Exiting the holiday weekend, a vocal minority of Buffalo Bills fans have had some words of wisdom for their fellow members of Bills Mafia following the Thanksgiving beatdown of the Dallas Cowboys. The gist of that being: Don’t act like this is anything more than a normal regular-season win, nothing more and nothing less. Several even found it opportune to reference a famous Marv Levy saying, “Act like you’ve been there before,” which was often in reference to his dislike of certain touchdown celebrations from his players.
Here’s a word of wisdom to those sharing this perspective; Stop.
Let people like things
First off, no one likes to be told how to feel. In addition, absolutely no one likes to be told to not be excited about something they are excited about.
We are fans of a team that plays a game with a ball. Yes it’s a huge industry. Yes it carries real consequence for those within its structure. So let those be the people be who have to calibrate their emotions and enthusiasm. But for fans, go wild being excited about your team that plays a game with a ball having success.
Sometimes there seems to be a superstition among fans as though their amount of focus or over-celebration corresponds to the level of focus or over-celebration of the players and coaches as they prepare for the next opponent. Although I find myself concerned about whether a change in my wardrobe on game day may cause a hiccup in the football universe, we can all admit in our more sober moments that we know our excitement does not affect the preparation or focus of the team we root for. Full stop. There is no magic or superstitious armor we wear defending our team from lack of preparation by limiting our own excitement.
It’s also not true
Secondly, we have, in fact, not been here before.
The last time the Bills were 9-3 was 1996; a fact most paying attention to probably have memorized at this point. 23 years ago I was in second grade and vaguely remember that season ending with a Wild Card loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars after Jim Kelly was carted off the field following a concussion and my parents lamenting the fact this was probably the end for our Hall-of-Fame leader.
This was a generation ago. There are literally thousands of fans whose recollection of the last time the Bills were in this position is similar to my memories or worse. In addition, this was the end of an era. The last time the Bills were 9-3 it was Jim Kelly’s final season and Marv Levy’s penultimate season as head coach. The Bills were (unknowingly) about to transition out of the Super Bowl years and into mediocrity followed by a devastating playoff drought that would prime the pumps for the enthusiasm that is now present in 2019.
1988, not 1996
A better comparison for the last time the Bills were in a similar position to where they are currently is not the 1996 9-3 Buffalo Bills, it is the 1988 Buffalo Bills who ended their season going 12-4 and started the season a red-hot 9-1.
This was Marv Levy’s second full season and third partial season as he had been hired seven games into 1986. Bill Polian was in his third season as general manager. 1988 was Jim Kelly’s third season as the team’s QB. Thurman Thomas was a rookie. This was Bruce Smith and Andre Reed’s fourth seasons. Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, and Nate Odomes were both second-year pros.
Do you sense the similarities? The 1988 Bills had at least seven long-term key pieces of their team from general manager to linebacker who were three years or less into their time with the Bills. Compare that to the likes of what we’re daydreaming is ahead for the 2019 Bills with the likes of Brandon Beane, Sean McDermott, Josh Allen, Devin Singletary, Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, and Tre’Davious White. This doesn’t even include pending free agents like Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson, potential key role players likes Dawson Knox and Taron Johnson, or previous free-agent bullseyes like Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde.
1996 may have been the last time the Bills were 9-3. But 1988 was the last time the Bills were positioned with the kind of promising young talent we all hope we’re seeing from the 2019 Bills.
Disclaimer: I am not equating any of these players from 2019 with the players from 1988. I am simply pointing out the combination of the organization’s position considering the youth of its core players and the record rather than just the record itself. I am not predicting a repeat of four straight super bowls or that we are watching another Mount-Rushmore-worthy core of players for the Bills. I am simply pointing out that 1996 is perhaps less of an accurate representation of the last time the Buffalo Bills were in a position similar to where they are in 2019.
Get off my lawn
I was not even a year old in December 1988 and now I have a son myself who is not even a year old in December 2019. It’s literally been a generation.
If fans want to go to the airport to greet the team after a win on potentially the second-largest viewing audience outside of the Super Bowl, wish them well. Don’t call them stupid for doing so.
If fans want to celebrate and revel in the 95% chance of making the playoffs before December, give them the high-fives they’re looking for. Don’t make the obvious point that nothing has been clinched yet.
If fans are obviously hyperbolizing how good the Bills are out of sheer joy and excitement, understand that some of us have no memory of being in a situation like this. It is objectively exciting and maybe even worthy of a little hyperbole here and there. Don’t condescendingly flaunt nuance as if you were Aaron Schatz on Schopp & the Bulldog.
Luckily none of the joy, hyperbole, over-celebration, and zealousness of fans affects the preparation of the team as they attempt to add fuel to that fire.
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.