This will be my fifth attempt to figure out how to describe my excitement for this weekend’s game against the Miami Dolphins. I can barely hold all my thoughts together long enough to process them. But first and foremost is I will watch a home opener this Sunday without wondering how many more I’ll see in my lifetime. The Bills have new owners and they have no intention of moving them. The mere fact that I can write that still blows my mind. Seriously, how did this happen?
A little over a month ago, I was sharing one of many drinks with a coworker and I found myself trying to explain to her what it meant for my friends and I to see Andre Reed inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was a ridiculous conversation, but the moment touched a nerve and I needed to get it off my chest.
My excitement wasn’t just about celebrating Andre. It wasn’t about the accolade and it wasn’t even really about remembering the good ol' days. It was simply a chance to celebrate some form of success with the Bills, while we still could. Who knew how many more good things we’d get to experience as fans before they were sold.
Plenty of cities have had to deal with losing their sports teams. But the Bills’ situation was uniquely stressful in that the guillotine hung over the team for well over a decade. We had to stomach "the Toronto experiment" and the possibility they'd be bought by either Donald Trump or Bon-fucking-Jovi. That the Wilson family had no intention of keeping the team was a matter of fact. It simply seemed like a matter of time before they were gone. What wasn't really discussed was how the team’s departure would impact the city of Buffalo. Sure, we'd make broad, crass statements, but we never really talked about it. Their impact on Buffalo is so broad and engrained in the culture that to fathom life without them was too difficult. I never had a conversation about the potential hole left behind at One Bills Drive that lasted more than 2 minutes. It would start out with, “We'd be fucked,” and then the conversation would quickly get steered somewhere else. The pain was too great to even imagine.
One month later, all of the fear is gone. All of it. No more wondering will they or won’t they. Terry & Kim Pegula have secured our future and thus, never have to pay for another drink in Western New York for the rest of their lives. Both teams can come in dead last for the next five years and no one will care. They've rescued both our beloved teams, and potentially the entire region, and we are eternally in his debt.
Which brings us to, in my opinion, our perfect opponents, the Miami Dolphins. With all the history these two teams have, who better to face in our first game since finding out this wonderful news. The Patriots have drawn our worst ire since 2000, but Miami is the team I’ve enjoyed beating more than any other in the league since I knew what it was to want things. Yes, they’re coming off an impressive victory, but so are the Bills. And the Bills will have the greatest home field advantage this team is likely to ever enjoy. It’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait. I feel like a kid in the backseat on a road trip. Is it on yet? Is it on yet? Is it on yet? Is it on yet? OH MY GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY’RE STAYING! LET’S DO THIS!
THREE THINGS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT:
1) DID I MENTION THEY’RE STAYING!?!
IS THIS REAL LIFE? I’M NOT GONNA WAKE UP FROM THIS, AM I? THIS IS THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO THE BILLS EVER! I JUST WANT THIS FEELING TO LAST FOREVER! I’M GOING TO WRITE THE REST OF THIS POST IN CAPS LOCK BECAUSE, SCREW IT, WHY NOT? WE DON’T HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THEM BEING SOLD ANYMORE! IT’S OVER! IT’S REALLY OVER! WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO TALK ABOUT? CUE ALL THE HAPPY DANCE GIFS!
Alright. I think I’m ok now. All the feelings and whatnot.
2) Buffalo Bills, Division Leaders?
As I said in last week’s preview, one game against the Bears won’t tell us how good we are. But that one game was pretty damn impressive. Aside from one bad pick by E.J., every aspect of the gameplan looked organized, well-executed, and extremely effective. Even the punter had people feeling good about our chances this season. Granted this same fan base regularly gets worked up over nothing just about every September, but there weren’t many people, ourselves included, that thought the Bills could go on the road and beat a playoff contender to open the season.
It had all the makings of a loss. Their preseason was abysmal and there were leaks right up until kickoff about drama behind the sidelines. And yet the Bills were able to shake all of that off, plus an ugly start to the game and defeat the Bears in overtime. Honestly, after the Bills went 3-&-out, then allowed the Bears to score in 4 plays, I ordered another beer before I had finished my first and got ready for a blowout. They had multiple chances to buckle, but they never relented. The defense forced Cutler into mistakes, the offense capitalized on the extra possessions, and the special teams did their part to win the field position battle and oh, right, scored the game-winning field goal.
It’s too early to say what was real and what was lucky, but with everything else added into the mix (THEY’RE FUCKING STAYING, YOU GUYS!), it’s hard to imagine the Bills having much more momentum going into a game that could decide who starts the season leading the division.
3) New England Patriots, Division Basement Dwellers?
Wow. Way to trade away every talented player you’ve had for the last ten years. Seriously, besides Brady & Wilfork (without whom this team is lucky to win 3 games), I can’t remember the last time this team resigned anyone. Belichick is arguably the best coach we’ll ever see, but I honestly believe trading Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers was the beginning of the end. How long can you get away with picking up other team's scraps and calling it "the Patriots Way"? (Speaking of which, can we stop calling things "the (Insert any team name) Way"? You all sound like morons. Cheers.) Last year's woefully weak AFC East disguised how mediocre the Patriots were. Seriously, when were you less impressed by a 12-win team? They’ll certainly continue to contend for the Super Bowl until Brady and/or Belichick retires, but the days of them dominating the AFC are over. Who trades away their best guard the week before the season starts? I guess the same team that lets their QB’s favorite receiver walk for no other reason than they don’t feel like paying him anymore which seemingly happens every year. And I’d even be willing to chalk this latest move up as another soon-to-be-realized genius move by Belichick except that A) I don’t think they’ll successfully draft anyone relevant with the pick they got and B) the plan to replace him is a rotating offensive line?! Excuse me?!? If Belichick finds a way to make this work, then it’s no longer a debate of whether he’s the greatest football mind ever, but c’mon. There’s no way that can work.
