The role of the Buffalo Bills in my life is one of those odd things that became larger when I lived away from WNY. Their descent into the league’s also-rans coincided with a parade of new and exciting things to devote ones time to- the Sabres had the best player on the planet, my mom got us our first computer, there were dances, dates, practices and games to focus on. All those Sundays in high school, I can’t think of a single Sunday spent gathering friends together for a Bills game. Sure, there was a Super Bowl party at someone’s house every year where we would root for whatever random ass team we felt like (Remember Giants-Ravens? Woof)- we even rooted for the Patriots to beat the Rams which I promise made sense in January 2002. When it came to the Bills there was just no real enthusiasm, not when our childhood memories were filled with Super Bowl parties where the stakes and the extravagance were much higher. However, the Sabres were a different story. 1999, 2000, 2001 we’d find ourselves at someone’s house for playoff games, yelling at the television and having our first experimentations with the host’s father’s liquor cabinet (I can still taste vodka and Pepsi whenever I think about it).
This dynamic rarely changed in the years that followed. Sure, the 2004 playoff push brought things back slightly but how much of it was assisted by the NHL lockout? My only Bills-related memory I have from college took place my senior year in 2005; I was eager to sleep off the previous night during the game as usual when my roommate knocked on my door. He was regretting the girl he brought home the previous evening and dismayed that she not only had not yet left but that she seemed to be showing all intentions to watch the Bills game with him; he wanted me to join so he could have someone else to talk to. So I trudge out and we watched yet another terrible game in a terrible season while having 4-8 beers to dull the previous evening. By the fourth quarter he had revived his beer goggles to the point that he brought this girl back to his room, still the only mid-afternoon occurrence of beer goggles that I have ever seen. Point is, as a lifelong WNYer by that point the Bills were always an afterthought.
Here’s a weird thing when you leave the area: if you are from a town with an NFL team, that is oftentimes the number one thing people will associate you with. On fall Mondays at Penn State, classmates would greet me with Bills talk. Working in Vermont, Maryland or Pennsylvania, coworkers often did the same, almost requiring you to pay more attention to the Bills, lest you seem aloof (which I am at work anyways), weird (why would you hate a team from where you’re from), or un-relatable. At the same time, outside of WNY the Bills serve as a conduit to connect with people from home in whatever strange new town you find yourself in. I made friends in Baltimore, ran into a college friend in D.C., shared a crushing loss in Burlington and enjoyed $5 blue light pitchers in Harrisburg. Most notably I shared the moment that ended the drought with a bar full of Bills fans in the very city where the drought ended. The Bills provide a sense of community that is almost stronger outside the 716 than it is inside and if you don’t believe me, head down to Baltimore for opening weekend.
The Bills play a more prominent role to me now than they did then (the Sabres sad state certainly plays a role in this); I’m marrying into a family and friend group of NFL fans and in a place as economically depressed and socially backwards as the 717 having a bar full of 716ers as an option every Sunday is a relief. It’s also what makes what the current administration of regressive, short-sighted, arrogant hacks have done to the franchise so unforgivable.
The Future is Foreseeable
-Brandon Beane will be fired in the next three to four years
-Sean McDermott will be fired in the next three to five years
-Josh Allen will unceremoniously become a free agent when his rookie contract expires and will likely never play in the NFL again
These are set in stone and all three were avoidable. These men will leave the franchise at a lower point than at any time during the drought and will leave a fanbase trudging along, only closer to death than they are right now, hoping the same incompetent, befuddled owners can somehow, someday hire the right people. The only course of action for us to do is hope it plays out as quickly as possible so we can get it over with and hope the next team of dunces is somehow better.
