Saturday, December 17, 2016

Buffalo Blues: TWTW's Browns vs. Bills Preview

Danville, Kentucky -- On the eastern shores of Lake Erie, north of Pittsburgh and west of The City That Never Sleeps, lies a fateful city that never gives up. Buffalo, New York, tidily snugged into the state's westernmost corner, didn't give up in 1813 when the treacherous British army pillaged and razed the city in what came to be known as the Battle of Black Rock. As part of their larger campaign against the young American republic during the War of 1812, the British cruelly plundered and dispossessed the good people of Buffalo. But Buffalo didn't back down. Those Erie-dwellers, living in the shadow of the majestic Niagara Falls, picked up the pieces and rebuilt their city, transforming it into a shining center of commerce and trade in 19th century America.

Did the people of Buffalo sit around and feel sorry for themselves when President William McKinley was murdered in their city in 1901?

No: they put their heads down, got back to work, and rallied behind a great leader and huntsman, Teddy Roosevelt. Buffalo did all this and more. They became a center of manufacturing in the 20th century prior to the great de-industrialization of NAFTA. They gave our nation the Buffalo Wing, the single greatest culinary creation in the history of human civilization.

They also gave us the Buffalo Bills of 1990-1993, the runners-up in Super Bowls XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII. Wow, I hope I never have to use that many roman numerals again, unless I'm talking about Star Wars. You have to be pretty, pretty good to appear in four straight Super Bowls. And indeed, the Bills beat legends like John Elway, Dan Marino and Joe Montana en route to their Super Bowl appearances. You can't fake that. Yet to many Americans, the Bills are all but forgotten or a laughing stock. That's an insult to this storied franchise and its loyal fans.

Folks, I'm a Danville man not a Buffalo man, but I remember where I was during Buffalo's Silver Era of football. It was January of 1991, just a few months shy of 90 years since McKinley's grisly demise. Earlier that winter I decided to make a pilgrimage to the Allegheny mountains of Pennsylvania, taking only my truck and my trusty basset hound, Barry Goldwater. I hoped to discover the natural beauty of this region and hopefully discover some things about myself as well, as I was still reeling from an acrimonious divorce a few months prior.

the Allegheny Mountains, folks.
Barry and I ended up making our pilgrimage something of a semi-permanent relocation. I got a job plowing snow in nearby Olean, New York, a sleepy town some 74 miles from Buffalo.

I fell in love with the sights and scenery of the Allegheny region, and of course, the buffalo wings. Plowing snow was rewarding work. Sitting atop a plow gave me a feeling of might and omnipotence. Behind the wheel of a snow plow, I could feel power flowing through my fingertips as I effortlessly cleared the streets of white, fluffy tufts of sparkling white snow and occasionally knocked over a garbage can or two for fun. The best thing about being a snow-plower in Olean was that there was never a shortage of work in America's snowiest city south of Anchorage.

I used my salary to rent a cozy apartment on the floor above a bustling pub. I remember Super Bowl XXV like it was yesterday. I had just come back from an emergency plow session. I went downstairs to the pub to watch the game; it was dimly lit and there was an frigid breeze coming in from the pub's front door as folks walked in and out. I took off my coat, scarf, and gloves which were damp from the snow. I sat down at my usual spot in the pub next to an old trucker and ordered some beer and wings. The atmosphere was tense but excited. Many lifelong Bills fans from the great city of Olean were in the bar, giddy with anticipation for what could be Buffalo's first championship. If I close my eyes, I can still remember the feel of the warm, saucy wings in my numb, frost-bitten fingers.

The Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants played a tightly-contested game. With seconds remaining and the Bills trailing by a single point, the pub went silent. As Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood lined up to attempt a 47-yard field goal, Buffalo seemed poised for its biggest victory since the construction of the Erie Canal. But Norwood missed. Wide right. The ball was blasted as though struck by Thor's Hammer, but sailed far right before bouncing harmlessly in the end zone. I'll never forget the look I saw in the eyes of those hard-working men from Olean: it was a cold, dead look, the type you might see from an old, blind dog. As a Bengals fan I'll never understand their suffering.

Three more Super Bowl appearances and three more Super Bowl losses later, the city of Buffalo never got the championship it deserved. The 1990-1993 Bills had no shortage of heroes: the resilient Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, their excellent punter Rick "Bootin'" Tuten, and Don Beebe, the man who taught an entire generation of children about the virtues of never giving up. But at the end of the day they fell short of the ultimate prize and were denied the catharsis that accompanies a Super Bowl ring. The days of glory from 1990-1993 eventually became the days of irrelevance during the Doug Flutie era.

This past summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally brought a championship to the folks on the burning river. That leaves Buffalo, home of the championship-less Bills and Sabres, as the saddest sports town around.

This Sunday, the sad sports city of yesterday will face the sad sports city of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I'm referring to the match-up between the 0-13 Browns and the 6-7 Bills. Some folks might get excited about the Patriots and Broncos game this Sunday, but I consider Cleveland vs. Buffalo the match-up of the week. Why? Allow me to explain.

Cleveland is fighting to avoid a miserable 0-16 season, the Bills are fighting for a slim chance at a playoff spot and dignity. With a losing record and coach Rex Ryan's future in Buffalo looking uncertain, the Bills are wounded and vulnerable. The liberal Washington Post has speculated that this game might be Cleveland's best shot at avoiding infamy. Folks, I hope the Bills do the right thing and keep Rex Ryan. A man brave enough to speak out in favor of our president-elect Donald Trump is hard to come by. The Bills need bravery on the sideline. They need Rex. Rex and Donald Trump embody the gritty lunch-pail mentality of Buffalo. Under Rex's leadership Buffalo will be made great again, I know it.

Although this would appear to be a meaningless game, a lot is on the line. The Bills' faint playoff hopes are on the line. Rex Ryan's job is on the line. Cleveland's potential 0-16 season is on the line. On top of that, this game will feature two very exciting young wide receivers: Terrelle Pryor and Sammy Watkins. That's worth the price of admission for me. By the way, the price of admission is dirt cheap. Apparently demand for the tickets is so low that you can get them for $20. $20 is nothing. I spend like $40 each time I go to Buffalo Wild Wings. If you're in the area, get to this game folks.

I wish I had the strength and toughness of the sturdy folk from Western New York. I eventually left my apartment in Olean and went back to Danville. I couldn't take the year-round bone-chilling winter. I still miss the chicken wings I used to get in the Buffalo area. Buffalo wings crafted by the Buffalonians themselves are simply unmatched in quality, though if I'm drunk I might tell you that the offerings of Buffalo Wild Wings and Chilis come close. Some men are born to persist and withstand every obstacle laid in their path, like Jim Kelly. It pains me to admit I am not one of those men.

In the past couple of years we've seen championship droughts in Kansas City, Cleveland, and Chicago come to an end. This should give hope to my friends in Olean, the Allegheny region, and the good people of Buffalo. Certain laws of nature that we take to be immutable and true -- the Cubs are cursed, Cleveland are losers -- can be undone overnight. Buffalo sees snow 9 months a year, but heck, if this crackpot "man-made climate change" theory that Leonardo DeCaprio keeps peddling is true, we could see a snow-less winter in Buffalo some day soon. Anything can happen in this great country, folks. Keep the faith, Buffalo fans. Your day will come.