What gives a city substance and relevance? What makes it "matter?" Lil Wayne once emotionally alluded to his post Katrina home in a lyric "My city is crying." No disrespect to that accurate sentiment, but long before Detroit was the economic sob story of this country; there was Buffalo. Political negligence and industrial exodus have loomed over the city’s fortitude for decades now. Buffalo is about as far west or upstate as you can go in NY, yet a supplementary reason why "our city is crying," is because all the attention, tax dollars, and revenue gets sent "wide right" on the map to our big brother. And therein lies Buffalo’s mental delimma.
The psychology behind inferiority complexes can be crippling. Within Buffalo, Buffalonians and definitely Bills fans resides the psyche of an often maligned but steadfast fan base and region. It's a side of things you might not consider nationally when snickering at our snowstorms and our franchise.
I would like to think that it couldn’t have been easy growing up the little brother of Peyton Manning. The natural tendency we have to compare ourselves-in this case to a prodigy sibling-may have led Eli to an inner chaos only he would know. It is what it is, skill set aside, Eli’s personality prosaic is vanilla while Peyton is Mr. charisma. Our viewpoint of Eli is mainly already programmed. We know who he is, but more importantly, we know who he isn’t; Peyton.
Staying with that same "cool older brother" dynamic brings us to New York City. It is the cultural, financial, and media epicenter of the world. Buffalo is the Bills, Niagara Falls, unemployment, wings, and beer. This is our "wide right’ inferiority complex. We take it. We live with it. We know who we’re not.
Enter NFL football – the one outlet we have to show the nation we’re more than snow, wings, and rust. As Lebron was to Cleveland, the Bills help us to "matter." More than any other city, because of that NY moniker, we are scrutinized nationally according to the standard of the metropolis 390 miles "wide right" of us on the 90 interstate. Once again, that’s unfair to any city, let alone a smaller one. And similar to the region, the small market football franchise which carries the Buffalo name proud, has also had quite a jaded history of operation and letdown. Actually Letdown would be an understatement.
Dissecting these last 20 years of this franchises inferiority complex – where the Bills have not made the playoffs once this millenium-- it’s clear that, like everything in behavioral life, you reap what you have sown. There’s a cause and effect explanation as to why a 21-year-old NFL fan looks at the Bills like the Washington Generals. After GM Bill Polian was fired in 1993, eventually destined to spearhead that Indianapolis resurgence, we found it hard to latch on to an identity as a roster. Other than an unexpected Doug Flutie led playoff birth in 1999, we haven’t had any success to rally around. These last 20 years, the Bills organization didn’t just court disappointment; it had five illegitimate children with her.
There is, no doubt, a confluence of reasons why a once great professional team might slowly totter into a competitive hibernation. My personal theory of cause and effect involves the owner, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. All the consistently competitive franchises (Patriots, Steelers, Packers, Giants, even Cowboys) are stable and proactive from the ownership down. Mr. Wilson has been a senior citizen since I was in grammar school, and his often disengaged, stoic nature regarding his franchise has hindered our plan for success. No knock on the sterling Hall of Fame owner, since the Bills may not still be located in Buffalo without him. But, I reckon that when you get into your late-80s and early-90s, priorities (and zeal) changes drastically. This low-energy manner of ownership tends to accommodate mediocrity in other high-end positions in the organization. Buffalo hasn’t had a franchise QB since Kelly in the mid 90s – that’s a product of nonchalant mediocre management. Every few years we change coaches, systems, and draft a questionable first round pick, whom might have made something of himself had he went to a team with structure and vision. Over this past decade, it’s often felt like our management went on a vacation. But, like the "red-headed step child," our city has been groomed to take it all in stride. The outsiders speak of us almost as if we should just be content to have a team. "Just be happy your eating kid," so to speak. Our community has enabled the powers that be to treat us this way because we don’t know our own beauty or contribution to the NY family. We aren’t a borough, so we sit back, with a learned " wide right" inferiority. It’s a tough pill, but we know our place…for now.
