stanley Cup is the sporting event he’d most want to witness, fifteen months after learning what the Buffalo Sabres even are.
Josh Allen was drafted because he is a facsimile for what those who run the franchise thought Buffalonians want from their franchise Quarterback, of what they thought Buffalonians would identify with. He was not drafted based on his accomplishments but in spite of them. He was drafted because even if he didn’t work out, the fans would like him so much they wouldn’t blame the powers that be for wasting their time or missing an opportunity to turn the franchise around. Evidence (four years of Mountain West Conference play that resulted in merely an Honorable Mention), reason (accuracy is largely at its end stage of development by the end of college), facts (completion percentage, INT figures, passing yard totals) have been disregarded in favor of emotion (he signs autographs for kids and wears shorts in cold weather).
If Josh Allen was drafted as a representative for what Buffalonians want and identify with then most should be offended. They believe you identify with someone who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. They believe you identify with someone who is style, not substance. They believe you identify with someone who has never succeeded at any meaningful level in their career getting an opportunity over those that have proven more worthy of the opportunity. They believe you identify with a loser because that’s what you are.
Those who make the decisions for this team do not identify with you, they laugh at you. Sure, it comes behind closed doors at One Bills Drive but make no mistake, they do not identify with you and they do not respect you. They tell you how blue collar you are despite the fact you were the first in your family to get a degree. They tell you how bad the weather is despite the fact you only needed a light jacket for those December games. They tell you a player’s failures are secondary to his faith because they don’t believe you ultimately care about results. They tell you all about how *tough* the area is, despite the fact that when you think about it you grew up in a pretty safe suburb with non-descript doughy white friends and have a pretty successful career. They tell you how someone is a “Buffalo” guy when all you know about the guy is how he’s a replacement level nobody cast off from some other franchise he couldn’t succeed with. Is that what you want to identify with? The team may call themselves the Buffalo Bills but they have formulated a roster and culture that would be better off called the Tonawanda Bills; a culture of mediocrity, of entitlement over merit, of emotion over reason where success is defined by vague terms such as “values” and “effort” and not results. They are a team made for people who have given up, for those sitting at the bar at 3am on a Wednesday, for those who think winning is too much to ask.
It does not take very long for an objective mind to identify massive red flags around those running the franchise from top to bottom. The owner is on tape calling one of his own former players by the wrong name and fretting about losing advertising dollars for his shitty hockey team. The GM drafted the current quarterback. The collection of dunces before his arrival felt Patrick Mahomes wasn’t worth as much as “draft capital,” used to later select the inaccurate arm the franchise has pinned its future on. The coach came aboard talking about “faith-based winning” yet still can’t summon up the courage to go for it on fourth and short. The offseason acquisitions are verifiable improvement based on their performances elsewhere but based on an offense averaging less than twenty points a game it’s debatable whether that improvement is meaningful. An objective observer would likely come to conclusions similar to what appears to be the overwhelming majority of national media: they may be better, they won’t be good.
There is one place seemingly devoid of anything resembling these fact-based predictions from the media: Western New York. Specifically, the gaggle of bros who find themselves covering the team on a daily basis. As someone who grew up during the halcyon days of Bucky, Sully, Harrington it is disorienting to see the problem not be pessimism but blind optimism. These aren’t weathered old men spewing out resentment that they’re never getting a bigger gig than The Buffalo News, but millennial chuckleheads playing the content game where being bullish, where being optimistic (*cough* where toeing the line for management) is sure to be shared throughout social media and result in a cacophony of likes and shares.
Perhaps these people are genuinely bullish on the Bills; I’ve had people who know some people I bash consistently speak to their goodness and value as individuals. I don’t doubt those assessments from people I trust, what I do assess are those whose jobs revolve in sports coverage refuting, disregarding or denying facts in favor of what will make their audience feel good. These are guys operate as a collection of sports Ben Shapiros, making bad faith arguments and using words with zero substance behind them, posting gifs of swirl routes and eight yard outs as evidence of growth, who push the Mad Money button and fire off confetti guns any time some guy with ten concussions talks up the Bills on NFL Network. The fastest growing non-corporate entity covering local sports seems eager to play the role, buying into the cult of agro-idiots that run the team, the goofy never-will-be’s that wear the uniform, mugging for the cameras and lobbing meatballs the second they hold a microphone to the face of someone with any actual influence or power. They make a town that was always a fishbowl become less a fishbowl and more The Truman Show, where reality is manufactured and Truman is hundreds of thousands of Bills fans.
