I don't officially know when my passion for the Buffalo Bills and sports started.
However, my mother remembers me begging her to not turn off the television as the Bills trailed 35-3 early in the third quarter against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 playoffs.
"It's not over," I said at the age of five. "There's still a lot of time left."
I don't remember my reactions when the Bills stormed back
to win 41-38 in overtime. But I do remember uncontrollably sobbing when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII (27).
The following year I recall family members calling Cowboy fans and bragging at half time of Super Bowl XXVIII (28).
The Bills entered the second half ahead, 13-6, and looked as if they were going to snap their three-year Super Bowl losing streak.
The acronym: "(B)oy (I) (L)ove (L)osing (S)uper Bowls (B.I.L.L.S)," was about to become obsolete. I wasn't going to be a "loser" anymore.
Sports fans know that story's ending.
By the age of 12 (1998), I witnessed two more disappointing playoff exits and the retirement of future Hall-of-Famers quarterback Jim Kelly
and head coach Marv Levy
However, led by quarterback Doug Flutie
, Buffalo posted a 10-6 regular-season record but lost 10-7 to the Miami Dolphins in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The next season Buffalo again rode the coattails of Flutie to a 11-5 regular-season record, but head coach Wade Phillips sat him in favor of Rob Johnson
against the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round.
Johnson played well, and late in the fourth quarter he led Buffalo on a go-ahead drive that ended with a Steve Christie
41-yard field goal. The field goal gave the Bills a 16-15 advantage with 16 seconds to go in the game.
What followed was, maybe, the single greatest play
to destroy a NFL franchise.
The 1999-2000 offseason dismantled the last of the Bills' dynasty when legends Thurman Thomas
(Dolphins), Bruce Smith
(Washington Redskins), and Andre Reed
(Redskins) all departed to different teams.
Ten years later, Buffalo has had one winning season (2004), five different head coaches (including interim coach Perry Fewell
), five starting quarterbacks, and is once again in a state of transition.
At the age of 24 I've never felt more like the Buffalo Bills because my life is also in transition.
Since I was in the eighth grade, I knew covering sports for a living was what I wanted to do.
Not only was the thought of covering sports the coolest idea ever, but I also found the parallels of real life and sports fascinating: just think of the New York Yankees and 9/11 or the New Orleans Saints and Hurricane Katrina.
From high school to after college graduation I positioned myself to pursue my passion for sports by earning little or no money as a freelancer, college-newspaper editor, radio-sports director, journalism intern, and sports clerk (slave to the sports-media world).
I loved every minute of it.
Not once did I regret driving an hour and a half to work (120 miles round-trip) to answer phone calls from high-school coaches who wanted to tell me how great their team performed.
Hell, I didn't mind it because, eventually, if I worked hard enough (which is never an issue) I'd work my way up the totem pole and into a full-time reporters position.
But like a second,third, or fourth-straight trip to a Super Bowl, things never work out like you want.
In July of 2009, Gannett (the company which owns multiple newspapers around the country, including the one I worked for) cut 1,400 employees because of the failing economy and newspaper business model.
Thirtee months later, I've worked as a cook, substitute teacher, and, currently, a baker.
In the past three months, I've moved from my hometown of Trumansburg, NY to Tampa, FL to Wilkes-Barre, PA where my fiance and I currently reside.
Since being "let go" by Gannett, I've contemplated giving up my dream as a member of the sports media to become a teacher, head coach, and possibly a food-service entrepreneur.
Comparatively, the Gannett layoff was my Music City Miracle.
Since walking out of the Vestal, NY building in July, my life has been in a state of uncertainty and flux where the only certain thing was proposing to my fiance, Kate.
Since Kevin Dyson crossed the goal line for a 75-yard touchdown, Buffalo has undergone and era of uncertainty and flux in which the only certain thing was missing the playoffs.
At the end of the 2009 season, Bills' management led by Chief operating officer Russ Brandon brought in a slick-talking southerner, Buddy Nix, to be general manager.
"You're going to think I am crazy," said Nix at his press conference
on January 3. "But we're not that far away."
But weeks passed and Cower, Shanahan and Gruden all passed on the job or said they were not interested.
The long list of coaching candidates become smaller and smaller until Nix announced the hiring of Gailey on January 20.
"I've been around a lot of winning programs... that when I walk on the field I expect to win," Gailey told the Buffalo media at his press conference. "I believe in toughness and discipline. Football is a tough game for tough people."
Those quotes are consistently heard during the opening scene to any Bills' video clip
on their official website.
But Bills' fans have heard all the talk during the last 10 seasons. Every new coach says the same thing.
So, it came as no surprise when fan reaction was unfavorable.
Owner Ralph Wilson promised changes and a new commitment to winning and all he could muster was a no-named GM and a journeymen coach?
Nix said he and Gailey were committed to building through the draft and wasn't going to sign high-priced free agents.
Bills' fans had heard this motto before and that philosophy didn't work out too well.
Everything seemed oddly familiar. There was no way this transition was going to work. There was no way Bills' fans were going to get excited about the 2010 season.
However, a couple new things did happen during training camp at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, NY and the preseason:
It was Gailey making the players wear pads during the first week of practice. That was different from former head coach Dick Jauron
Edwards and wide receiver Lee Evans
seemed to be working well with deep balls.
Third: The Bill's first-round pick was signed before the start of the regular season.
The first-round pick actually made a play
and the Bills scored a touchdown during a preseason game.
On the last day of training camp, Gailey made national headlines
by calling out Buffalo fans who were heckling Edwards.
"If you dog one of us," said Gailey. "You dog all of us."
Spiller makes a couple of more plays
in a 35-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
After four preseason games, Edwards
looks to have a lot better feel for Gailey's offense than whatever offense Jauron was running the previous two seasons.
Eighth: Spiller sits the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions while banged-up running back Lynch starts.
Ninth: A week later Nix and Gailey announce the future is now by slotting Spiller as the starting tailback for the season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Now, there are many question that still need to be answered heading into the season opener against Miami (much like there are many questions about my new life in Wilkes-Barre).
But for me, as a Bills' fan (and an aspiring writer who's feeling the wrath of a bad economy and a failing business model), I'm liking Gailey (and my new life with Kate) more and more. I also haven't given up on Edwards (and my goal to become a well-known sports guru), who I believe can be a good quarterback in the NFL.
I'm excited to see what C.J. Spiller can do (and Kate and mine's wedding in the fall of 2011) and to see if safety Jairus Byrd
is as good as he was last year (and, maybe, a big-screen television in the winter).
These opinions about the Bills (and my career) could be me just hoping something good can come out of this on-going transition with the Buffalo Bills (and that I don't need to be a baker the rest of my life), but that's who I am.
Through the worst times, on both the football field (and in life) it's against a Bills' fan moral code to take your ball and go home.
Even if the score is 35-3 early in the third there's still enough time left. You have an obligation to your fellow fans (family and friends) to keep plugging along, hoping for a good bounce. And when the bounce comes (as it did in 1992) take advantage of it and make history.
Lets hope for the best, all. Good luck this season.
Playoff picks: AFC East, New England Patriots; AFC South, Indianapolis Colts; AFC North, Baltimore Ravens; AFC West, San Diego Chargers; Wild Card, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans; NFC East, NY Giants; NFC South, New Orleans Saints; NFC North, Minnesota Vikings; NFC West, San Francisco 49ers; Wild Card, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
Super Bowl: NFC, Saints; AFC, Colts; Winner, Saints.