On Sunday, September 25, 2011, I awoke fairly early in the morning despite the fact that I probably had a hangover. I can’t say I had one for certain because the events of that fateful Sunday wiped out any memory of the preceding days. All that mattered that day was a three and a half hour time period that removed an eight- year spell of torture and brittleness casted on the Western New York area.
Being a college student, I consider arising around 9 AM on a weekend early. However, I make a point to do just that for 17 Sunday’s a year. You see, it is a football Sunday ritual for me to get my day started as early as possible because I undergo a routine of some sort. After I initially get angry at my generic iPhone tone alarm for being such a buzzkill at an inopportune time, I am able to get up far more easily than I do for school because it’s time for football!
So there I was, up and ready to take on week three of the NFL. I tuned my radio to 96.9 for the local Bills roundtable pre-game show. It was the same start to my day as the previous Chiefs and Raiders games, but this time around it felt different. There was something extra special in the air that I did not feel the two previous weeks, let alone the eight previous years. I could taste extraordinary in that third day of autumn’s air that was hovering around 70 degrees. The Buffalo Bills were going to beat the New England Patriots for the first time in 15 tries I thought to myself. It is rarely 70 at the end of September in Buffalo and the Bills rarely beat the Patriots. It was a match even eHarmony couldn’t touch.
A glass of orange juice and a mug full of coffee, along with my breakfast food then sat in front of me as I continued to listen to 97 Rock. After breakfast, on comes ESPN NFL Countdown so I can get my dose of Chris Berman and Tom Jackson, as well as the always rousing segment of, “STOP IT!” which is “da coach” Mike Ditka ranting and raving about the past weeks gaffes in football.
As I watched Countdown, I noticed the Bills were getting much more mention than they have gotten the past five years combined on ESPN because the square dance between the two undefeated AFC East rivals was the marquee matchup of the week. It was a measuring stick game for Buffalo to see if their 2-0 record was legitimate or not.
As that discussion and debate was going on, my father had a brilliant idea for the game. He wanted to run a cable wire to the outside patio, and connect it to a television. I was willing to put a halt to my pre-game viewing to help set up this interesting setting for a possible momentous game. I was used to watching football on my big-screen with the surround sound blasting — which is great for NFL games because you can clearly hear the ruthless trash talk among the players — but was willing to forfeit that for a week to take advantage of the great weather because in a week or two, I would have no choice but to watch the game inside.
The wires and cable ran outside with no problem and CBS showed up beautifully even though the TV we used must have been made before I was born in 1991, or soon after. I went back inside and watched the CBS pre-game show briefly before the games just to hear Shannon Sharpe say, “The Buffalo Bills” in that atypical voice of his. While doing this, I also sifted through my fantasy lineups one last time to ensure a few more losses to another tumultuous fantasy year. And for the record, the Fox pre-game is a no-no for my routine — I maybe watched it a combined 30 minutes all last year.
Game time. I started watching the game with my family inside, as we were cooking and eating some good food — as you always should watching football in Buffalo. To say the game started out bad would be an understatement. Brady was near perfect, Fitz threw a first-series pick en route to the offense generating near nothing the next few series’ and New England was up 21-0 mid-way through the second quarter.
Even after going down 21-0, I felt the Bills could get back into it. After all, they were down 21-3 at half the previous week against Oakland and ended up winning. The comeback started with a short touchdown pass from Fitz to Stevie. The ensuing Patriots possession swung the game. Brady was methodical, like he had been all half, in marching the Pats down the field in the final two minutes, and had his team in position to tack on to the lead right before halftime. The pivotal play of the game then happened when Brady threw a first down interception from the Bills’ 13 that deflected off Danny Woodhead’s left hand and right into the lap of Bryan Scott. The Bills then drove and added a field goal as the second quarter expired and I didn’t feel so crazy about thinking the Bills still had a chance.
It was finally time to kick it on the patio and enjoy the ambiance of being outside on such a gorgeous day, even though there was a slight glare on the screen. I joined my dad who was already out there and we were giddy about the prospects of us finally ending the streak. Right before the third quarter started I decided I had had enough of Marv Albert, who should stick to announcing basketball. Luckily, there was little delay between the TV and radio, so John Murphy and Mark Kelso were the voices in our heads the rest of the day.
We soon got over the slight glare because that was how football should be watched. We were on the patio, soaking in the sunshine and pigskin. New England started shredding the defense again on the initial drive of the second half. Leodis McKelvin, as if to redeem him of that damn fumble that would have ended the streak in 2009, put a stop to that when he picked off a Brady pass to help set up a Bills touchdown to bring them within four. After tha,t my mom came out to join, and decided it was time for beers. She brought some out and offered me one, but unfortunately I elected against it because I had to work at four — I ended up strolling into work at 4:45, about 15 minutes after the game ended. Vastly jealous, I briefly considered calling into work “fake-sick”, something I have not done in my life. But, I sucked it up and continued watching sober.
The next two hours were pure ecstasy. My mom drank her beer and because of her rather lack of interest in watching football — she only cares about the outcome — started her approximate 25-minute walk to the local Wilson Farms. It was just me and pops again, hanging on tight while riding the emotional roller-coaster that was just beginning.
That roller-coaster seemed ready to fall off the tracks when the Pats were threatening near the red zone again to go ahead by two touchdowns. George Wilson had other plans, making a great play to intercept a Brady pass near the goal line. A loud cheer ensued, and it wasn’t coming from the radio. It wasn’t only my dad and I hollering, either. We could hear the neighborhood roaring from the insides of their houses after that pick. It made the hairs on my body stand up. Here I was bonding with my father over football, and it seemed we were also watching with our neighbors. It was from that point that I finally think fans believed the Bills could actually pull it off.
