Just when you thought the future was already so bright you would have to start sporting some serious ‘Whaleyator’ shades, another literally unthinkable thing happens to WNY sports fans. This time it comes in the form of the University at Buffalo Bulls mens basketball team getting their dance ticket punched and facing their first challenge in the NCAA ‘March Madness’ tournament against West Virginia later today.
By the time you read this, the outcome to the first game will have already been determined. However, I’d like to go on record before the game even starts and recognize the significance of this moment in time as a WNY sports fan.
No matter your age or tenure (sentence?) as a fan, this is a watershed moment in the legacy of WNY sports. While Syracuse is preoccupied with containing a scandal, not one but TWO SUNY schools rocket their way into the NCAA mens basketball tournament. Wow.
That seems almost as absurd as thinking about Rex Ryan being the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Seriously, UB? I remember back in the days when I was finishing my nursing degree there in the late 1970s that half of the football stadium was condemned and awaiting obliteration.
At that time, we liked to say (tongue in cheek of course) that UB stressed academics over sports. Professors wielded greater power then, and athletic programs were there mostly as a means of helping students get tuition paid through scholarship. Having little emphasis on sports was literally seen as a badge of honor, and differentiated our state university from the flagship schools in other states.
That all changed when UB decided to jump into the pool of D1 sports, long after I blew out of town (two days after graduation), and headed for the mountain west. Fast forward more than 30 years, and the UB Bulls are about to go to the dance that is referred to as ‘March Madness’.
Now, if that isn’t enough mind-bending reality for a long suffering WNY sports fan, just twist your head around the fact that the Bills are now owned by a family whose sole mission is to bring championships to Buffalo. If someone would have told me ten years ago that the Bills and Sabres would be owned by self-made billionaires who wish for nothing more than to bring joy to a long suffering fan base, I’d say someone sprinkled fairy dust on their chicken wings.
As a fan base, we know losing like no other. We wallow in it. It defines us with that special badge of honor that only goes to fan bases that measure their misery in decades, not seasons. It’s easy to be a Packers fan in ‘title town’.
Not so much when your team’s only claim to fame is four championship losses in a row. Most of the WNY fan base left doesn’t remember or even existed during the Bills early AFL success during the mid-1960s. Losing is what most of us have experienced as sports fans.
Watching the Pegulas unfurl their next flag in Western New York has been a fascinating process. People who were kids when the smoke stacks in Lackawanna turned the white part of your sneakers red remember what it was like growing up during that era. A completely different vibe from what is going on around the harbor area today. The steel manufacturing era is officially buried in the sediment on the bottom of Lake Erie.
The resurgence of downtown Buffalo around the harbor is the first sign that success and joy are now beginning to define our culture. Winning can and will happen despite our best efforts to thwart it.
One of the greatest challenges I’ve observed over past decades is how to go about intensely focusing on experiencing all that life has to offer RIGHT NOW, instead of worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow. I suppose devoting a good part of my life to working with people whose lives were sometimes coming to an end seriously influenced how I tend to think about these types of things.
There have been few (if any) pivotal times in WNY sports history where we have witnessed a shift in culture of this magnitude along the easternmost shores of Lake Erie. Our inland sea has literally been parted, and we are about to see what is on the ‘other side’.
So, before our beloved UB Bulls even tip off against West Virginia in a few hours, let me go on record grateful as possible for being alive at what seems like the beginning of a magic carpet ride (cue the song here, for those who believe in the power of music). Win or lose in this tournament, the Bulls are ushering in a new era with impunity.
As beaten down as we have been for decades, it would be so easy to get into the mindset of worrying about what might happen if the Bills get into difficulty with the salary cap. Wake up and smell the roses. The mission has changed and you better read the memo.
The Pegulas are about bringing a winning tradition to professional sports teams in Western New York. Concurrently, a sports renaissance is also occurring down Main Street at UB these days. This simultaneous eruption out of loserville is no coincidence.
As with any entity in life, there are cycles of success and failure with sports teams as well as anything we see or do in life. The fact that WNY sports fans have experienced epic levels of failure so consistently for decade upon decade speaks to the rarity of such an occurrence. It’s the reverse phenomena of a sports dynasty… a ‘loserty’ of sorts.
The temptation to dismiss early signs of impending success as ‘wishful thinking’ instantly floods the minds of many across the Niagara region. It’s reflexive, and almost second nature for WNY sports fans. It’s actually a fairly decent defense mechanism. How else does one explain the stupidity of blindly loving a sports team that so consistently and endlessly shatters your heart and soul?
Seems human nature that these instincts often operate to obfuscate the sheer joy of what it feels like to walk into the sun after years of living in the fog of chronic losing. The flashing red sign I’m seeing these days seems like a reminder to capture this moment forever and imprint it on my brain.
Remember, the blissful moment of winning a championship for the first time is a one-time phenomena. That high can never be achieved again. When more than 50 years of frustration are about to be unleashed, don’t get lost and miss the significance of realizing an impending ‘moment’ in time.
Worrying and obsessing about achieving that championship goal is a distraction. It detracts from the light at the end of the tunnel that just got a whole lot brighter. You can see shiny trophies on the other side.
However, what you may miss is the fact that you are already ON the other side if you just look around and savor the moment. No matter what age a fan is these days, this is a pivotal moment being ushered in by none other than our University at Buffalo Bulls mens basketball team. We’ve never been to this dance!
Regardless if we get to tango just this one time, or move on to the next partner along the way, don’t lose sight of what you’ve spent a lifetime of passion pursuing. The feeling of imminent success is upon us. We all have permission to experience a joyful state of mind regarding our years of fan-hood.
Now let’s get on this roller coaster and ride it to infinity. Nobody circles the wagons like we do. Go Bills.