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My How the Buffalo Sports Tables Have Turned!
At some point every year for the past ten years (and counting!), the Bills have lost a game that seems to represent the narrative finish of the season in a particularly stomach punching fashion. Be it a loss to backup yinzers for a playoff spot, an embarrassing blowout at the hands of the hoodie, or a dropped TD by our best WR, there comes a time when the collective Bills fans’ conscience unifies to declare the Bills season dead. Though there is some callousness built up after years of experiencing this ritual, it still burns, and is still the annual rock bottom of being a Bills Backer. Life as a sports fan couldn’t be worse.
Or so you thought. In a fugue, you logon to Facebook (or MySpace, or AIM, as the case/technological era may be) because you sure don’t want to read any NFL recaps or projections about a playoff tournament the Bills won’t be participating in; only to have the sodium poured in the gash via this common refrain: Go Sabres.
I’m sorry, what was that? Go Sabres?
At the absolute worst point of the year to be a Bills fan, the point where suspicion that Buffalo will once again have to spend a minimum of 365 days before any chance of redemption becomes material. The point where it becomes apparent that you, after spending the entire off-season assuring your friends and family that Buffalo had been ‘quietly building a contender, Dareus is a beast, Merriman’s healthy and trust me because I know way more about the team than you do,’ you now look like a moron, and Chris Bulldog Parker, of all people, has been vindicated. The entire cycle begins again, and just when things couldn’t be worse, some a-hole on the ol’ news feed thinks he’s a comedian by trivializing the moment via excitement surrounding the possibility of a Jochen Hecht assist in tomorrow’s contest against Nashville. First off, Carlos Mencia thinks that’s a stale blast, but beyond that, it reflects a complete ignorance of scale and timing. It’d be like if you couldn’t get a table at Duff’s, and in an attempt to solace you, your friend chirped, “Applebees is still open!”
However grating these comments may be, they do reveal an interesting dynamic at play regarding the expectations of the average Buffalo sports fan about his/her teams. Many prefer the Bills to the Sabres, or vice versa, but the common theme is ardent support for both organizations, at least on the playing field. Despite this fact, the way they root for both teams seems to have a very different feel. By virtue of the consistency of mediocrity, most people don’t really feel a level of shock when the Bills annual comeuppance arrives. On the ice, however, taste of recent President’s cups still linger and combine with the fact that random goalies can get hot and deliver average teams a Stanley Cup to make for what seems like higher hopes. Add in a new populist owner who seemed to be willing to pay whatever it cost to compete for a title, and the cries of ‘Go Sabres’ were heard during Bills games earlier than usual this season.
But ask any Washington Redskins fan how fast overpaying multiple free agents will get you to photo ops with Barry O. Instead, the Sabres’ plan of taking an average/decent team to the Finals by adding a bunch of average players to an average team has not only failed to progress the team, but in fact knocked them down a few rungs to the point where there is talk of trading the organizations best young prospect. While it’s somewhat surprising that the team is playing as bad is it is, the most striking aspect of the hockey doldrums is how familiar this should all feel to those accustomed to Buffalo Bills fanhood. The Sabres may have a couple spots for some hope, but right now, most can’t see a clear path to serious title contention.
That in and of itself is odd enough. But where the situation gets really ironic is the fact there now seems to be more optimism surrounding the Bills’ immediate future than the Sabres. Now. I realize the wheels just came off the wagon in a pretty explosive fashion last season (when that people jump on and start demanding the wagon ‘circle’, accidents tend to happen). And the Bills aren’t going to be predicted to finish top 10 in the NFL next year like the Sabres were in the NHL. But there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be optimistic. Buddy Nix will be in the third year of his rebuild, which, valid or not, has always been the year he’s had his sights set on as our time to start playing consistently competitive football. Our team played excellent last season before suffering more devastating injuries than any other team in the league. We now have a defensive coordinator who knows what he’s doing (ahem, not playing a 310 pound tackle at OLB).
So this leaves the Buffalo sports fan in a weird place where his two favorite sports teams have switched roles. What can he say?