The cheering from nearby houses continued when Fred Jackson raised the green flag with a short TD run to tie the game. The tie didn’t last long. One play to be exact. Drayton Florence made the signature play of the team’s season when he picked off a deflected pass and ran it back to give the Bills their first lead of the game on the ensuing play. I can still hear Murph absolutely losing it during and after that play.
At this point, there were no more cheers from my house and the surrounding houses. Those cheers became exorbitant roars. Also around this time, my mom returned from her trip to the store, and said, “Are we winning? I could hear people in every house screaming and cheering on my way home from the store.” That’s funny, mom, because we are winning, and we too heard those same people roaring, despite being a half mile away.
The whole fourth quarter I was a wreck. The flamboyant noise around the neighborhood died down for a while because I assume, they too, were nervous. And for the first time all day, I heard groans when Wes Welker caught the game-tying touchdown.
The jovial shouting returned, though, when it looked as if Freddy scored with just under two minutes left. Even Kelso became carelessly unprofessional as the color guy because he was so jubilant. During Jackson’s catch and run, he cut over Murph commenting, “Touchdown. Touchdown. No way their catching him. Touchdown.” During this time Murph was trying to do the play-by-play, but it was tough to make out what he was saying over Gazoo. And for the record, I think Mark Kelso is great. Okay, you are too, Murph.
It was weird immediately after the Freddy touchdown, though, as I was excited he had scored, but at the same time worried because Brady had far too much time to come back. I turned to my dad and said, “The only hope of winning this game in regulation is if he ended up being short of the end zone.” Thankfully, it turned out Jackson was ruled inches short, much to Belichick’s dismay. Now the Bills were able to run the clock down to attempt the game-winning field goal as time expired, thanks to the great Bill Belichick forgetting the rules. He threw the challenge flag out with less than two minutes left thinking Jackson indeed did score, an infraction that cost his team a much-needed timeout. All the Bills had to do was take a couple of knees to set up a short field goal attempt, but what a journey those kneel-downs were.
Watching a quarterback kneel down should not be a worrying task for a fan, but man was I sweating through them. Being a Bills fan, you grow accustomed to losing in any way possible. Wide Right, Music City Miracle, Chad Morton returning an opening kickoff in overtime for the win, Ernest Wilford getting his pinky toes in the end zone to win it for the Jags, “Just give it to them”, losing to the Pittsburgh JV, Stevie’s drop against Pitt, McKelvin’s fumble, Nick Folk’s 106 yard field goal, the ’07 opened against Denver, and on and on and on, blah, blah, blah. Fitz just had to fumble a snap circa Philip Rivers, right? And the Patriots, as heated as their coach was because they were on the cusp of losing to the BILLS!???!, tried everything to steal Lindell’s shot at winning it. At one point it looked like Fitz fumbled before he kneeled, and my heart just sank. It turned out it was just some defensive linemen swatting at the ball after Fitz had already taken a knee. Classy as always, New England.
Okay, they made it to the three second mark still in possession of the football. I could hardly watch, and could hear a pin drop in the middle of the road because of how deathly silent my neighborhood was at that point. Every person in the area was holding their breath. If I was on the verge of a heart attack during week 3, how am I ever going to handle a playoff game? Even worse (or better, I suppose) a Super Bowl if that time comes.
As Lindell jogged onto the field to kick the 28-yard field goal, I still had bad thoughts in my mind. They survived two kneel-downs, now they had to just execute a routine kick. Would it be on line until a hawk swoops by and knocks the ball out of mid-air? Would Garrison Sanborn snap the ball 20 feet over Moorman’s head? Would Vince Wil……..GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!
In the middle of my debauched thoughts the kick went in.
I jumped up, gave a few fist pumps “The Situation” would be envious of, exchanged plenty of high fives with my parents, and took in the pleasing chorus of roars echoing like thunder through the autumn air. I may, or may not have directed those cheers like I was Peyton Manning directing the University of Tennessee fight song. It was incredible. I realized I cared more that the Bills had lost 15 straight to such a vilified team, than them missing the playoffs 12 straight years. I’ll watch a 4-11 Bills team with similar interest to a 9-6 team (whatever that is). I just couldn’t handle losing to the team I loathe most. The “streak” was a microcosm of the last 12 futile years of Bills football, and to end the playoff drought, whenever it comes, they undoubtedly had to first end this slightly less-intense drought. Every real fan will remember where they were during that game.
After the game, I took a hard jog into work, unable to walk because of all the adrenaline that was built up the last three plus hours. When I got to work, I picked out my fellow co-worker, who is a die-hard fan like me, and we high-fived while exchanging smirks. For the first time I learned we both had telepathy, because without saying words, we knew there was a mutual thought of, “We did it. We finally beat those fuckers.” And yes, I refer to my sports teams as “we”. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?
Thinking back on that day, it was picture-esque. I shared a bonding experience with my father that will never be duplicated. That day is stored in a safe part of my brain that Alzheimer’s can’t even reach. And the game resembled that day’s weather to a tee — beautiful. I knew extraordinary had a chance of happening from the time my dad decided to do something different for the viewing of this game. The superstitious side of me thought a different game experience might lead to a different outcome.
While writing this, I concluded that I still have not come down from the peak of that emotional roller-coaster. Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers once wrote, “Psychic spies from China try to steal your mind’s elation.” On that Autumn Sunday, there were no psychic spies, just the Bills, and they didn’t just try to elate my mind — they did.