Can it? Crap, is it too late to put this in the terrified section? No. No. This is exciting. Please, please, please God, let them be terrible.
THREE THINGS TO BE TERRIFIED OF:
1) Cameron Wake
If you only know one name on the Dolphins’ defense, it’s most likely the guy ripping Tom Brady to the ground in the picture above. Wake is one of those defensive ends who seems to make the rest of his front 7 better just by lining up. And this Sunday, he’ll most likely attack the Bills’ right side where we’re starting a rookie (Henderson) and a guy we picked up off the Jaguars practice squad four years ago (Pears) and somehow never replaced. (We've been drafting offensive linemen for years and he's still the best we've got. Good Lord.) Wake was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for harassing Tom Brady for 60 minutes last Sunday, including two sacks and two forced fumbles. If he's that effective tomorrow, then the Bills could see a result similar to the one the Pats suffered. Of course, as I said, the Pats might not be as good as we've come to expect. And the Bills did a fine job protecting E.J. against Jared Allen and the rest of Chicago’s D, so maybe I’m worrying over nothing. There’s a distinct possibility that the Bills will fair better since, I can’t believe I’m going to type this, but this week I think the Bills’ offense is better than the Patriots'.
There. I said it. The Bills might be better than the Pats... I'm an idiot.
2) All Of The Reasons
This is still Buffalo and we still can't have nice things. We've got an owner and that's beyond amazing. But I don't think anyone believes those same anxious feelings won't come roaring back the first time we see the Bills make a boneheaded play on Sunday. Keith Rivers is out and Gilmore is at best barely able to play. Aaron Williams, who already looks like his brain isn't working on most plays, is recovering from a concussion. Fred Jackson looked great last week, but he hasn't made it through a full season in a long time. And even though we've got a lot of confidence after our win in Chicago, the Dolphins have every reason to believe in themselves as well.
E.J. and the offense did everything right in their win over Chicago. Marrone recognized the weaknesses in the Bears' run defense and ran the ball 33 times while only asking Manuel to throw the ball 22 times. That ratio should remain the same all season. If there's a winning strategy to this season, it's old-school smash-mouth football. Win the battle at the line of scrimmage, control the field position, and get the big plays when you need them. Of course, that's what we've said every season for the last 10 years and then somewhere it usually all goes haywire. It's way too early to know what to expect of this Bills team. E.J. isn't consistent enough yet to know what to expect and the defense still has to prove they can stop the run. Not to mention, Marrone and his coaching staff haven't proven anything by simply winning one road game in overtime.
And yet... you're not that concerned, are you?
3) Wait, Why Would You Be Terrified?
Are you the least bit worried about the Bills this Sunday? Let me answer that for you: No. Absolutely not. The Bills are staying in Buffalo for the foreseeable future. The players know the guy signing their paychecks is passionate about succeeding in Buffalo. His track record as owner of the Sabres is a whole other subject, but his commitment to the region is undeniable.
Shouldn’t that lift their spirits? And what if it seems like it doesn’t? Because let’s be fair, even with a boost as big as this one, the Bills could lose this Sunday. The Dolphins trailed 20-10 going into halftime at the Razor and then scored 23 unanswered points in the second half. When was the last time you can remember Tom Brady scoring ZERO points in the second half? It was the first time since 2003 that the Patriots didn’t win their opener.
But do you care? Does it really matter? No. No, it doesn’t. They’re staying.
Maybe E.J. sucks. Doesn’t matter. They’re staying. Marrone might be drawing up 4th quarter plays with a crayon. Doesn’t matter. They’re staying. Scott Chandler might be the worst TE in the game. Doesn’t matter. They’re staying.
We might get blown out 42-0 this Sunday.
Doesn’t matter. They’re staying.
WHY YOU'VE ALWAYS HATED THEM
AND YOU ALWAYS WILL:
The second thing you were taught after learning “You will love the Bills” was “These are the Dolphins and you will despise them forever.” I still remember seeing Bryan Cox run into Rich Stadium giving the fans the two finger salute. That’s when I learned what it was to hate an opposing player. I knew nothing about this player, but I knew I hated him. Still my knowledge of sports-hate wasn't complete until Dan Marino taught me the meaning of schadenfreude.
He was clearly an amazing quarterback, indisputably the greatest to never win a Super Bowl. That fact gives me more joy than any other in football. He walked away from the game with virtually every passing record possible and they’re nearly all gone. Every time Favre or Manning or Brees knocked one off the board, I couldn’t help but smile. I can't help it. Whenever he dropped back and I saw Bruce blow past his blocker, I’d get as close to the screen as possible to watch bad things happen. Once players like him & Cox retired and the salary-cap era began, this feeling simply spread to the entire team.
Remember when Ricky Williams retired in his prime to smoke pot and learn about homeopathics? If he played on any other team, I’d be disappointed to see a great player leave the game. But the Dolphins? I’m not smart enough to describe it, but it’s something akin to...
(Yep. Two Cove references in the same post. #sorrynotsorry)
AROUND THE LEAGUE
This won't be easy. Regardless of the talent level on either squad, Dolphins games are almost always close and this one doesn't appear to be any different. No one will be surprised, regardless of the outcome. But how can you not expect a win? If I'm wrong, I'm fine with that. But if only for one weekend this season, I refuse to believe we won't be victorious.
Dolphins 20, Bills 32
Whatever happens, enjoy this feeling. You've earned it. Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Pegula. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.