I was sitting in my office yesterday morning and frantically refreshing my Twitter feed; not simply because I am way too reliant/addicted to modern technology but because, as I have been for the last several days, I am craving, demanding more Rex Ryan #Content. Last Saturday I stood in a bar in the Federal Hill area of Baltimore (think Elmwood) with my girlfriend and several friends, mowing through buckets of Bud Light and the occasional round of cherry bombs, watching what, for a while at least seemed to be the funeral for the Patriots season. Sometime during a lull in the second half I pulled out my phone and absently began scrolling through Twitter only to find news that Rex Ryan had been brought back for a second interview. Suddenly, inexplicably, the Bills had seized my focus from the fantastic playoff game in which the rest of the bar was so wholly wrapped up. That focus remained the rest of the evening, through the anguished screams consuming the bar that sounded so familiar, through slipping on sidewalk ice on the way to the car which also felt so familiar (seriously, salt your sidewalks, Baltimore), to Sunday morning when I hacked through the haze that was my hangover, grabbed my phone and let out what can only be described as a joyous squeal upon seeing Mr. Ryan would be the next coach of the Bills.
I have read everything about the hire; I’ve read national writers, New York City writers, Buffalo News writers, all writers (except Paul Hamilton, who writes as though he handled downed power lines in a storm). I scrolled through photo galleries on the Bills website, watched the news conference in my office, and listened to any reaction that wasn’t phoned into a WGR switchboard. And now I sit here, refreshing Twitter as the hype begins to subside and I am still craving my Rex content, so I guess I will simply create my own.
Doug Marrone is an idiot. During his first news conference he looked uncomfortable, his brow contorting into a look of anguish whenever he had to string words together to verbally express a cogent thought. Frankly I found it difficult to believe that some 100,000 years of human evolution, from Sub-Saharan Africa, through Europe and the triumph of homo sapiens over Neanderthals, through the great empires of Greece and Rome, through the dark ages and the subsequent Renaissance, through the rise of America as the world’s superpower, through all of that, that this simpleton, this idiot was the result of 100,000 years of the human species bettering itself. I will give anyone a chance but if you look confused all the time, cannot answer simple questions coherently or cannot even coherently explain why you do what you do, I have no time for you. I have no time if you think you’re too good for something without ever proven that you were even good enough for that something.
Watching his fall, watching the narrative go from “the Bills are a mess for letting this guy go,” to “Doug Marrone is an insufferable asshole who’s done nothing worth the trouble of dealing with him,” in a matter of two weeks would have been fantastic even if the Bills didn’t upgrade so spectacularly in the coaching department. Jim Harbaugh just got run out of town for being an insufferable asshole and he was on the cusp of a Super Bowl two years ago. If Doug Marrone wants to be somewhere where he doesn’t have to answer to anyone, he better start googling Division III schools in the Midwest and making some calls. And sure, people will point out the fact he’s making $4 million dollars this year to do nothing but here’s the thing about people with massive egos- none of that money will matter to him seeing that he’s not wanted, that he’s not respected, that people are happier without him. He is learning, probably already, that he massively overestimated his worth and in a world where arrogance is a “distraction,” no owner is going to want to employ him. In Pegula he was basically working for some kindly shopkeeper out of a fucking Andy Griffith episode and he expects someone like Woody Johnson or the daughter of George fucking Halas to entertain his tantrums? Fuck off forever, double middle fingers all the way.
None of that much matters now, what matters is things changed and the biggest whale on the open market chose our little corner of the league, of the country to settle in. I think it matters less whether the Falcons strung him along, or even the price tag because as Ryan said, this is his last chance to prove himself as a head coach. He had to be sold a vision, a structure, a plan that he envisioned was both plausible and enticing enough for him to pull the trigger. What vision, what structure, what plan was in place twelve months ago? Not only Rex but every candidate would have walked into One Bills Drive and laughed in Russ Brandon’s stupid pussface as he sputtered about Ralph’s spryness and trying to “extend the fanbase.”
It’s possible to both honor the former owner and admit that his passing was the best thing to happen to the franchise in 2014. The Pegulas, Rex Ryan, the excitement from former and current players, all eight games sold out, none of that happens without Ralph’s extrication from the situation. I for one do not believe any of his charitable actions and bluster made up for holding a gun to the region for fifty years and ultimately leaving behind a trap ready to spring and ship the team out to Toronto as his head henchman drove the first moving truck, but I digress.
Of course, the offense is a mess. They’re a mess because they don’t have a quarterback who can throw a five yard out consistently, because they never seemed to have a plan as to how to get the ball to their most talented players. There was complete incompetence on that side of the ball and whether it was 60/40 Hackett or Marrone’s fault, I couldn’t care less. They simply need common sense, and I can’t help but believe that’s what is getting brought to the table here. No matter what they say about EJ, Whaley and Rex know he’s not enough. Bring in a free agent schlub, bring in a draft schlub, let the three schlubs fight it out to see which schlub becomes our schlub.
