Wings and a prayer


Life Happens - Jeff Gates



Apocalypse, wow!

Buffalo is known for two things — amazing chicken wings and underachieving (if not inept) sports teams.

As an avid Buffalo Bills supporter, I have taken many hits to the gut of my fandom.

The ‘wide right’ kick by Scott Norwood at the end of the Whitney-Houston-God-Bless-the-USA Super Bowl against the New York Giants began the series of unfortunate events that led the Bills to drop four consecutive cracks at capturing the world title.

Through my five decades as a non-wavering Bills fan, I have endured (with throngs of others) countless letdowns and strange circumstances. Sure, they won ‘championships’ in my lifetime as they earned two straight America Football League (AFL) trophies in my first two years of existence, but I don’t have much recollection of those.

Growing up in Western New York, my dad and I would venture on an annual basis to a Bills game at their stadium in Orchard Park. He belonged to a group in a sports restaurant/bar that sponsored one bus a year from Rochester on game day.

We would bundle up, load up, and go to see my favorite football player — OJ Simpson. Not only would Buffalo lose pretty much every time we visited the blustery confines of Rich Stadium, but my hero (still the most fluid runner I’ve ever watched) would eventually have one of the most publicized falls from grace ever recorded.

In college in Buffalo in the mid-1980s, things weren’t much better. Sure we had those household names (sarcasm ahead) like Fred Smerlas, Joe Cribbs and Eugene Marve, but my last two years of college they finished 2-14. Despite the horrendous record, Buffalo fans would weekly endure the elements to support their team.

It had been widely publicized that the Bills owned the longest post-season drought of any team in the four major sports. To add insult to injury, the lasting memory of their most recent playoff game is the Music City Miracle (aka the referees don’t know a forward lateral when they see one) in January 2000 when they lost to the Tennessee Titans in a game that was doomed from the start when they failed to start Doug Flutie at quarterback.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. The Bills had just defeated Miami to keep their slim playoff chances alive. All they needed was to count on Cincinnati to defeat the Ravens in Baltimore. One thing most Bengals fans will tell you is that unreliability may be their squad’s biggest character trait.

After Cincinnati squandered a two touchdown lead, and even allowed the Ravens to go ahead to take their step toward the playoffs, it appeared to be yet another season of what-could-have-been for my Buffalo gridironers, this time, thanks to the Bengals.

But, in what would prove to be a forgettable weekend for the Harbaugh brothers, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton connected on a touchdown with Tyler Boyd on a fourth-and-forever with less than a minute remaining.

As my young son Reid tried to get me to crack a smile and look forward to the playoffs (he has no idea the anguish — he’s a Steelers fan), I could not do it. Having flashbacks to the Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson Tennessee travesty a generation ago, I refused to celebrate until the final seconds clicked off the clock.

I’m proud to say, I have never denied my Buffalo fanship. Regardless how dismal and disappointing they have been — they are my team.

I have found myself reveling in this more than I expected. I’m usually not a just-happy-to-be-there guy, but that has changed. The playoff shutout is over, and the team — my team — is actually being talked about in a positive light on NFL Network.

Now, that is likely to end come Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville, but until then I will wear my Bills gear, donate to the Andy Dalton Foundation (raising more to a quarter of a million dollars thanks largely to Buffalo fans since last Sunday), hope a witch doctor comes and heals LeSean McCoy’s ankle, and probably eat a few chicken wings.

So, don’t crumble to the pressure of others if your favorite teams are no good.

It feels so much better if you have stuck with them all the way from the basement to the pinnacle.

Right Cubs, Saints, Astros, Cavs and Red Sox fans?

So stay strong Cleveland Browns fans. Your day will come to celebrate a unique team accomplishment.

Ooops. I forgot about the anti-perfection parade.

Enjoy.

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Life Happens

Jeff Gates

Jeff Gates has been a freelance writer for The Madison Press since 1996. Future column suggestions and/or comments? Contact: lifehappenscolumn@gmail.com.

Jeff Gates has been a freelance writer for The Madison Press since 1996. Future column suggestions and/or comments? Contact: lifehappenscolumn@gmail.com.