Mark Miller, Bills enthusiast.
It’s frustrating to have stereotypes applied to a group that you’re a part of, isn’t it?
These blanket classifications, in their nature, very seldom hold positive connotations. What’s worse than the feeling that someone is wrongfully slinging generalizations at you and those like you? When the things said are validated, becoming more sad truth than satire, now that’s painful.
Fans who follow and journalists who cover Buffalo sports teams have been seen by anyone who knows the least bit about either as eccentrics for some time now. The conception is that they’re masters of overreaction who have two modes – severely blind optimism and damning sky-is-falling negativity.
Here comes the sad part – this calendar year, we’ve solidified our position as those people.
In the early months of the offseason, 2011 was still fresh on our collective mind. The Buffalo Bills fired out of the gates while striding to a very respectable 5-2 record before crashing and burning, going 1-8 after October. As you can expect any fanbase to do, this one responded in a negative fashion, wondering if either quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick or head coach Chan Gailey were the right men for their jobs. Wondering why we believed the hype – wondering whether our dedication was worth the heartache for more of the same.
At least nobody lost their mind about thi…oh, wait.
Spring sprung, and with it came big Bills news. Buffalo named coaching guru Dave Wannstedt the new defensive coordinator and inked top free agent Mario Williams to the largest contract for a defender in league history. They followed that up shortly after with the acquisition of another top rated pass rusher in Mark Anderson and a highly praised draft class, headlined by former South Carolina cover man Stephon Gilmore and Georgia pass blocker Cordy Glenn in the first two rounds. In a very short span, the mood turned and excitement filled the air again. ‘Excitement’ is, unfortunately, a massive understatement. Around that same time, the league schedule for the 2012 season was released and everyone chose to ignore the whole ‘any given Sunday’ mantra, looking at last year’s standings and proclaiming that the Bills had one of the softest schedules in the NFL. The seemingly easy slate of games paired with the few months of changes pushed a large portion of onlookers near and far to predict playoffs for this team – some even more.
This is where that blind optimism and zeal comes in to play. Folks spent a good portion of the spring and summer predicting incredible things for the Bills’ 2012 season – so much so that national media started to give them attention. That’s where it started to get worrisome for some of us that recognized this for what it was, for those of us who’ve seen this before. The hype machine was well oiled and speeding out of control, and many Bills faithful followed suit. Sure we were excited, maybe a little more hopeful than we had any right to be, but once the Schefters, Kings, Bermans, LaCanforas, and Cowherds of the world began shouting ‘playoffs!’ about this 2012 team this town was sent over the edge.
I’ve never heard, personally, so much definitive confidence and thoughts of absurd absoluteness from fans of this team. Walking through the crowds on a sweltering July day of training camp at St. John Fisher, you would have thought we’d already seen the ending of this story – and it was shrouded in confetti and championship trophies. Really, that was kind of the feeling there. The masses came out to watch these guys practice as usual and through the conversations I’d overheard in my time there, one could surmise that the season was a formality. As far as that crowd was concerned, we had the best defensive line in the league which would make our mediocre linebacking corps and weak secondary just as good. While the worry for Fitzpatrick was wisely still lingering, there was also a confidence in him due to the arrival of his new position coach in David Lee. Fans made it clear, and the media backed them up, the Bills were going to be a force to reckon with in the upcoming season.
Then the preseason rolled around and things went south. The region was split after one game – there was one side shouting “it’s only preseason!” and the other mumbling back “they suck now, they’ll suck later.” Again, no middle ground with this crew.
The two bickering halves merged again in time for the start of the regular season, heading down to Jersey for a matchup with the division rival Jets. Worries and fears vanished and everything was all hunky-dory again… until the game was played, at least. Rex Ryan and his truly not as good as they looked Jets made the Bills look silly, outscoring them 48-28. Mario Williams went without a sack – nevermind that everyone else who played that day did as well – prompting WGR, ESPN, Twitter, and seemingly every other outlet poured it on, decreeing that he was a waste of money and a useless addition. Fitzpatrick was roasted, Gailey was ridiculed, and the wind left the sails once again.
Fast forward two more weeks – the Bills have beaten the Chiefs and Browns handily, as they should – and through a strange turn of events actually hold a lead in the AFC East with the Patriots coming to town at 1-2. New England lost here last season for the first time since Christ wore diapers, so when you mixed that with the ridiculous high that came from beating two somehow-worse-than-us teams, the stadium was absolutely electric. Buffalo kept that charge going, kicking around the Pats for a while en route to going up 21-7 early in the third. Every offensive snap drew cheers; every defensive stand had the ground shaking. A few minutes later, Tom Brady did his best Tom Brady and tied the game up before mouthing off to the hometown team, showing his anger. Shortly after that, New England pulled ahead and Ralph Wilson Stadium went from loud and full of excitement to dreary and saddened by the appearance of 73,000 Johnny Rainclouds. By the end of the third quarter, the stadium was emptying out and as the fourth wound down there were just as many New England supporters left in the stands as there were Bills fans.
It’s no surprise that after the embarrassing 52-28 rout, the walk to the car was filled with verbal altercations, physical encounters, and dejected faces. Bills fans were running their mouths in search of absolutely any reason to feel proud, and it was incredibly sad. Predictably by this point, post-game radio was filled with backlash against everything and everyone and bloggers were salivating at the chance to pound away at their keyboards in response to that hellacious showing.
You know who you are.
As it goes, this past week has been hell. Not a positive word has been spoken in days about this franchise, some suggesting it would be best for them to just go away – pack up and save us the despair. It won’t get much better for this next week as we travel out west to face the NFC powerhouse San Francisco 49ers. Buffalo should get rolled and they should get beat up, but their fans shouldn’t lose hope. Gailey has opted to keep his team out West in anticipation of their next game with the red-hot Arizona Cardinals, who were bound to slip up at some point (which they did Thursday night in St. Louis), and that extra rest should help them. They come back home the following week to play the a shaky Titans team and just like that they could have a winning record once again on their way into the bye week. If that’s the case, though, we need to not continue this damaging up-and-down trend and fall head over heels another time.
Another common Buffalo sports stereotype is that we are forever being crushed by our teams. Just looking at these trends, though, can you honestly say that it’s the teams that cause this? We do it to ourselves – clinging to the least bit of success, building up towering hopes and expectations, and taking it in an unhealthily personal manner when they can’t reach that lofty bar you’ve set for them in your mind. Don’t put it on the team. Sure, they’ve been anything but quality for the majority of our lifetimes, but it’s not these guys that make you go to extremes. I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it seems to happen so much more here than it does with other cities.
It’s one thing to cheer, one thing to care. It’s something totally different to take it to this level, to damage ourselves emotionally and internally and then turn it around to blame an organization that doesn’t do anything to warrant it. We’ve got a long season left before us. It’ll be a few months of ups and downs, of hard times and good. Don’t feed the stereotype, find a middle ground. Not everything needs to be all the way to the left or, in Buffalo’s case, wide right.