The heroine, in just about any romantic comedy, never realizes her true potential and beauty, until Bradley Cooper or McConaughey comes along and helps her to abolish her stigma of inferior self -worth. A successful Bills team can be just that to an area looking for its groove. The issue with most inferiority complexes is that they are internal, and therefore parasitic if you let them grow. Even when unseen the problem never really goes away if you don’t take decisive psychological measures. Every time Buffalo has a setback, the local and national media chatter "same old Bills." This concept of thought may stick to an athletes psyche if he lacks mental toughness. The fans too. Reservations on how this team still won’t amount to much are very understandable. They have faltered, as newly constructed teams often do. But at least now management got the memo and have spent some currency on its product. When it appears little to no effort has been made to get better and spend NFL dollars, you tend to just exist, in a league of billionaire go-getters. As we all know, that went out the window with the Bills latest investment in Mario Williams. The previous culture of failure and dysfunction still chimes along the topic of that epic payday and the teams historic bad play, but because most opinionated onlookers can’t ignore their conditioned view of Buffalo; this team will overcome that negative stereotype by force. Why? Because they have to. It’s more than a game.
Most players on this Bills team were never on Mel Kipers Big Board. According to so-called experts they should barely be in the league. Our core glue guys were the 7th round pick Harvard grad Fitzpatrick; Fred Jackson, an undrafted division III running back; Kyle Williams, a DT picked in the 5th round; George Wilson, a receiver who the Bills asked to play safety; and Stevie Johnson, another 7th round pick combine dud, who many labeled as an overrated diva when he found on field success. Just like the early miners, Buffalo struck gold on accident, getting a cluster of leading men in an untraditional way. The front office seemingly went rogue years ago, failing to attempt to volley for respect in the AFC east, let alone the league. Had Fred Jackson not repeatedly gotten injured, under the Chan Gailey plan, CJ Spiller would still be regarded as a bust instead of the most dynamic back in the league this side of Adrian Peterson. No matter who was in the backfield though; Chan wanted to throw the ball; a lot. There’s a human nature explanation to this irony as well. Older individuals are usually set in their ways. So when an alternative solution to an area pops up to make life easier ( ie: technology; Spiller ) it’s just not a comfortable energy. In 2012, the Tennessee, St. Louis, and New England games ended in gut-punch fashion with Fitz throwing it to the other team despite Buffalo momentum and the fear CJ Spiller commanded in all 3 games.
Fitzpatrick’s maverick decisions leave mixed reviews among the fan base. He is the typical underdog in every sports movie you’ve ever seen. Accept in this case; it’s real life, Bills loose. Fitz is the soldier everybody wants in their foxhole due to his leadership, smarts , charisma, and grit. Problem is when the bullets start flying, his gun isn’t loaded. Or he may just have one round. This leaves his teammates with quite an inner chaos of loyalty versus competitive football. You never stop believing in the guy. But blind faith is a dangerous thing in the NFL. Especially when the losses start accumulating. One Bills fan likened Fitz to the "Dark Knight."A hero masquerading as a villain for the sake of sanity and public perception. The general onlooker must never know it’s the top dogs in the organization who are REALLY killing the hope of a beguiled city by not drafting a quarterback. Fitz will take that. He’ll deal with it. Fitz understands Buffalo. Stevie too. He was pegged as a locker room cancer due to his numerous displays of on-field immaturity. He is now one of the most vocal on the team on the subject of toughness and winning attitude. Stevie made a season saving play week 12 versus the white hot Colts. Fitz threw a pick right to Stevie’s man in the red zone of a bills 4th quarter drive. Stevie pursued the DB, jostled the ball loose, and recovered it to keep the drive alive down 7 with 4:30 left to play. With the season on the line, on about the 50 yard line with momentum, and a 12 year drought of postseason inactivity, coach Gailey punted. It was 4th and 8 in his defense, but the offence was surging on the adrenaline of that " Polamaluesque " hustle. Three minutes left, and the stakes being so high for our playoff chances, we put out trust in Wanny for whatever reason. Our last hope of overcoming last season’s "wide right" parasite was shot dead on that punt. Stevie Johnson, often misunderstood, is a good dude. Steve Johnson; became a man here in Buffalo. Trust me; Stevie gets us. Stevie understands Buffalo. Stevie did all he could and then some.