So how will they do? I suppose I should say, as this is called a “preview” post and I did talk about word usage earlier. The easy answer is I don’t have the slightest fucking clue as I watched 1.5 games last season but I think there’s more than enough out there in 2019 to give a reasonable look at the roster and attempt to peg their upcoming season. The defense is going to be pretty good- when McDermott isn’t in a prevent defense that hasn’t worked since the 40’s. The receivers are better but I wouldn’t say good. The line is better but I’d also not necessarily call them good. The backfield is old as shit and unless the drafted kid thrives or McCoy and Gore do a bros trip to Europe for some stem cells, they won’t save us. The inaccurate QB that can run well is still the inaccurate QB that can run well; I’ve watched and rooted for that guy before when it didn’t cost us two first round picks and people couldn’t stand him. I guess this inaccurate QB that can run well throws more picks but since he can throw them farther downfield I should be bullish about his development.
There’s little more I love than being right but I’d like to make this clear for the sake of clarity: I’d LOVE to be wrong far more when it comes to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Maybe accuracy can be taught. Maybe you can go from Mountain West Honorable Mention to above average franchise QB. Maybe. If this happens I’ll own it; it’s more fun to be wrong and high fiving fellow fans at the Bills bar than it is to be right and spending Sunday napping because the season was lost in October. I’m really excited to watch Ed Oliver, the first draft pick I actually liked in years.
While we’re on the topic of truths, while most of my online followers and real-life friends know, I am a Bills fan. I’m looking right now at the hat I wore to work and shelled $40 out for last month. I have a Bills magnet on my car. I used a Bills koozie when visiting in-laws last weekend and will have Bills stuff on at least one of the days on our honeymoon at the end of the month. The fucked up thing is I won’t be surprised in the slightest if someone else is doing the same thing at the same resort in the Adriatic Sea. The Bills got me back with the fun season of 2014 after a decade of ambivalence and for better or worse as an ex-pat they serve as that symbol of where I am from. As we get older and dreams begin to die we cling tighter to those entities and symbols that have remained constant throughout your life as educational benchmarks approached, as jobs came and went and as people who mean the world to you come crashing into and then suddenly drift out of your life. As calculating and rational as one professes to be, there is a connection there that lingers in site of itself.
And yet it is hard to believe the Bills are for me anymore because they have mutated into something that is recognizable on the surface but underneath is filled with more carcinogens than the deepest wells Terry and Kim reaped their billions from. They are a symbol of all that is malignant and twisted about the world around us. They are a billion dollar gaslighting apparatus and shockingly, after decades of failure, a million sad simpletons throughout the region have bought in because the team makes them think that they’re part of something when they’re nothing more than pay pigs to a billionaire. This happened at astonishing speed with the assistance of those paid to talk and write about them.
That said, on a grand scale this era is about the death of community, the death of concern about your fellow man and woman. It’s about using the law to justify physical, financial and emotional horrors despite the fact that “the law” has quickly shown its fallibility as a human construct. It’s where wanting to make the world better and enriching those suffering has fallen out of favor under the guise of “personal responsibility.” It’s a world where people go to the trouble of running and winning election on the school board so they can tell parents they’ll have their kids taken away if they can’t afford to pay for their child’s lunch. It’s where every undeveloped piece of wild land on the continent is for sale, where Supreme Court seats are for sale, where the weak, shattered and lost are to be mocked, not healed. It’s an era where the Today show reviews bulletproof backpacks as if they were air fryers. It’s an era where sports are about everything other than and at the same time nothing but sports. It’s an era of committing the most unchristian acts in the name of Christianity, of monorail salesmen at all levels of government and an era where no one anywhere has the power, the money and the decency to bother fixing it.
It’s about desperation, desperation to save our waterways, our coastlines, save our ideals that were espoused by imperfect men and then twisted until those words were used to justify the exact opposite of their intention. Desperation to find that sense of community again, to find a group you can believe in, take pride in, believe you are making the world better with. It’s an era where literal, actual deaths are occurring daily at the hands of policies championed by millions of people who look just like you. It’s where we worship the powerful and vilify the powerless.
It’s an era where words and results don’t matter so long as you can contort yourself enough to appear to be for whatever your audience thinks is good and just at a given time. It’s an era made for failures to become kings, for cowards who project strength, for people who look not play the part, for style to replace substance and an attention to community that only embraces a caricature of community. THAT, is the Buffalo Bills “culture.” The tragedy is that this is the perfect and really only time for it.