2018 – Out with the old and in with the new. Nowhere is this sentiment more fitting than with the Buffalo Bills. After 17 years the drought is over and the Bills are going back to the playoffs, something virtually nobody expected at the start of the season.
I’ve thought long and hard about what to say about this major milestone in team history. Truth is, I’m not quite sure what to say. I have almost no experience writing articles about the playoffs and quite frankly, I’m still kind of stunned by Sunday’s events.
It seems like I’ve been writing a weekly column for Bills Daily forever, but I can’t even remember writing about the Bills when they were a playoff team. In 1999 Bills Daily had been born and the Bills made the playoffs, but the archive of my articles doesn’t go back that far. (Webmaster note: Tony started writing articles in the 2003 season.) Nonetheless, I recall Saturday January 8, 2000 vividly – the day of the infamous Homerun Throwback game. Watching with the Bills Backers of Boston at The Harp, Steve Christie kicked a game winning 41 yard field goal with seconds to spare only to see a complete special teams breakdown that resulted in Tennessee winning on a kickoff return marked by an illegal forward pass. A bar full of strangers hugging strangers quickly turned into a nightmare as grown men and women spilled out onto the streets crying as if they had just witnessed the unexpected death of a loved one – it was a truly terrible sight.
A seemingly never ending cycle futile rebuilds followed for the next 17 years. The Bills never got any better than middle of the road. They went on some runs and built up some excitement, only to tease the faithful. There were some great victories along the way as well as every sort of painful loss you could possibly suffer. Front office changes and high draft picks brought promises of brighter days that never came. The Bills became the poster children for elusive success and always coming up short. Sadly this period coincided with the rise of Tom Brady and the Patriots and my move to the Boston area – to say these past 17 years have been painful would be a tremendous understatement.
The Bills became such a hard luck team that fans invariably know what it means if you describe something as “Billsy” – a sort of addendum to Murphy’s Law that says not only will something go wrong if it can go wrong, but that it would only happen to you.
I’m often accused of being too negative when it comes to the Bills. Almost weekly someone questions my fandom, saying I can’t be a Bills fan if I criticize the team that much. Personally, after 17 years and all the terrible things that have befallen the Bills, I’m not sure how so many fans have remained optimistic.
Given the 17 years of futile, Billsy ways, I really expected Sunday to be the end of the Bills season. I felt the Bills would likely win (they are a much better team than Miami and had something to play for), but getting the help they needed from others would be a longshot. Having Tennessee and the Chargers both lose didn’t seem likely, nor did a Bengals win in Baltimore over the Ravens look good. It looked as if the Bills were being setup for the most Billsy ending to a season since they lost to Pittsburgh’s backups in the final game of the 2004 season – get as close to the playoffs without actually getting to the postseason while also getting the worst draft pick possible. Honestly, just missing the playoffs would have been the perfect fail between ending the drought and tanking and rebuilding – I’m pretty stunned it didn’t play out that way.
When the Bills ran off the field and into the locker room after finishing the season at 9-7 I immediately flipped over to the Bengals-Ravens game and things did not look good. The Bengals had been up by two touchdowns, but late in the game it was all Ravens in front of their home crowd fans. Andy Dalton was running for his life on many plays and was often inaccurate. Down to 4th and 12 there was one final chance – by some sort of bizzaro twist of fate not only did Cincinnati make the first down, but they actually took the ball in for a 49 yard score! I would have done anything to have been in the Bills locker room – I did manage to see if and it looked fantastic – a whole group happily exploding into pure joy.
Football fans are superstitious and while I don’t have any hard and fast game day rituals, I did want to try to do my part to influence the football gods on Sunday. Walking through the grocery store I identified a product that I hadn’t really enjoyed since the Bills were the AFC standard bearers – RC cola. While these weren’t the tall glass bottles I used to have at home, I bought a 2 liter bottle to drink during the game. Not only did I enjoy a soft drink I haven’t had in years, but I’m happy to take credit for the amazing outcome this weekend – you’re welcome!
I’m trying hard to just soak in Sunday’s events and just enjoy this thing they call the wild card spot. For the first time in 17 years I’ll be watching the Bills play a game without any fantasy football implications (I expanded beyond the Bills with fantasy football years ago so my football happiness wasn’t solely tied to the Bills). Times have changed - instead of celebrating with a few hundred fellow fans in a bar I rejoiced in front of my family in my living room – a family I didn’t even have the last time the Bills went to the playoffs (that’s right my kids have never known a world where the Bills have been a playoff team). I must admit – it wasn’t quite as fun not being amongst throngs of fellow Bills fans.
I’m trying to drink in what the end of the drought means to the Bills and their fans. We no longer hold the dubious record of the professional sports teams with the longest playoff drought. We finally assembled a front office team and coaching staff that really seems to have found some good talent and setup the organization to build through the draft (and also make some free agent acquisitions) – a bright future ahead.
I feel as if I should have more to say after Sunday’s events, but if you’re a Bills fan this sort of excitement blockage may be relatable to you. For now I just have to digest that the Bills are no longer record-setting playoff missing organization that they used to be. There are plenty of teams worse than Buffalo, and while the Bills may not be Super Bowl contenders, they at least have a shot. The Bills can win in Jacksonville and advance – it won’t be easy but I wouldn’t count them out, even a touchdown underdog at the opening line.
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