Sixteen Years of Mediocrity Produce Few Football Memories
(Note: In keeping with longstanding policy, We Want Marangi does not publish the last names of Buffalo Bills fans, believing that they suffer enough regret and shame without enduring public humiliation, as well.)
Tyler is 22. He grew up somewhere between Buffalo and Rochester (WWM is also keeping his precise location undisclosed, for the reasons cited above). A three-sport athlete in high school, he’s been a Bills fan as long as he can remember.
What he can’t recall, though, is much of anything his team has done right during that span. He was an infant when Buffalo reached its fourth straight Super Bowl. He has no memory of The Music City Miracle, the Bills’ last appearance in the National Football League’s post-season, which ended with Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson catching the most infamous lateral in the game’s history and delivering it to the Buffalo end zone 75 yards away.
Since that day more than 16 years ago? To be fair, there isn’t a hell of a lot to remember.
Asked for the high point of his fandom, the game he remembers most, Tyler has to think about it. And think about it. Finally, he comes up with one.
“That time they blew out New England in the season opener,” he says. “What was that, 2008?”
His team’s recent history has been so bleak, even the relatively vivid memories are vague. The only time anything like that has happened this millenium was in 2003, when the Bills, fortified by the game-week signing of banished Patriots safety Lawyer Malloy, dismantled New England 31-0.
A great day, to be sure. Drew Bledsoe led the Bills to touchdowns on their first two drives against his old team, while Malloy helped the defense batter Tom Brady into one of the worst games of his career. The then-26-year-old completed just 14 of his 28 passes for 123 yards, while the Bills picked off four of them. with 350-pound defensive tackle Sam Adams thundered 37 yards with one of them for a touchdown that put Buffalo ahead 21-0 in the third quarter, seemingly shattering the Patriots’ hex on the Bills, then just three seasons old, in the process.
Satisfying as it may have been, though, it was only the first game of a long season. The next one went pretty well, too, as Buffalo drilled Jacksonville – then a perennial AFC contender, believe it or not – 38-14 to inspire Super Bowl talk both locally and nationally.
Highly premature Super Bowl talk, as it turned out. Bledsoe and the Bills went 3-11 from there, getting obliterated by New England in the finale by a highly appropriate score – 31-0.
That Tyler’s best memory of his team stems from an ultimately meaningless game pretty well sums up his generation’s experience with the Bills. But at least it was directly football-related.
Jackie, age 24, has to go back even further for her high point as a Bills fan, to Dec. 1, 2002, when the Bills beat the Dolphins 38-21 on their way to an 8-8 finish (which, it should be noted, is the second-best record the franchise has posted during its playoff exile).
Not because Bledsoe threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns, or because Travis Henry ran for 151 yards long before embarking on a less-successful career as a drug trafficker and deadbeat dad, or even because Buffalo won despite a career-best 227-yard rushing day by Miami’s Ricky Williams. The game is indelible for Jackie (and she’s not alone – it’s the only 21st-century contest on the list of most-memorable Bills-Dolphins game compiled by buffalobills.com) because of the steady, heavy snowfall that led it to be dubbed “The Snow Globe Game.”
“I just remember the whole crowd singing, ‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” she says.
Her friend Nevada, 23, cites a more recent Buffalo-Miami clash, the Bills’ 19-14 win on Nov. 15, 2012. Not that it had much significance for either franchise, but because it was the first Thursday night home game played at Ralph Wilson Stadium (for the record, the Bills were technically the home team against the Jets in a 2009 Thursday-nighter at Rogers Centre, but UFR refuses to officially acknowledge that the whole Toronto debacle ever occurred).
It’s a pretty stark contrast with their peers around the league. Take the combatants in last Sunday’s Super Bowl. You’re forgiven if you’ve already forgotten a game overshadowed by whatever that was at halftime and Peyton Manning’s post-game focus on his endorsements and business holdings, but the Wade Phillips’ defense won 24-10, with Manning and the Denver offense largely staying out of the way.
So the Broncos have made two Super Bowl appearances in the last three years, along with seven other playoff appearances since the Bills made it to the NFL tournament. The Panthers, who didn’t exist when Buffalo lost its fourth straight Super Bowl, have also gotten there twice during the Bills’ non-playoff skid.
None of which is nearly as galling to the local faithful as the Patriots and their dominant run -- six Super Bowl berths, four Lombardi Trophies and 12 playoff appearances in the last 14 seasons.
Buffalo fans over 30 can relate, if bitterly. They remember their team going to the Super Bowl four straight years and reaching the playoffs six times in a row, eight out of nine and 10 out of 12 from 1988-99, as well as the big regular-season wins that got them there.
If you fall in an older demographic, you might also recall Jim Kelly getting motorcaded to training camp in Fredonia. Or Joe Cribbs jumping to the USFL, then returning. Or the 1980-81 playoff teams who inspired an incredibly cheesy theme song. Or the years when O.J. Simpson was known solely as the best football player on the planet.
Those who sat in War Memorial Stadium have Jack Kemp, Cookie Gilchrist, Elbert Dubenion and the most dominant defense the American Football League ever produced, along with two league titles, to look back on with fond nostalgia.
Tyler’s generation, meanwhile, remembers weather and the calendar. And Bledsoe and J.P. Losman and C.J. Spiller. And, of course, the sprawling pre-game tailgate party that has kept the stadium in Orchard Park sold out through most of this bleak era, despite widespread harrumphing from some older scolds among the fan base.
“Any home game at the Ralph is awesome,” says 21-year-old Austin.
Even slightly older Buffalo fans have some memory of Bills games that mattered, even if they’re not the most pleasant.
Josh, now 28, was 12 years old and grounded, due to some infraction lost to the ages, and therefore forced to watch Buffalo’s Jan. 8, 2000 visit to Nashville on a 4x4-inch black-and-white television in his bedroom. When Steve Christie’s 41-yard field goal pushed the Bills ahead of the Titans with 16 seconds remaining, he made a break for it.
“I came running out of my bedroom, yelling, ‘Oh my God, they won!’ I got yelled at by my dad, ‘Get back in there – you’re going to jinx them!’ Before I could, the Music City Miracle happens. He’s blamed me for it ever since.”
Maybe a traumatic memory is better than none at all.