The year was 2010. At the time, I was an undergraduate at Hampton University in Hampton, VA. It was the start of a new semester. My friends and I reunited for the first time all summer, the first football game was approaching, and I had a renewed hope that THIS was the year for the Buffalo Bills (4-10).
As I grew up in Virginia, my grandfather would call me on Sundays, to talk about everything that happened in the game. Being out of market, and the teams consistent commitment to drafting in the top 10, televised Bills games were few and far between.
As I got older the calls continued week after week, only stopping when my grandfather began chemotherapy. He did his best to keep me up to date, but over time the treatment took its toll. Eventually, he would go into remission. Unfortunately, the cancer came back and this time, he elected to let it go untreated.
Accepting his fate, he began to give away some of his most prized possessions. Most to my grandmother, some to his children, grandchildren and close friends. A few months later he'd pass away. My mother, at the time, was the only one of his 4 children that left Buffalo, and were the last to get to the house for all the funeral arrangements.
As I make my way through the house for the fist time since his passing, I stepped into his bedroom one last time, I could instantly smell the scent of his cologne in the air. His old pocket knife sat on his dresser, and a pair of shoes he'd yet to wear, keep each other company in the floor of the closet.
I then head toward the back of the house, his den, a literal box with a couch, a fish take (with some of the biggest goldfish I've ever seen to this day) a TV and an old smelly La-Z-Boy recliner. This was his Sunday spot. After church he was coming home to watch the Bills game and wasn't going to leave, even if the house was on fire.
Draped across the back of his La-Z-Boy, was faded old red towel, with a charging blue buffalo plastered in the center. And for the next decade, those were the only things I had to remember him by. A pocket knife, a pair of shoes, and that Bills towel.
That towel would turn into a Bills obsession. Anything "Buffalo" I could get my hands on, I had to have. No matter the cost, no matter the size, I became a buffalo hoarder. At the time I didn't know it, but this was my grieving process. The only thing that connected me to anything I knew about my home town, and the memory of my grandfather were the Buffalo Bills.
As I mentioned, my mom was the only one of her siblings to move away from Buffalo. So all I've ever really known about the city in general was the Children's Hospital (where I was born), Buff State (where my favorite cousin attended), UB Stadium (which we had to pass to get to my favorite aunts house) and Bissell Avenue, where granny lived, literally eight minutes away from the Tops Supermarket that saw those 10 casualties.
My obsession with the Bills grew into an obsession with the city. I wanted to learn as much about my home town as possible. I applied to transfer colleges, every research paper I did involved Buffalo, my YouTube search was exclusively buffalo, I tried to get a 716 area code and I began the process of trying to relocate. I also felt the need to find a Buffalo news and radio station to keep up with whatever's happening in town.
I came across WGR500, and it has been my go to ever since. It started with John Murphy. Then I got familiar with Joe Buscaglia, Jeremy White, and Sal Cappaccio. I wasn't as keen on Schopp & Bulldog but over time I would run into their show and its been a staple of my life since. In fact, I'll never forget the exact day I started listening to S&B. It was the day of the infamous Cardale Jones "We ain't come to play SCHOOL" tweet.
My attempts at relocating failed, the Bills were HORRIBLE and I found myself slumping into a depression just trying to balance life. Despite all that I was going through, week after week, every Sunday I was in front of the television watching the Bills. Lose after lose for nearly the next decade. Until our bald headed savior would arrive.
Til this day, nothing connects me to the city more than the Bills. The sun seems to shine a little brighter after wins, and I managed to find a Bills Backers bar in my town (Hurley's Tavern in Inns Brook).
Over the years, I've gotten to know some of the regulars but I generally go to the bar by myself. From the moment I enter the Bills section, it might as well be a family reunion (I don't know half the people there either)
These are the only people who understand the emotional rollercoaster this organization has put us through since the departure of Jim, Thurm, Andre and the rest of the gang.
No other group of people understands the turmoil of claiming "this is our year" for 20 years of a playoff drought. And No other group of people understand the uncertainty Ralph Wilson's passing cast over the franchise. No one else understands my distain for Bon Jovi or a pre-presidency Donald Trump. Nor does anyone outside of these people know my love and gratitude for Terry and Kim.
Who else can I talk to about watching Andy Dalton drop back to hit Tyler Boyd for a game winning touchdown against the Ravens with 0:44 seconds on the clock, and taking pride in watching the Dalton Foundation rack up $442,000.00 from Bills fans. No one else can related to the ridiculousness of watching Rex ride a tandem bike or the organization drafting yet another running-back in the first round.
As we've watched players come and go, and the coaching carousal finally coming to a stop. From Bruce Smith to Mario Williams, from Stevie to Stefon, this has been nothing short of an emotionally abusive relationship since about 1997. But as the dawn of a new season is just over the horizon, I think we can all collectively say, THIS IS OUR YEAR.
So in closing...
I want to thank everyone that has made my Buffalo Bills experience what it has been. From my grandfather, to the Pegula's, the WGR staff, and most importantly to the fellow fans. Enduring each loss and celebrating each win with me, in spirit and in true. Thank you for welcoming in a lowly kid from Buffalo who's rooted in the Bills.
Bills Mafia, I'll see you at the parade February!