The end of the preseason means the off season is officially over, at least in my mind. Cue in all the old sayings like, “This is where the rubber meets the road”, “Getcha popcorn ready”, or my personal favorite, “Put you’re rubber underwear on, folks”. The NFL and our Buffalo Bills are about to starting writing the story of this professional football season in ink, with no rewrites allowed.
There’s really no adequate way to describe in writing what is going through the hearts and minds of Bills fans today, as we get ready to launch into the eagerly anticipated regular NFL season. This year is unlike any other for Bills fans in the history of the Buffalo Bills for so many reasons.
Right here, right now. This is where the real demarcation is made launching the Pegula Era of Bills football in Western New York. This team, this season has a completely different composition than any other we’ve seen since 1960. Yes, it is that profound.
Having never experienced a change in ownership, Bills fans are somewhat unique in that regard these days. I wasn’t sure what to expect because all I know is what 55 years of experience taught me as the fan of a football team with one owner, Mr. Ralph Wilson.
I often wondered over the years how the culture of the Bills organization might change with a new owner. So far, it’s been a very seamless transition from my distant, fan-based point of view. I’m sure the folks who have worked for decades at One Bills Drive probably wondered a lot about what would happen when ownership changed as well.
The staggering number of emotional adjustments that Bills fans experienced this off season were like no other. The highs and lows were the most extreme in the history of the franchise. Afterward, the change in ownership was immediately challenged by Doug Marrone’s rather bizarre departure from Western New York.
Along with the expected turmoil, the drama tsunami kept rolling along at One Bills Drive. Not only new ownership, but virtually an entirely new coaching staff had to be assembled as well. Watching it all unfold made the off season for Bills fans fly by with so many things happening.
And to add to all of this, our beloved son in the community, Jim Kelly, was fighting one of the most vicious fights of his life. Good news is that he is doing well and looks ready to roll through a great football season as a close adviser for the franchise.
The hiring of high profile coach Rex Ryan still boggles the minds of Bills fans as we get ready for the season opener against Indianapolis on September 13th. I still shake my head trying to make it compute the reality of Rex Ryan decked out in Bills colors, or what about this…in a Buffalo Sabres hat? How weird was that when he welcomed our new hockey coach Dan Bylsma to WNY. It will seem surreal to see Rex on OUR sideline on opening day.
The optimism of the off season is something I’ve always enjoyed. No pressure, no freaking out, just watching how things unfold at One Bills Drive. When the regular season starts, that all changes as we live and die together as a fan base.
Anyone claiming to be a sports fan knows that no one knows suffering like Buffalo Bills fans. NO ONE! The last time the Bills got this much hype in the national media was during the Super Bowl years.
Part of it is the “Rex Effect”, and part of the reason is that this is arguably the best team talent-wise since the Super Bowl teams of the early 1990s. It’s certainly the most expensive!
So when fans of other teams start asking us questions about the Bills, or bombard our digital world with their proclamations about our team, it’s a bit startling at first. We’ve essentially been dormant in the national media for the better part of the last 20 years. That could be about to change very soon.
We’ve already seen national media outlets writing so much more positive commentary about the future for the Buffalo Bills. Once the ownership issue was resolved, the franchise quickly set about building a foundation for winning by hiring Rex Ryan, and paying an unprecedented amount of money to obtain top shelf talent at as many positions as necessary. This sort of reconfiguration involving many expensive players would not have likely happened in the Ralph Wilson era.
So we as fans have to prepare ourselves for what it feels like to be a fan of a team that is expected to not only win and get into the playoffs, but arguably to go deeper in the playoffs than anyone could reasonably imagine for this team three years ago.
Furthermore, along with uprooting and replacing an entire coaching staff (something that doesn’t even phase us anymore as Bills fans), the powers to be put together a roster full of Ferrari race cars. Suddenly friends from every fan base starts to contact you and telling you that your team is stacked, as if we didn’t already know that was the case.
The off season has been like a dream come true for Bills fans in many ways. Our worst nightmare about the possible relocation of the team is over. Only we can understand the significance of living with that fear for decades, and what it means to be relieved of the burden.
However, all the possibilities are now rapidly turning into realities that we must all face as the regular season starts. The time has come to reap what has been sown. And just when you think you’re ready to move forward, your beloved team releases one its most beloved players for the last decade, Fred Jackson.
And then one goes on to read that is the nature of the business. That’s true, but it still whacks the fan base in the head with a sharp stick, just when you think you’re ready to move forward and launch into the regular season.
The dog days of summer were blissfully filled with delusions of grandeur for our beloved football team, but now they will soon be giving way to the cold reality of actually playing games that count. No place to run and hide anymore like there was when your team was invisible to the rest of the world.
It’s probably worth noting that I’ve talked a significant amount of trash during this off season. In fact, my trash talking seems to have taken a turn for the worse as far as needling other fans about making assumptions regarding the Bills based on past experience.
Now the realization has set in that it’s time to pay the piper. I’m ready (as if there is a choice), and as usual, “all-in” with rose colored bifocal glasses firmly implanted on my face. The Bills face Indianapolis next week, and still have a few things to nail down and get right before the game starts.
I feel excitement in a very different way than prior to any other season of NFL football. The Bills are the darling of the national media, and anything less than a playoff appearance, and the season will be considered an abject failure. Given the improvement in the AFC East, that is no small task.
However, one thing makes Bills fans better suited to withstand failure than any other fan base. We’ve “been there, done that” and wrote the book on failure. There isn’t a failure of any kind that Bills fans haven’t experienced, having been inside the underbelly of the NFL for the last 25 years.
As twisted as that seems, it’s hardened our exterior into steel that is stronger than anything Bethlehem Steel ever produced. Failure is something we get. It’s actually success that has become an unfamiliar concept.
How will we adjust if our team is successful as we go along during the season? My suggestion would be to consider any behavior you’ve observed coming from Patriots* fans regarding how they handle success, and then do the exact opposite :)
OK, seriously… we are finally at a moment in time in the history of the Bills franchise where they are set up for success, instead of being set up with the top priority being to maximize profit. The Bills are expected to win, and win big with a roster stacked with talent. They have some of the best coaches in the league.
In many ways, this is the biggest “moment of truth” ever facing Bills fans. It’s anybody’s guess how this will all unfold this season because we have been conditioned so thoroughly to expect negative outcomes after more than a decade of experiencing them non-stop.
I’ve repeated this many times, and I don’t think it can be emphasized enough, whatever happens this season, be sure to savor the good moments. We’ve waited a lifetime for a major league professional sports championship to happen in Western New York.
As Rex said when he grabbed the microphone for the first time as head coach of the Bills:
“Is this thing on? Are you ready?”