This isn’t all about being minimized and misunderstood. The people of Buffalo also give testament to character, and authenticity. This is an entire locker room of hard working, high character, and personable guys reflective of the city, and not necessarily the entitled modern day athlete. They have a "wide right" chip not only because of what they’d been through, but also because a few years back when they needed a head coach, nobody wanted them. In January 2010, Buddy Nix hired Chan Gailey to come to One Bills Drive. Gailey is a good man and a great offensive mind. He just didn’t have the demeanor to reverse "wide right.’ The parasite grew. The fans, who watched every snap, know Chan would still be coaching in NY had those he put so much faith in just "performed." Like the fan base, Chan is loyal, he is however accountable for those he leaned on. That same stubborn loyalty undoubtedly cost him his job. After falling flat for months Gailey still chose to lean on the same rubber crutches. He gave the car keys to an erratic QB and a defensive coordinator who refused to adjust. Blind faith isn’t the same as faith. But it’s a hell of a drug. In 2010, Buddy and Chan inherited a lemon, called Xibit, and were now feeling good about their 79 chevy. Only thing was it still broke down curbside. The unseen culture, or engine, will hopefully be changed now with Doug Marrone, Pettine, and Hackett. Say what you want about Chan’s credibility as a leader, but these Bills will never forget that he came when no one else would. The fans wont forget his efforts. His loyalty and reflection of the fan base can be summed up in his final press conference sound bite minutes after his dismissal. Gailey’s closing words were " This is the only place who let me go that I’ll pull for." Character; class; loyalty;…it’s what we are. Even under those unfortunate circumstances. Chan, a southerner through and through, understands Buffalo.
The players are a family that, like the city, carry this national neglect, and use it. The best testament to the legitimacy of this family dynamic is in young standout DT Marcell Dareus. His 19 year old younger brother Simeon, was shot and killed near his hometown of Birmingham on September 9th 2012. Anyone who’s ever lost a relative knows its all relative. Each situation’s emotional stress is unique for each person and each tragedy. We can relate, but really, we can’t in that sense. Marcell lost his younger brother on Sunday night, showed up to work on Thursday morning, and recorded the Bills first sack of the season on Sunday afternoon. Both comfort and pain inspired his play after one of the worse situations a human could possibly have gone through. Marcell uplifted Buffalo; Buffalo, I would think, reciprocated. With the blessing of his actual family in a week that put sports in perspective; He showed up. He knew he still had a responsibility up north. It’s more than a game to this area. It’s more than a locker room to these players. Forget understanding Buffalo, what the 22 year old showed was nothing short of love.
An Infamous moment of the 2010 season was something that first gave Stevie Johnson national recognition. After battling the soon to be AFC champ Steelers blow for blow, Johnson dropped a game winning bomb in the end zone in overtime. The Bills would go on to loose. After the game, assuming everything happens for a reason under divine intervention, a frustrated Stevie tweeted God. Why did he do this? I still can’t defend it. But the pain, emotion, and frustration behind the vulnerable tweet, actually embodied why the young Bills lost so many close games these past three seasons. Much like what the NBA showed us with these past two championship teams Dallas and Miami -- anointing isn’t automatic. There’s pain and struggle involved before any team can know and appreciate success at that height, and then go get it. Little brother – is it time?
