Admit it, you’ve done this. More than once.
The Buffalo Bills are in first place in the AFC East.
To some, those words are both a source of pride as well as a little tongue-in-cheek humor. For others, they’re a false flag, emphasized only by those trying to convince themselves into thinking it actually means anything. The question is, does it?
There have been so many instances of fool’s gold within the first month of recent Bills seasons, many fans are understandably snake bitten to the point of shaming fellow Mafia members for apparently buying the hype so early, while reminding them the consistently invincible Patriots have seemed vulnerable before.
However, it’s also understandable that the long absence of postseason qualification has made fans so starved for success that any incidence of winning percentage superiority, no matter the brevity or conditions, will be met with a social media ticker tape parade. The thing is, in sports, it is not without some precedence.
In 1967, the Chicago Cubs had enjoyed a mere two winning seasons in the 22 years since their 1945 World Series appearance, punctuated by infamous front office moves that included an in-season rotating manager position and the all-time blunder trade of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio. However, in 1966, owner PK Wrigley hired Leo “The Lip” Durocher, a manager who intended to change the cuddlesome, benign Cubs culture and commanded respect from his players.
With established superstar Ernie Banks and young players like Billy Williams and Ron Santo, the Cubbies began playing up to their potential, and in 1967 finished in 3rd place out of 10 with 87 wins, their most since 1945. The most memorable moment of that season was not provided by any particular game, but what happened after one.
On July 2, 1967, the Cubs defeated the Reds, 4-1. This earned Chicago another achievement they hadn’t had since ’45; a share of first place in the National League late in a season. Cubs fans so wanted to enjoy the feeling of first place that they refused to leave Wrigley Field until they saw visual confirmation of that accomplishment.
Flags above the Wrigley scoreboard would indicate the current National League standings and were usually updated the following day. The fans in the stadium were not willing to wait that long, wanting to see, if at least once, the Chicago flag flying above all other teams. Over 40,000 in attendance chanted “We’re number 1”, loudly insisting for 15 minutes that scoreboard operators put the Chicago flag in the top place until finally, they did so.
With Siri decades away, Cub fans picked up newspapers for a lasting visual of first place
The atmosphere was so charged that day, Bryant Gumbel remarked “You really would’ve thought they won the pennant.” It turned out first place wouldn’t last long that year, but Cubs fans knew the team was on their way to contention. Two years later, 1969 seemed to be their year, but an 8 ½ game lead in mid-August nose-dived into an 8 game deficit behind the Mets as the Cubs faltered down the stretch.
The circumstances surrounding the Bills are somewhat different than the 1967 Cubs. It is only the very first game of the season for the Bills, and that first win came against a team deliberately stripped to its nuts & bolts. Additionally, many feel the Patriots will soon recover and be back to their soul-crushing habits.
Still, the idea that the Bills Mafia, who have had little to cheer about for decades, would so celebrate the minor achievement of an early first place standing is not indicative of naïveté on their part. Rather, it is a sign that they are long overdue for a winner, and in a new era of forward thinking attitudes from the Coach and GM, they are hoping it is a sign of things to come.
Editor’s babble: We welcome Michael Parthum as a contributor to our blog. You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelParthum. He’s a great addition to any timeline!