Like many of you, I love Stevie Johnson. Unlike most of you, I used to hate him.
I was born and raised in Louisville Kentucky, and grew up rooting for the hometown Cardinals. I sat in freezing rain in the 90s while we lost to teams that you probably were not even aware played college football. We got better eventually, and won the Orange Bowl. The next year, 2007, we had most of our best players coming back (Eric Wood and Brian Brohm were two) and hopes were set, if maybe irrationally, on a possible national title run. It was a foregone conclusion that in the third game of the season, we would throttle our hated rival, the Kentucky Wildcats. Then this happened:
Kentucky vs Louisville 2007 Stevie Johnson Touchdown Catch (via KentuckyVids)
Stevie Johnson ruined our season and became the name behind hundreds of insults I had to endure from Kentucky fans. Louisville decided to suck the rest of the season after that, and for the next two years as well.
When Buffalo drafted him, I was unimpressed. Kentucky's #1 wide receiver was Keenan Burton, and it seemed impossible that a #2 from the godawful football factory in Lexington could make it as a NFL player. But hey, these were my Bills, and I had learned long before not to get worked up about draft choices that didn't seem to add up.
Stevie worked his butt off and got better and better. I rooted for him, begrudgingly at first, because it was just so hard to love someone who not only wore the evil blue of Kentucky, but signified the beginning of the tailspin of my favorite college football team. As Stevie began to make one spectacular catch after another, my memory of his catch against my Cards began to fade. Then came the drop against Pittsburgh.
I was at a local sports bar with some friends. I had a few beers in me, and there was a table of Steelers fans that were loud and starting to piss me off. When I saw the ball hit Stevie's hands, I leaped out of my seat and arms raised, began jumping around and yelling "Suck it!" at the table of guys wearing black and yellow. One of my friends was trying to say something to me, but I didn't care. We were going to beat the Steelers! Then saw him pointing at the screen.
"He dropped it, dude."
I promptly returned to my seat and ordered another beer, which I drank quietly in shame. Like so many times before, I had watched the bliss of a sure victory slip through my fingers. To top it off, I had made a complete ass out of myself in a crowded bar. Also not a first time occurrence.
Afterwards Stevie was devastated. Watching him so distraught on the post game press conference, I knew he was no longer the man who had broke my heart as a Wildcat. He was the man who had broke my heart, and his own as well, as a Buffalo Bill. He was one of us.
A lot of people were upset with his tweets after the game in which he seemed to be angry with God. Not me. I too, had at one time been mad at God because of the Buffalo Bills. As a kid, I prayed the Saturday night before the Super Bowl with the Giants that if He wasn't too busy, He could maybe see that the Bills win the Super Bowl. I repeated that prayer for the next three years, with each prayer becoming more desperate until finally it seemed just like an an angry tweet. "come on God, can't you just give me one out of four...#PLEASE!"
Stevie rebounded from that play to become one of the better receivers in the league. Like all of us Bills fans, he shook off the disgust of soul-crushing failure and kept on trucking. It is what all of us have done and what all of us will continue to do. And one day, hopefully soon, we will finally taste a Super Bowl victory. And I think Stevie may be one of the players hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, because damn it, he deserves it. He is a Buffalo Bill, and he's my favorite player.