As I was marching up the tunnel to MetLife Stadium on Sunday, marveling at how lucky Jet fans were that the Giants built them a new stadium, an asshole in a green jersey started to rail me and the Barrister about losing the Bills. Lost in a haze of hops and kielbasa, I countered with a hoarse, incoherent version of "Buffalo will never lose the Bills!"
Then karmic displacement came and booted me directly in the ass in the form of this article.
- We do not have a remotely competitive stadium in the current NFL climate.
- The economy of New York State is depressed.
- The franchise cannot afford to build a stadium because the owner's wealth comes solely from the team.
- The state, county, and even league will have to help renovate the stadium to keep the Bills viable.
All of this adds up to one giant pile of suck the week before the home opener.
"They'd have to fast-track some discussions, which we are looking forward to doing. We have been very transparent, very open, and we have been ready, willing and able to meet anytime and anywhere, and the county and state both are very aware of that. When our phone rings again, we're happy to meet and set the new calendar." - Russ Brandon, Bills CEO/GM/COO/Chief Party Planner/Ralph's Sippy Cup Refiller & Changer of Diapers
You know what that above quote means? We want to renegotiate the lease. We want to negotiate a lease that forces the buyer who picks up the Bills after Ralph kicks it to have an uphill battle if he/she chooses to move the team. It's a congenial step in the right direction for Bills fans, but not the one we want. We just want Ralph to sell the fucking team to a local ownership group or at the very least guarantee some sort of succession after Father Time finally takes him from this life. They're willing to sit down with Poloncarz & Cuomo to discuss. Yay. Good for them. I sort of applaud them for that.
But this is where it gets scary:
"This does not mean this will be the last home opener for the Bills this upcoming Sunday," Poloncarz said. "I've discussed this with representatives of the organization. I discussed this with Russ Brandon two days ago. We agree that, based on the timeline of where we are, if we need to do a one-year extension of the current lease, we will do that." - Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive/Petrified Man
That's Poloncarz basically masking his fear that we're going to lose the Bills. He's like The Dude running after the Nihilists on motorbikes trying to give them Bunny Lebowski's ransom after Walter tosses the ringer over the bridge. He's the little boy trying to stick the finger in the dyke (GOD I FUCKING LOVE THAT METAPHOR). As the party who stands to lose the most in this situation (an election, a massive tax base, land, money, the sky, etc.), Poloncarz is trying to assuage the fears of his constituency, and doing a poor job. But what else can he do? His hands are tied.
And this is the first in a long series of Death Knells for the Buffalo Bills.....here it is, kids. We're losing the fucking team:
"But we are in a stalled holding pattern," Brandon said. "We haven't met for some time."
.....Brandon would not say who was to blame for the canceled meetings.
"We really don't know why at this point," he said. "We've been working day and night here on all of the preparation to have meaningful conversations that we have not had in over two months."
However, the Cuomo administration is the primary player on the government side because the state will be asked to fund the public-sector share of the major renovations, as it did 15 years ago.
Erie County is expected to continue paying for regular maintenance, annual upgrades, game-day expenses and other regular costs of running the stadium.
Asked about the canceled meetings, Poloncarz would only say: "There were a number of meetings that were scheduled that unfortunately could not be held due to conflicts of individuals attending. . There's no meeting that was canceled because either I or a member of my staff was unavailable."
State officials disputed the characterization that its representatives have not been involved in working on the lease deal in recent months.
They pointed to separate meetings that a top sports industry attorney, Irwin P. Raij, had in Western New York with major players in the lease talks shortly after he was hired by the Cuomo administration in early August to advise the state on the lease negotiations and potential stadium renovations.
Raij, a partner with the law firm Foley & Lardner with extensive experience in stadium redevelopment, came to town during the week of Aug. 12 and met with county officials. He also toured Ralph Wilson Stadium and met with Bills representatives.
The state official said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made the Bills negotiations a top priority within his administration and has recently asked Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy to play a key role in the talks.
"We are committed to doing all we can to keep the Bills in Western New York and to negotiate in good faith with the county and Bills," said Matthew L. Wing, a Cuomo spokesman.
See, here's my theory (and it may sound wing nut but I don't care): the state is hedging its bets. Nothing in this state occurs on the up and up (see Bruno, Joe and Silver, Sheldon). Every decision that is announced has already been made months earlier with no discretionary public viewing whatsoever. The state understands that Ralph isn't going to sell the team. The state also understands that it would take a veritable miracle to keep the Bills in Buffalo after Ralph kicks it. Yes, the Bills generate tax revenue, but nothing compared to what a tax on a billion dollar-plus sale of an NFL franchise to an outside buyer would generate (please troll me on that because I don't have concrete numbers but I feel pretty damn good about it). The state, and Cuomo, specifically, don't think that keeping the Bills in Buffalo is a particularly high priority, despite public comments to the contrary. If this really was a priority, Cuomo himself would have said something, and the state and county would have already hammered out a deal (see eminent domain, Barclay's Center, Brooklyn).
And then there's the electoral issue. It's my belief that Pataki and Bruno (and Gorski) led the charge years ago to get the lease through and ensure the Bills stayed in the 716 for at least another 15 years because they needed us. Pataki couldn't have won the Governorship without the "Upstate" vote. Losing the Bills would have put a serious dent in his popularity here in Western New York. That was the prevailing wisdom on both sides of the aisle until just recently.
Cue Carl Paladino's entrance music.
Carl Paladino made (like it or not) Western New York & Upstate his strong hold against Cuomo. Thank God he lost, but the byproduct of that is he taught downstate Democrats a valuable lesson: you don't really need the Western New York vote (what with its dwindling electoral population) to win the Governor's seat as a Democrat. So (and this is a giant assumption but it fuels my paranoia), assuming Cuomo is just like every other politician in New York State's gloriously corrupt history, the Bills become a non-factor. Being the Governor that "lost the Bills" doesn't have as dire as an effect as it would have on Pataki. And even I know as an ex-pat what the NYS legislative houses think of good old Western New York (see: unemployment, Western New York, closing of Bethlehem Steel to the present day). So where does that leave us as Bills fans? Shit out of luck.
The state ain't gonna help.
Am I overreacting? Probably. I've been prone to it. But I'm also rooted in pragmatism, being a resident of this god forsaken state for the past 30 years. We've never been particularly Upstate Friendly or Business Friendly here in NY, so why on God's green earth would they help now? Where the hell was the state when Golisano swooped in to save the Sabres?
We may be fucked, Bills fans. I for one will start my long, drawn out, loud wailing and grieving this weekend as I prepare for my first home game of the season. Let's hope I'm wrong/crazy/stupid/handsome.