The best part about this season for me was simply them mattering to me again. I’m honestly unsure if there’s been a season where I watched every game before, at least since I was a kid. In high school maybe, but in college I’d sleep through them, in law school it wasn't worth leaving the house, in Vermont I ran errands on Sundays instead and even the last few years in Buffalo by December I’d be spending Sundays Christmas shopping. This season, living in Maryland no less, I watched every game. Some were in the Buffalo airport, one was in Burlington, two were at the Bills bar in Baltimore and one was in DC but I watched them all. Sundays, for the first time in my adult life, meant Bills football first and foremost, the entire season. I bought a jersey for the first time in five years, bought shirts, zubaz, hats, for the first time competing with my collection of Sabres attire, which once held a monopoly on my hometown team gear.
This was across the fanbase, all the while led by a coach who would check into a mental institution if asked the square root of 81 and a quarterback who must have been too preoccupied about going door to door for Bernie Sanders in Iowa that he couldn’t run an extra two yards for a first down (miss you KO). The ridiculous defense, the owners not only ensuring the team never leaves but throwing out breadcrumbs hinting at a new stadium, the players’ genuine enjoyment of the game, the snow and each other, Boobie D’s Instagram and Twitter feeds, all of it coalesced into a perfect storm that is now being fed by the biggest personality in coaching and the best players-coach in the league.
There’s an interest, an excitement for next season that I certainly haven’t seen as an adult and it’s left me craving Bills #content in a way that has surprised me. After the Bills playing second fiddle to the Sabres, after so many years of spending Sundays sleeping off hangovers, doing laundry, chatting with friends in the Rockpile instead of watching the actual game, it’s refreshing to find out that there was always a voracious Bills fan still living underneath, waiting for an excuse to come out. I couldn’t be happier that it’s been the Pegulas, Rex Ryan, this defense that has brought it out. Now when’s mini-camp?
Oh Right, The Sabres
I love the Sabres. I spent slightly less than a king’s ransom to sit in the last row of the Verizon Center a couple months ago to watch them come out on top during a dreadfully boring game, I got my gamecenter subscription because I can’t simply not watch them, and I’m going Saturday, my third game this season during the worst season in team history (they’ve won both games I’ve attended; if they win Saturday, going 3-0 in front of me may be the biggest miracle they’ve pulled off this season considering where I reside), and of course I’ll be purchasing some new gear. I didn’t need to be brought back into the fold like with the Bills; the Sabres are so tightly interwoven with my high school, college and law school years that a few years at the bottom of the league barely registers. The organization has many players I’m excited about and it’s not hard to see them pulling out of this next season. While that is without question the most important thing, winning, these lowly, dreary nights have brought focus onto just how disconnected this team, its employees are from the fans, especially those who haven’t deserted them.
I didn’t go in expecting much; after all this is the marketing team behind unpucked. This is the marketing team that thought producing TWO John Scott shirts was a good idea. The only thing these idiots hadn’t done is replace all the blue cheese with ranch at the concessions and wiped their asses with the French Connection banner. But again, hockey, beer, friends, a chance to see the asshole who’s behind the Sabres 101 account, couldn’t pass it up.
Now here I had allowed the exact same thing to happen, for little more than a few beers (that fridge was NOT properly stocked; me and migly spent each intermission picking up a pair of Blue Light tall boys) and some wings. This wouldn’t be a problem if the men standing in front of us in that conference room weren’t exacerbating the stagnancy of the franchise, weren’t allowing the virus infecting play on the ice spread through the rest of the franchise’s inner workings. So, screw your off the record nonsense. I don’t have an editor, I don’t get paid for this and outside of the few times a year I get to see them in person, the closest I get to the team is watching a spotty gamecenter feed off my PS3 every night.
If I had to sum up what was said, it would be that if you’re reading this, the marketing arm doesn’t give a shit about you. They don’t do anything they do for the die-hard, loyal fans, the ones that will follow the team, buy merchandise and tickets regardless. One mentioned the team has approximately 250k twitter followers and estimated about 10k were die-hard fans. Why do we get so much sickly sweet nonsense from the twitter account? Why does it seem as if they’re catering to teenage girls and middle-aged parents? Because they are!
Also, the fans should be aware that for all the talk Ted Black does on the radio when it comes to the bottomless pockets of ownership, all we heard about from his underlings was how much shit would cost. A group that green lighted about 150,000 shirts in honor of the worst hockey player in franchise history was lamenting how much bobbleheads and season ticket gifts would cost. I mean, the tickets are already sold so who cares whether they get resold, whether the product is stale, or whether Southern Ontario is suddenly pumping thousands of Flames/Avalanche/Ducks/Predators fans into our arena every night? These people aren’t Sabres fans, and they aren’t interested in you or me, except when they’re worried that fact might get found out.
Now, suddenly, for the first time I can remember, the dynamic has flipped. We are counting the days until football season while doing little more than counting the days left until this dreadful, depressing version of the Sabres is over. We want Rex shirts, we want season tickets, we want to go to London to see them for Christ’s sake. The Sabres, or at least the chuckleheads that smugly stood in front of us that night, never understood that they always stood only one Bills season away from sinking into the background of Buffalo sports, and now, even McDavid bobbleheads won’t stop the shift from taking place.
It’s a Bills first town again, and if we’re lucky, it will be a very long run.