Brandon Beane can be admired for having a plan and refusing to deviate it in the same way people like Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld can be admired for doing the same. His hubris will serve as a cautionary tale in the same way hubris destroyed the reputations of the above men and in a football sense Beane will be inextricably linked to the disaster he is about to lead, no different than George Pickett. He will be remembered in Buffalo as a misguided fool whose arrogance wrecked the Bills closest return to relevance in twenty years. Sean McDermott will be remembered as a well-meaning simpleton whose humility smacked of disingenuousness, who tried to piece together a team of projects, busts and players who are simply not good enough and lead it to actual success. The Western New York media and the more naïve and pathetic portions of the fanbase are spinning this as an underdog team. This is not that, this is a terrible team. This will not be exciting; this will be a massacre. All goodwill that could be mustered from a team dragging their coaching staff and DISAPPOINTED General Manager to the playoffs will have long dissipated after years of McDermott’s tepid gameplans, regressive field position strategy and incompetent challenge acumen. These men wanted full control to prove what they can do and you better fucking believe they are about to show their what they can do.
The Face of Failure
He is shitty. He is fundamentally bad at what he will be paid millions to do. He will be set for life, in a world where good men and women are bled dry over the course of their lives in child care costs, stagnant wages, student loans and medical bills. Josh Allen will retire with more INT’s than TD’s, not a winning record to his name and people who rooted so hard for him will one day have to set up a gofundme for their cancer treatment. That is not a “feel good” story, that is a shell game. You’re being scammed.
To paraphrase one of my friends, colleges will give scholarships to every sentient fireball shot that shows even a modicum of potential to play football; none of them thought this sentient milk jug was worth that chance. His second best showing last season was 234 yards in the Mountain West; his best showing was against a FCS school. I’ve long liked Wyoming as a pet team due to their end zones (best in college football), their uniforms (a nice mix of Bonas early-aughts colors) and placement in the general middle of nowhere. I am no scout but following the breathless coverage of his junior year (one in which he had now-NFL running back Brian Hill) I was confused yet excited to tune in where I could and here’s what I found: he’s shitty.
Why exactly the Bills decided this was the guy in such a loaded quarterback class will be a mystery for years to come. EJ Manuel made sense in the fact that the draft was weak and the Bills had little other choice. Quarterbacks who had proven themselves against big time opponents, who the people paid for a living to evaluate talent found HAD talent worth investing in were on the board. Josh Rosen was sitting there. Mason Rudolph was sitting there. Lamar Jackson was sitting there. What was it that made the Bills think that not only must they draft the Wyoming kid, but must TRADE AWAY ASSETS for the right to do so? Was it his pro day? Because that wasn’t very good either! If you don’t yet care why he was picked you better get used to asking that question because it’s only going to become more and more alarming as he throws more passes and his classmates throw more passes.
Rotting From the Head
The second reason is the one that should concern every Bills fan and if true portends far bleaker days ahead. The leaked New York Times audio of the owners addressing the “controversy” of player protests exposed an owner woefully out of touch with the purpose of such protests and the larger effect such protests were having. He comes off befuddled as to how to proceed (hint: the correct response was do nothing) and his insistence that this is A Very Big Issue That Needs to be Addressed is pitiful at times. In the eyes of Terry Pegula nothing is to be feared more than the subject of a presidential tweet; unlike the millions of us who don’t follow or mute/block the rotting nectarine's infantile and incoherent ramblings, the multi-billionaire two-sport owner sees his empire as helpless in the face of such ramblings and indeed pleads with his fellow owners to formulate a plan to make it stop. It’s likely that as a donor to the president he feels such ramblings mean that he is responsible for the derision he now finds coming his way. He even sees in his local paper the story of a hot dog vendor who has (gasp) quit his job and will no longer watch the NFL. A story that elicits nothing but bemusement and gleeful insults towards its attempt to victimize this man is viewed with the utmost gravity by the man and wife who own the franchise. Something must be done!
