I just finished listening to Bill Simmons’ podcast with lifelong Bills fan Ariel Helwani, which is a great listen but also caused some soul searching. Ariel is obviously stoked about our squad, but admits to being confused with how to handle the 2022 Buffalo Bills. I share that sentiment, so I thought it might be worthwhile to plumb the depths of our collective psyche for some answers as to how we should deal with the fact that the 2022 Buffalo Bills are good at football. Like, maybe really, really good; they are the favorites to win the Super Bowl and Simmons is unsarcastically asking whether they can go 17-0. This is obviously a welcome development; but it’s also very weird. Rooting for a good football team presents its own set of problems, and I have never had to deal with them.
That’s because for my entire life as a Bills fan (I’m 39), the Bills have sucked. They didn’t make the playoffs for the first 17 years of this century. In the NFL, where the rules are designed to make bad teams good and good teams bad, that level of incompetence is truly remarkable. Even poorly run teams should manage to fall ass-backward into the playoffs once a decade (s/o Cleveland). Worse still, the Bills were not just bad; they were irrelevant. It seems amazing that the win over Tennessee was their first home Monday night win since 1994, until you consider that they only played 4 Monday night home games in that span. 4 games in 28 years! It’s kinda hard to win national TV games when no one wants to put you on national TV. Some of that surely has to do with Buffalo being small and cold, but some of it also has to do with the fact that our best quarterback in that span was a washed Drew Bledsoe. We were just not very interesting for a long time.
Obviously, that is no longer the case. We are good and we have a QB who throws with a grenade launcher, trucks defensive tackles and hurdles cornerbacks. But it happened very quickly; it wasn’t four years ago that I watched Nathan Peterman throw 5 interceptions in the first half of a football game. This rags-to-riches rise presents some novel ethical issues; how should a fan base act when they suddenly find themselves rooting for the Super Bowl favorite after spending a generation in football wilderness? Two questions are of monumental importance.
1. Should we talk shit?
Let’s deal with the easier one first. I will admit up front that this version of the Bills has not accomplished anything worthwhile. Their best accomplishment is getting curb-stomped in the AFC Championship game two years ago. Sure, they delivered 2 ass kickings in 2 opportunities so far this year, but the Rams might be mediocre and the Titans definitely are. So I get why other fan bases might be annoyed with our new found confidence; there is something unseemly about talking aggressive shit when you’ve done so little - it feels a bit nouveau riche. "Act like you’ve been there before", they say. But the thing is: we haven’t. Talking shit is one of the primary reasons for following sports. If you have to wait until you win the Super Bowl to do it, then hardly anyone would get to and there would be no point in watching football. We currently root for THAT team that has THE guy. This will probably never happen again in our lifetimes. As Shakespeare said, "better three hours too soon than one minute too late". Conclusion: talk shit. If someone calls you on it, conjure up the image of Trent Edwards checking down on 3rd and 12 and talk louder.
2. Should we emotionally hedge?
It is one thing to be outwardly confident, but our inner psyche is an entirely different matter. When you have losses the caliber of Wide Right, The Music City Miracle and 13 Seconds, it is prudent to be a bit circumspect. The hardest thing for me about watching the Bills these days is that the games actually matter. One would think that was a good thing, but after 20 years of losing I’d stopped caring and my Sundays were stress-free. Now I yell at my kids when Dawson Knox drops a first down pass. There is a cost to expectations, and it is fair to ask whether we should lower them. Consider two facts: (1) most would consider this season a failure if the Bills don’t win the Super Bowl; and (2) it is very likely that the Bills will not win the Super Bowl. DraftKings has the Bills at +400 to win it, which is the best in the league but also implies only a 25% chance of it actually happening. Put bluntly, we are probably going to be disappointed because the nature of football is such that the odds of any given team winning in any given year are not high. So should we chill out and temper our expectations? Absolutely not. Sports is not about being rational; its about caring way more than you should whether the people wearing your jerseys score more points than the people wearing different ones. And can you imagine how we would feel if they actually won? It would be all the more glorious because it’s improbable; because the road there has been so hard; and because Western New York is a place no one wants to live except the people who live there. I would take a hundred seasons of pain and agony to have that feeling just once. Never in my lifetime have the Bills been closer to giving it to me. And when it happens I want to feel it in all its glory, not some muted, artificially tempered version. As the great Marv Levy was fond of saying, where else would you rather be than right here, right now? Surely not watching Trent Edwards. Embrace the expectations. Strap in and let’s ride.