As a fan base, we know suffering better than most. However, that’s only part of what defines us. Part rust belt reputation, part losing legacy meld together to form our unique reputation as one of the most resilient fan bases in the history of professional sports.
We are Buffalo sports fans, legendary losers extraordinaire.
If there’s a new way to lose and break our collective spirit, the Buffalo Bills and Sabres will find a way to get it done. Between our two teams, we now logged in our 100th anniversary of championship-less years.
[DISCLAIMER: Before all my peer oldie friends jump on my case that the Bills won the AFL Championship in 1964 and 1965, I’m referring to what the pundits consider ‘major’ sports leagues and the AFL was/is arguably not considered to be one of them.]
However, no matter how we are labeled… sad sacks we are not. We persevere like no other fan base in sports. When Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel went down with a horrible high ankle sprain on the eve of the regular season this past week, the fickle finger of fate was only beginning to wave at us.
Oh no, that wasn’t nearly enough skunk spray all over our latest hope for redemption. When Evander Kane’s body slammed into the boards at warp-10 in the opening game for the Sabres on Thursday night, you could feel the collective air come out of every set of lungs in the crowd at Key Bank Center.
Here we go again.
Resisting the urge to go to bed and suck my thumb, I chose to take a more cerebral path in an effort to achieve greater mental harmony with the forces of the universe conspiring to shatter my dreams once again. Another new season, another set of crises that may thwart any chance of success. But this year feels different for some reason.
Shaq Lawson, Reggie Ragland, Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus. Now Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. How does this happen to one community of sports fans starving for just one season of good luck after a hundred years of ultimate frustration?
Of course, injuries happen all the time in sports. And Buffalo sports fans have the hide of a bison when it comes to accepting disappointment. We don’t want pity, but a little empathy from the players and coaches for a staggering history of heartbreak and loss might be nice.
That’s when things started clicking in my brain, which we all know is a dangerous thing. So as I continued to lick my wounds at the thought of another lost season, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I should stop waffling about Rex Ryan.
As I suspect other Bills fans felt when the Bills went 0-2, I wanted to lash out at Rex’s buffoonery. We all heard from Jets fans after Rex was hired by the Bills that we would love him as a person but would someday sour on him as a head coach.
Oh yes, I went there and rekindled my distaste for the legendary Rex Ryan blowhard tactics. Then in the midst of my despair, I realized what a hypocrite I was for doing so. Rex is exactly the coach I whined about wanting for years.
Throughout the Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron eras, I pined away for a coach who embraced Buffalo. To this day, I’m still repulsed by the fact that Gregg Williams arrogantly (and prominently) chose to display a picture of the ‘Music City Miracle’ in his home while living in Western New York and head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
I said to friends for years that if only Buffalo could have a coach that understood the fan base and embraced us, we would eventually find our way back to respectability. Bill Parcells and his caustic mannerisms formed the basis of my ideal head coach for the Bills; loud, stern, and universally defensive of everything.
After the Dick Jauron years, I was convinced more than ever that a passionate head coach is more reflective of our fan base than any other personality type. Somebody that would want a championship as badly for us as for the team or themselves. Somebody that ‘got’ us.
So after the first two games, I found myself lamenting every article in the national media ripping on Rex. I felt those familiar emotions start to surface with every NFL Network sneer from their holier-than-thou celebrity “analysts”. You know, the ones who take every opportunity to slam anything relating to the “rust belt”, flyover zone they deem unworthy?
Their bicoastal prejudice notwithstanding, the skewering of the head coach and owners when the Bills were 0-2 did provide an epiphany for this weary old Buffalo girl. I like Rex Ryan a lot more than I ever wanted to admit.
In fact, win or lose, through ridiculous proclamations or promo spots for Sabres fans, Rex Ryan continues to show he really is one of us. And since he’s gone all-in on us, maybe win or lose we should be all-in on him. Of course, that means that brother Rob and the circus act also comes as part of the deal.
The crazy start to this season by the Bills and Sabres is a great way to inaugurate the next hundred years in Buffalo sports history. Might as well ride straight into it (or over it) riding shotgun with Ryan brothers. Giddyup.