I'm sure my journey into Buffalo Bills fandom began like most; being stuffed into a t-shirt or jersey at an age ripe for brainwashing, aside a chubby smiling uncle giving the thumbs up as the Polaroids flash. But my first real memories begin in an appropriate spot, watching a makeable field goal sail wide as the clock expired in a rainy Rich Stadium.
It was September 3, 1979. I was seven years old. The Bills season opener was against the Miami Dolphins, a team that had beaten the Bills in every game played during the entire decade. The current stretch of futility against the Patriots is child's play compared to those golden years of defeat.
It was just me and Dad. He had been a fan from day one. I enjoy his tale of bagging groceries for old ladies at the Super Duper as he listened to Van Miller calling the "hit heard 'round the world," Mike Stratton's rib snapping blow to Keith Lincoln's ribcage during the 1964 AFL title game.
In what I would come to consider my day one, I watched a terribly ugly game played in a pouring downpour. Both offenses struggled mightily. The Bills were trailing 9-7 as time wound down. They got into position for a game winning field goal, and as Tom Dempsey jogged onto the field, a mighty buzz of hope arose among the sea of ponchos.
The outcome was predictable. I think it was under 40 yards, but Dempsey missed. So began my long, slow walk down this path of suffering.
It hasn't all been bad. The following year on a cloudless perfect day, the Bills began the 80s by doing what they couldn't do once in the '70s...beat the Dolphins. We had a huge family group at that one; parents, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I remember the scene as the clock wound down like it was yesterday.
A shirtless guy with long blond hair and cutoff jeans was the first of the mob to hit the field. He did a perfect cartwheel as the stadium speakers cranked "Another One Bites the Dust." I still think of it every time I hear that song.
My cousin Tom was crying his eyes out because my aunt belted him with her binoculars during the celebration. Someone reminded him that we just beat the Fish and he started laughing like a hyena.
My family moved to Tennessee in '81. I'm convinced the next few years were meant to test my resolve as a true fan. As the Bills sank to the bottom of the NFL, I suffered alone through daily hecklings and other trauma at the hands of my schoolmates. They stoned me on the playground for crying out loud!
Not only did my family have to suffer through the bad play, we suffered just to see the bad play.
We lived 30 miles from Knoxville, and about 80 miles from the Tri-Cites. Occasionally the Johnson City feed would have the Bills game when Knoxville didn't. In the days of 'rabbit ear' TV antennaes, we took turn holding the antennae up to ceiling in the general direction of the Tri-Cities. Thus was the nature of our madness.
Fast forward to January of 1991. I was a freshman at the University of Tennessee when the Bills began their push to Super Bowl XXV. I had contracted the chicken pox playing football with the next generation of Bills fan, my 7 year-old cousin during Christmas in Buffalo.
I watched in agony 700 miles away as the Bills beat the Dolphins in a classic snow playoff game, knowing my uncles and cousins were there to see it.
Despite missing two weeks of classes, I made a sudden miraculous recovery and was able to attend the AFC Championship game blowout win against the Raiders. I could write a book about how that moment felt (there's an idea).
My Dad managed to hook up the family with Super Bowl tickets through some friends in the right places, and on to Tampa and destiny we went.
Long story short: from the angle of my seat, I thought Norwood's kick was good. I leapt into the air, all my dreams come true, only to come crashing down to my seat in tears as the refs gave the signal. I muttered "I can't believe he missed it" about 10 times with my hands in my face.
I dropped out of college three weeks later and moved back to Buffalo and got season tickets.
My Grandfather died a week before the next Super Bowl. Down 24-0 and one Thurman Thomas helmet at halftime against the Redskins, I charged drunk up the snow covered hill behind my uncle's house and upon reaching the top looked to the sky and asked Grandpa to make it right this time.
The Bills scored the next 10 points. Maybe...
Washington 37 Buffalo 24.
The following year I was back at UT in Knoxville. I kept the season tickets, and made about half the games. I drove with another uncle, who lived in Atlanta, up to Buffalo for Super Bowl XXVII, just to be in Buffalo if the Bills won.
Dallas 52 Buffalo 17.
The next year, a couple of cousins and I went down to Atlanta for the rematch against the Cowboys. We watched at Billsville, set up in the base of the Radisson Hotel downtown. The place was going berserk as the Bills led at halftime. Strangers hugged each other. I called Dad at halftime full of emotion, telling him it was going to different this time; I could feel it. Then the 2nd half started, and Thurman fumbled.
Dallas 30 Buffalo 13.
On and on it's gone. Through Flutie vs. Johnson, Homerun Throwback (it's still forward, no matter what angle you look at,) and the firm of Williams, Mularkey, and Jauron we still come back for more.
Maybe T.O is the Golden Child. Maybe they'll go no huddle and return to the glory days of the K-Gun. Maybe they'll tease us and go about .500 again. It doesn't matter though. We wouldn't trade one second of it to experience a championship as a Cowboys fan.
Our love is unconditional.
At least until they move to Toronto.