by Brad Gelber, Buffalo Sports Page
When Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a 49 yard touchdown, clinching the Bills first playoff berth since 1999, I didn’t know how to feel. Over the years I had played the scenario over and over in my mind, confident that when the time came (if it ever did come,) I’d be ready. As my house erupted with shouting & cheering, I sat there quietly. Essentially in shock. Did that really just happen? Did everything finally go right for the team that nothing seems to ever go right for?
As a WNY native, I grew up surrounded by love for the Bills. While my parents are both from out of the area, unlike many others, my fandom and eventual desire to cover the team, didn’t come from generations before me. Growing up here however, my passion for Buffalo sports was inevitable.
“I Have Never Known What Winning Football Feels Like”
Being 28-years old however, I have never known what winning football feels like. The Sabres had their deep playoff runs, which certainly helped over the course of the drought, but unlike the fans before my generation, we didn’t have Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and four-consecutive Super Bowls to ease the pain. In fact my earliest Bills memory is none other than the last time they made it to the playoffs… the Music City Miracle.
I remember being at a neighbors house for a viewing party. I remember sitting on the couch and everyone around me celebrating what looked like a Bills win. I remember the play and the shouting that followed. I remember the silence that proceeded and the party clearing out quickly. I remember going home and wondering what even happened. THAT is my Buffalo Bills playoff memory… until now.
Trusting the Process
When Sean McDermott was hired on January 11, 2017, Bills fans knew they were getting a no-nonsense leader. A far departure from the circus, headlined by Rex Ryan. McDermott preached about “Trusting the Process” and how he was here to change the culture and build a winner. Shortly later, Bills GM Brandon Beane joined him and echoed similar sentiments. The problem was, we had heard it all before. Repeatedly as a matter of fact, through various regimes over the 17-year drought. Fast-forward to Sunday and Sean McDermott & Brandon Beane delivered on their promise. No more humiliation. No more being the butt of every sports joke. No more sense of feeling cursed. In one season, the new regime was able to set Bills fans free.
There were certainly bumps in the road. After getting rid of big names like Sammy Watkins and later Marcell Dareus, many media members (myself included,) picked the Bills to win 3-4 games tops. “The Process” was poked fun at. The word “tank” was thrown around on more than one occasion, but can you blame any of us? Losing and disappointment became the norm. Doubting the Bills wasn’t being pessimistic, but rather rationale. It’s all we had ever known.
It Still Hasn’t Sunk In
Several days removed from clinching the playoffs, it still hasn’t truly set in for me. The impact on what has occurred, still hasn’t processed in my mind and I doubt I’m alone. I don’t think it will until kickoff on Sunday in Jacksonville. Maybe not even then. Maybe it’ll take until the playoff run is over, however long or short it may be. Perhaps this sounds overly dramatic, this is just a game after all, but in Buffalo it’s more than that. It’s community. It’s a sense of pride. It’s a way of life.
While I do my best to remove my hometown bias when I write about the Bills, or talk about them on the radio, or TV, this moment is different. While I had no idea at the time, it would take 17-years to come full circle, this moment took me right back to that 10-year old boy sitting quietly on the couch at his neighbor’s house. The disbelief I felt then, is the same disbelief I feel now. It’s funny how sports can do that to you. While I’ll go into Sunday’s game with my media hat on, attempting to watch & analyze in an unbiased manner, you better believe that 10-year old boy will be there too, cheering on his Buffalo Bills. After all, he’s waited a long time to finally get to do that again.