In Buffalo, where the individual and communal sense of well-being is at least partially informed by the status of its sports teams, we have hit a new low.
In the past week, three things have become obvious.
First, the Bills may be more likely to leave, sooner rather than later than we feared. According to The Buffalo News, the delay in getting the stadium lease renewed is not in the state’s reticence to discuss funding the bulk of the cost of renovations, it is the reticence of the Bills to commit to the kind of long-term lock-in that the state expects from the team before committing the funds.
The article went on to say that the 200 million number, bandied about as the approximate cost of bringing the stadium up to minimum NFL standards will only keep the stadium functional at that level for five to ten years at most. So basically, the team is asking the county to spend ten times the original cost of building the stadium for a five to ten year run, after which a brand new stadium is all that could keep the Bills in town.
As anxious as most Bills fans are about the future of the team here, this was not what we needed to hear.
Second, though we still have the Bills for the moment, there is no comfort. The way the Bills have played in three of their five games this season, there is a part of every fan that thinks it might just be better to let them go. Their second consecutive record-breaking debacle yesterday confirms this team is not just inconsistent, they're horrible.
This season may be the most discouraging season for Bills fans in the history of the franchise. The Bills have suffered extreme humiliation, despite having what many thought would be one of the league’s better defenses, despite paying $100 million for the “best pass rusher available,” despite other upgrades on the offseason, despite a whole new attitude in the front office toward signing free agents— the team is worse than ever. How can this be?
Until now, there was always something to hang our hope on. The Bills had been down many times before and came back to contender status. After a lost decade, we finally had a “football man,” Buddy Nix, as general manager, and Buddy’s draft picks were beginning to show some promise. Even the Spiller choice, which most of us doubted, was proving to be a smart move after all. But then, the bottom dropped out. Half of the offensive line went down the same day, and the defense suddenly became eleven invisible men.
This is more than even the most diehard fan can bear. Even when the Bills do what we’ve hoped they would do to become competitive, it blows up in our faces. It makes the part of us that is tired of hoping and having our hopes dashed year after year finally feel as if there are no more hopes to dash, as if maybe we would be better off if the Bills did go to LA. In the same way there is some degree of satisfaction seeing the Buffalo Braves languishing for decades as the LA Clippers, we could take comfort in the Bills being just as bad in LA. We could root against them with the same fervor, albeit bitterness, that we now root for them.
Of course that part of us that longs for release from our Bills addiction will not let go because of that very addiction. We’ll fantasize about it, but down deep we know we’d be lost without our Bills to cheer for and whine about.
Third, we have nowhere else to turn. In the past, when the Bills season has functionally ended by October, we have the welcome distraction of hockey. What a horrible year to have no hockey. There is nowhere for the Buffalo fan to run. We can hope there will be hockey at some point, but it’s doubtful the season will start before the NFL season is over. And after last year’s underwhelming debut of the Pegula era, we have to wonder how much more disappointment we can bear. Maybe we’re better off with the lockout. If there is no season, we can delude ourselves that this was our year.
I hate to say it but it really is hard to have hope, not just for this year but for the future of the Bills, either as winners or as Buffalo’s team.
Between the stadium issue and the ownership situation, we have every reason to assume the Bills' days are numbered. Between the lockout and questions about the quality of the Sabres, hockey is no comfort. It may be that our ultimate hope as sports fans is to follow the advice of some of our leaders and embrace our role as a Toronto suburb.
I know—it would be like moving halfway through high school to your old school’s arch rival. We’ll keep the Sabres, whatever that is worth, so we won’t have to cheer for the Leafs, and maybe it won’t be so hard to cheer for the Bisons’ new parent organization. The Braves have been gone long enough that we might be able to warm up to the Raptors if we give them a chance and they start winning.
And hey, if we’re old enough, at least we have our memories. If we're old enough to remember the AFL that is.