Now, the Bills resemble an NFL team again. We took them out of the oven too soon. We tried to say they were ready but they were raw inside; no depth in 2011; no identity in 2012. Unlike our big brother franchises, "wide right," there’s minimal pressure. Even with a measure of talent on board, when the Bills stink, it’s nothing new to America. Water is wet. Then too, we don’t have the Broadway pop-stars like Sanchez, Coach Rex, Victor Cruz, Manning or Tebow. Nobody of consequence is willing to anoint the "Bills Mafia" just yet -can’t blame em’- but they don’t know our pain.
Anointing. There was a situation where God DID deem it important to intervene. Around 1080 BC, the prophet Samuel went to a village to anoint a son of Jesse the next king of Israel. Even Samuel was dismayed to discover it was the ruddy scrawny adolescent David that God had chosen. Caught up in appearance, Samuel assumed it would have been one of Jesse’s older, seemingly more qualified, warrior sons. It wasn’t until later, when the young man killed Goliath, that David got his due recognition and support. The lesson here is evident. In order to end the history of "wide right" and our own inner inferiority, we must overcome " Goliath" as it were, and earn our respect. Little brother Eli was quite the object of negative press last summer when he confidently exclaimed he was a top tier NFL Quarterback. We in essence were saying; "know your role little brother," as if we were all at the Manning supper table and Eli lost all his senses and grabbed Archie’s piece of chicken. Probably using the same resolve that carried him through his overshadowed upbringing, he stood by his statement, and vindicated his position with another championship in 2012. We never saw the crow coming. Appearances can be overcome. Enjoy your chicken breast Eli.
Nobody likes being misunderstood. Especially when the misunderstanding makes one loose respect and look inferior. Perceptions usually lack context and insight. My wife is from California. She doesn’t know my inner chaos, but she loves my Bills and the city of Buffalo as if she were one of us. Like Jim Kelly, few ever really want to go there, but once there, they often stay. The place kind of romances you, like aforementioned New Orleans. The Bills roster and the Buffalo area have showed us there can be majesty in the most unlikely of places if you give it a chance. Most write us off. They’ll never give us that honor. No image more accurately summarizes our pain quite like the Scotty Norwood miss in Super Bowl XXV. Wide right. They say the first championship is always the most difficult to grasp. We’re still waiting. I sometimes wonder how our franchise and city would be viewed had that field goal went in. Would we have won 2? Maybe all four? Then I recall the Bills fan base. Some spread out all over the country still with a blue collar on their necks. (Shout out to Wolf )The loyalty, inner resolve, and tough skin it takes to be that little brother all these years. The strong will it takes to carry this inferiority complex. The character it takes to patch up the wounds of our city and franchise after so much hurt. Yes; sports hurt. Pain inspired this montage. I can’t fully grasp why my wife chokes up when Matt McConaughey finds his true love. She, in turn isn’t wired to understand my depression when the Bills blow a close game. But, the more I think about it; I’m at peace with how we are viewed. It’s part of why we carry these resilient, almost stubborn, qualities. Our city’s foundation is pain. So Scotty; it’s ok, we forgive you. Scotty Norwood understands Buffalo; I assume he still remembers the agony of January 27,1991. But then there’s Goliath…..No matter what we do, it seems as if we’re holding a sling shot against 10 foot tall giants like Billicheck and Rex. But remember, like David, we too have something much stronger backing our efforts. That Buffalo loyalty and unwavering passion is now a scarcity in an easily manipulated front running commercialized football culture. Funny thing about little brothers too. Sometimes you move away for school, or maybe just out of the house, and one day you inconspicuously come back to visit and that same little brother is looking at you eye to eye. You cant say it out loud, but its intimidating to behold. Inferiority complexes are both internal and crippling. The time is now Buffalo. That is, as soon as we realize it. You’d be hard pressed to find another pro team with the same epic responsibility to their community. The Bills finally got their growth spurt. Maybe now the city’s perception will stand tall. They’re up for the task. They don’t have a choice. The Bills understand Buffalo. Thank you Mr. Wilson.