Buffalo Bills fans live few and far between in Connecticut. If you happen to find one, the person either grew up in Buffalo or has family that did. Rarely will you find one that simply became a fan by a freak accident. Unless you know me.
It was probably 1991. I can’t say for certain because it was so long ago. All I remember is I was very young at the time—probably around five or six years old. To that point, I exhibited little, if any interest in sports. G.I. Joes, Ghostbusters, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles occupied my days. Until my parents decided to play matchmaker.
My father worked at Northeast Utilities as an engineer. He met my mother there. He also met a man by the name of Greg Kirby. In a setup you only see on network sitcoms, my parents (probably my mother) came up with the bright idea to put Greg on a blind date with my mom’s cousin Cindy. What more romantic way to break the ice than to introduce them at our house? A nice, comfortable location with no one to bother them except two toddlers and my parents prying eyes.
As if that weren’t bad enough for poor Cindy, my parents didn't realize Greg was already in a relationship. He grew up in Buffalo. If you don’t know anyone from Buffalo, then I can't adequately describe the city's devotion to its beloved Bills.
More than any other sports team, rooting for the Bills crosses any divide that may exist between you and a fellow fan. When you attend a game, you may not know anyone inside the stadium but you have 73,000 of the closest friends you'll ever find. People born in Buffalo are married to the Bills. Funny thing is, they have the happiest marriage on the planet.
Little did my parents realize that they scheduled their little rendezvous on Greg’s date night—Monday. He already had plans with his special someone. It was me who went on the blind date that night.
Needless to say, Cindy and Greg didn’t hit it off. Greg’s loyalty to the Bills proved too much for whatever romantic spark may have kindled between him and Cindy that night. Greg paid more attention to what Al Michaels had to say about what Cornelius Bennett ate before the game (biscuits, naturally) than what Cindy did for a living.
I, of course, was completely oblivious to all these dating blunders and social faux pas until many years later. I was just a five-year-old boy enamored with the bright colors on TV and the animated man yelling at them.
In my efforts to impress this person I had never met but took an instant, inexplicable liking to, I drew a picture. I remember that even at the time, I realized it looked nothing like any of the players or the raging buffalo emblazoned across their helmets. In fact, I don’t think I even used the right colors. I just remember drawing that picture and offering it to “Greg.”
As a bachelor in his late twenties, early thirties he had no use for a crayon scribble to hang on his refrigerator. Instead, he told me it was too good for him. He said I should hold onto it.
I don’t know what became of that drawing. I don’t know what happened to Greg either. I do know though that he gave me one of the greatest gifts I’ll ever receive in my entire life. No, not the picture. By giving me back that drawing and humoring me throughout the night while I distracted him from watching Jim Kelly effortlessly run the K-Gun, he included me in something that would change my life forever.
I owe the Buffalo Bills some of my fondest memories during my 23 years on this Earth. Like the hasty, ten-hour road trip my dad took me on to see Jim Kelly’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Or the seven-hour drive my best friend and I made for my first trip to Buffalo to watch my favorite team face off against his.
I don’t know where you are today but if you happen to read this Mr. Kirby, thank you.