Hi, my name is Aaron...and I'm a Bills' fan...
I never realized that the pillars on top of upper deck at Ralph Wilson Stadium were bathrooms. Realizing I didn’t have to climb up and down 33 rows of seats to get the tailgate beer out of me without facing a long line was probably the highlight of my day at the stadium.
It was outside the john, standing at the railing next to a “No Standing, No Smoking” that I watched the first sign a disastrous football game unfold. The Bills had a first down on the St. Louis 23-yard line with 32 ticks on the clock and a pair of timeouts to their credit. Stephon Gilmore had just made a great play on an interception that would have been a touchdown had it not been for a dubious-looking block-in-the-back penalty.
I've been a Bills' fan as long as I can remember. My first memory of the Bills was when they traded for Cornelius Bennett...
The Bills had the time to take a few stabs toward the goal line, and the timeouts gave them flexibility play call wise to be creative and take some chances. If there was any time for an offensive coach like Chan Gailey to reach into his extra special bag for a few downs, this was it.
The Bills offense had sputtered through most of the half while the defense had been dominant against the Rams’ rushing attack. The rain and cold were only just beginning. A touchdown would have given the Bills a commanding 10-point lead in a game where the Bills' defense and home weather were poised to receive game balls.
Instead, Bills fans were rewarded with two short-yardage gains over the middle that cost the Bills both timeouts and frightened Gailey enough to kick a field goal on third down with 11 seconds to go, never once even trying to score a touchdown. The Bills settled for the field goal and a 6-0 lead going into the half.
In the bathroom, Santa Claus was letting it fly about the Bills' lack of, well, courage. Another fan tried to assuage him with a scoreboard reference: “Six to nothing, Santa, six to nothing.” The kind of thing any glass-half-full Bills’ fan who pays money to sit on a cold bench on a lousy day watching a sorry excuse for an NFL game would say.
And I don't know what's happened, but they've been so bad for what feels like forever, and, well, I'm scared it's made me bad...
If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t need to recount the other absolutely baffling moments in the game with respect to the Bills’ coach, because you already know. Let’s just abridge the whole affair for now and say that Chan Gailey coaches scared, is in over his head when it comes to decision-making and clock management, and that what he is doing with C.J. Spiller is simply criminal.
With about five minutes left in the game, the combination of boredom, disgust and precipitation had us resolved to leave after the Bills' current possession. They handed the ball off to Fred Jackson twice, for almost no yards, then threw incomplete to T.J. Graham on third down. Gailey had the Bills in full-on shutdown mode, instead of challenging his team to seal the win, he challenged the Rams to come back.
I can't stop watching their games, even when they're blacked out, I go online a find a stream from Russia and watch them there...
We’ve seen this all before. Although the Bills still clung to a 12-7 lead, we left the stadium feeling like losers. And this feeling would be soon rewarded with reality by the time we reached the car.
But before leaving the stadium, I looked around section 335 and the feeling of hometown pride mixed with sadness was as palpable, as thick as the cold, wet air and as loud as constant public address commercials. Here they were, thousands of Bills fans decked in their red, white and blues, hungry to see their team show something in another mostly meaningless December game.
We all know that watching football on TV is a great thing. It’s warm, there’s a mute button for commercials, you never have to walk to the TV from a parking lot or wait in line for the bathroom. Many watch the game in HD and surf the RedZone channel during breaks to watch great plays from the rest of the league.
But there’s nothing like being there, at the stadium. Part of that is the event of going to a game and tailgating, spending time with friends. But for me the best part of going to a game is to celebrate the ever rare social common denominator that Bills football provides and the chance you could share something memorable with 70,000 other like-minded souls.
I watch preseason games well into the fourth quarter, and I analyze the schedule for hours and if I'm busy during a game, well, no one wants to be around me...
Last night I was at a family party and there was a picture magnet of my aunt on the fridge produced by some tourist-trap boutique store in Washington, D.C., where it appeared she was standing with George and Barbara Bush. What was she wearing? A Buffalo Bills “Four in a Row” sweatshirt with four Bills logos and way too much text. I have no memory of my aunt watching football or even talking about football, but in the early 90s, she was paying attention. Everyone was.
That’s what’s special to me about the Bills, and that’s what is so sad about the current state of the franchise. Gregg Williams once got ran out of town for punting from the 34-yard line, and now Gailey’s done it not once, but twice! Maybe the players on the current roster are better than they were when Dick Jauron left, but that's small solace heading into a league-leading 13-year playoff drought.
In short, Bills’ fans—and all of Western New York—deserve so much better than the sliver hope the Bills continue to sell them. The inclement weather at the stadium would have been embraced, even celebrated if the Bills' season was anything close to where to was expected to be last summer.
And that's the problem, no wants to be around me when I'm around the Bills, I just feel so infected, is that the right word? I dunno. Infected with losing...
I got home in time to watch some of the Detroit Lions game against the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field. How often have you forgotten what real football looks like after being bludgeoned over the head for three hours by a Bills game and turned on a different game to see something completely different? In Green Bay the open stadium was getting hit with a mixture of snow and rain.
The home team was down early, but the fans were right there in it. They knew they had a good team—one that was never out when down, one that was coached, managed and instilled with courage.