Once someone has Rich Guy Brain there really isn’t much to do but hope for the best and brace for the worst. The Pegulas strategy in the protest era has been to ramp the patriotism up to 11: troops at every game, ceremonies for vets, footing the bill for flyovers, extravagant pregame ceremonies. The hockey team trots out a Troop to awkwardly stand under a spotlight saluting the flag while Doug Allen serenades it, like Springsteen bringing up a fan on stage. The coach literally shouted out the Troops during the snow game because godfuckingforbid we watch a football game without glorifying the military (would Patton have punted in opposing territory late in overtime in a must-win game?). With the drought over and a new era ahead, they needed a new face of the franchise. Who was the one who best complimented the culture the team was putting forward? Who would fit in with the aw-shucks man of god on the sidelines? Who could be trusted to smile every day, #sticktosports, talk up the blue collar myth of the region, defer to his coaches and generally be as bland as possible? Who could be the living embodiment of G.I. Joe, a faceless, nameless vessel to trot out and play the role of hero? Who could be entrusted to make sure no fan would have to feel “uncomfortable” with how they dressed, how they reacted after a big play? Who could best personify the fetishization of the underdog, the person who no one wanted but would grow into a big-armed swan right before their eyes?
Really we should have seen this coming. Having a big arm you can’t aim, an empty personality that can be molded to fly where the P.R. winds need it to at any given moment, bland dress and on-field persona, a deference to his coach, a love of god and America, a person who has no opinions outside of “gee just trying to get better every day,” Josh Allen was exactly what Terry Pegula wanted. Whether he is good at football or not is an afterthought, as his real benefit is as the face of the franchise, the potential of being the savior, a kid just like them who no one believed in who may one day do something special. His benefit is his blandness, his very lack of success because success breeds higher expectations and with Terry Pegula right now is not about winning on the field.
Back to Being a Punchline
Somehow, Josh Allen, the 7th overall draft pick, the highest drafted quarterback in team history, a player Brandon Beane traded picks to acquire has lost a quarterback competition to Nathan Peterman, he of the worst start in NFL history. Allen has at least lost the competition if the competition is about who is best at throwing the football. Please re-read those two sentences and remember that this is the “process” management asks you to trust, the one that fans get on t-shirts and tattoos. If Josh Allen starts, it will be not because he has shown himself to be the best quarterback option on the roster (again how the fuck are we talking about this?) but so he can work on improving himself in game conditions from day one. This is what everyone should be rooting for because it at least ensures this travesty will end in the shortest period of time. Every injury, benching or excuse will merely extend our sentence as side actors in Terry and Kim Pegulas MAGA farce.
Despite that, management has crafted a roster which provides Allen with readymade excuses for 2018. The line is atrocious. The receivers can’t get separation and also can’t catch. The excuses that were ignored in order to castigate Tyrod will be- and have already been- used to shelter a quarterback who again, at no point in his career has shown the ability to throw the football accurately. 2019 will likely bring a top-three pick which despite proven quarterbacks on the board, will likely go to a lineman. There will likely be an acquisition of a talented receiver as well. This will be Allen’s Carson Wentz or Jared Goff year, we will be told.
It will not be. Allen will indeed be what he always has been. He will throw more interceptions than touchdowns. He will work to scrape 50% on his passing attempts. He will still take too long to process, he will still misfire his passes. He will have time in the pocket and will confound the unsophisticated fans who bought into the charade.
He will be trotted out in 2020 as a make it or break it year. He will not make it. The coach who broke the drought, who endeared himself to the fans will see his rah-rah shtick has grown stale. He will be unceremoniously fired after the season. Beane will be likely to follow, and Allen’s time here will be remembered as little more than unrealized potential. This will be unfair to Allen because there never has been potential, but he will have at least set himself and his family up for life by hoodwinking a dumb owner and an arrogant general manager into believing that there was.
The drought is over, and that is a relief; New Year’s Eve was one of the greatest moments of my life as a Buffalo fan and I’ll always remember it. What management has done in the months since will rot the team from the inside and haunt the franchise for years to come. It didn’t have to be this way: they made the playoffs, they have shown signs of competence and improvement in various facets throughout the last four seasons despite all the attempts to crater. They knew their flaws and could have spent the offseason improving, fixing their problems, adjusting to their flaws with hopes to I don’t know, score a touchdown in a playoff game this time. Unfortunately Brandon Beane lacked the dexterity to deviate from the plan he had when he was hired. The inevitable result of this is inexcusable, unfathomable and ultimately will result in little more for them but further enrichment as we waste more years of our lives rooting for an endeavor that was doomed to fail and was never really about football all along.
Still put the Shout song as a must play at our wedding though. Go Bills.