Back to a Bills Town
By Kevin Sylvester, Buffalo Sports Page
The headline suggests that Buffalo wasn’t a Bills town. For the last decade it hasn’t been. International games, Terrell Owens signings, and the Ryan brothers were all a mirage to sell tickets and merchandise. A money making formula that worked despite being a bad team for longer than my middle school football fan son has been on this planet. That’s clearly over.
The Sabres took over this town with an unpredicted playoff run in 2006. That team lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, but this town fell in love with group of young, undersized and underrated players. The Sabres played with heart and speed. They loved crashing the party, and in return, the party came to them.
Fans shifted to the Sabres. They were cool. Heck, Mike Robitaille and I were cool! (Mike still is). The team backed it up the following year with a return trip to the Conference Finals. The summer of 2007 was terrible as both captains signed mega deals elsewhere, but fans stuck with the team. The “slug” was worn all over town. Kids loved the Sabres. The town had flipped.
It used to be that the Sabres’ season didn’t start until the Bills’ season was done. When I worked at WGR early in my career, we would report scores from the game, carry the games on our airwaves, but talking about the team on talk shows was rare. “Bills Talk” ruled the airwaves. When the Bills cleaned out their lockers, the afternoon talk show host (Chuck Dickerson) would tell his producer to start booking Sabres guests so we can figure out if the team’s any good. That’s how it worked.
The combination of losing and the Sabres surge flipped that script the last decade. The Bills were bad, and the Sabres provided hope. But once again, it’s flipped. The Sabres have been worse than the Bills (see the Tank), and “The Process” has taken hold. The Bills also have youth (coach and GM), and a bunch of relatively no-name players out to prove themselves. They’re a likable team for a change. And that is a change, because right now, and surprisingly, there hasn’t been much to like about the Sabres.
The team was supposed to better, ready to compete for a playoff spot. So far, they’ve been a dud. That will change too, but when is anybody’s guess. It could be this year, it could be next. But if the Bills keep winning, we’ll figure it out once the cleats are cleaned out.