Welcome to Day 9 of our Celebrity Blog Series!
As you all know, Bills fans are everywhere. In all areas of the world and in all segments of society.
A few months ago, we came up with the idea of asking some of the more well known fans in the media and Twittersphere if they’d be interested in contributing a guest column for BillsMafia.com to help kick off the 2012 season. The topic could be whatever they chose to write on. The team’s outlook, the team’s history, their thoughts on the Bills Mafia movement… anything really. One contributor will even be sharing his Fantasy Football tips.
Wait, “one contributor?” What’s that supposed to mean? Well, we’re going to have some fun with it and wait until the article is actually posted to reveal who that day’s writer is.
Today, Nick Mendola shares his thoughts on the state of the team and what it means to be a fan.
Nick is a columnist, reporter, writer and broadcaster who graduated from the University at Buffalo in 2005. He spent five years at WGR Sports Radio 550 on The Howard Simon Show and a year hosting his own show at WECK 1230 AM in Buffalo. Mendola co-owns FC Buffalo in the National Premier Soccer League and does radio broadcasts for UB Football and other teams. He also writes for Bills Digest.
For the longest time, it’s been the Buffalo Bills who’ve seemingly been making their fans offers they cannot refuse. After all, the dark cloud hanging over Buffalo fans, win or lose, has been threatening to rain hard enough to transport One Bills Drive to Toronto or Los Angeles in the manner formerly reserved for Noah’s Ark.
It’s hardly a coincidence that the genesis of the Bills Mafia movement came about right around the time the team began to resemble its fan base. Yes, the Bills had spent years with players peeled off the NFL scrap heap; No-names and afterthoughts had draped themselves in red, white and blue well before the 2011 team kicked itself into high gear. This time, however, we had a team to answer the question of “What about me and my blue collar?”
See, Buffalo has always had a misconception about it, particularly when it comes to the folks who live and work in the area. The exodus of teaching college graduates and other emigrants left many outsiders assuming we have an inferiority complex, rather than the truth: the majority of folks in town have made a conscious choice to carve out their living in Western New York. It’s just taken more than a decade for the football team to pick up on that notion.
This isn’t to say the “made” men comprising the annual 53-man roster in Orchard Park will lay down a 16-0 season before playing the playoffs blind-folded to make it fair on the opposition. That’s just silly. But from Stevie Johnson to Fred Jackson to Ryan Fitzpatrick, we’ve watched a group of guys choose Buffalo. You get the feeling that climbing the ladder to the Wall of Fame means more to them than joining somebody else’s band of brothers.
And in a sense, they were all “born” here. Was a Coe College product getting a look anywhere besides the organization that employed its No. 1 alumnus (apologies to former Celtics head coach Bill Fitch)? Was the Kentucky wide-out’s career such a sure thing that there were 29 other receivers selected ahead of him in the 2008 draft? Heck, Stevie Johnson wasn’t even the first wide receiver named Johnson selected in that year’s edition.
As we learned from Bill Polian, Fitz came to town because his second-best offer was backing up Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Nick Barnett wasn’t welcome back in Green Bay. Scott Chandler played for three teams in four years, but it took his fourth try — here in Buffalo — before he’d record an NFL reception.
Chan Gailey was out of football for over a year before the Bills inked him as their new head coach.
In a romantic world — one where there are no Fredo Corleones, Carlo Rizzis or Moe Greenes — this group of upstarts gets a whole lot of wins, justifying the choices of those who stayed and those who were convinced to turn this scrapper’s soiree into a Super Mario Party. In the perverted and cursed world in which some would tell you we Bills fan reside, this group of hopeful heroes is turned back into pumpkins and mice at the stroke of Week One.
What makes it all palatable is that while other claim to be a part of ballyhooed “nations,” we live inside of a mafia. It’s an unsavory group of ragtag tailgaters whose membership isn’t guarded like that of the cosa nostra. Rather, the secrets of this mafia are the satisfaction we get from rooting for this team, for living through this history, waiting for our slice of NFL glory.
No one’s going to lie and tell you they’d trade the heralded history of the Steelers or Giants for the checkered past of the Bills, but this mafia’s here hoping this is our family’s time to run things. But even if this year’s hopes are just the sad, sad form of Lefty Ruggiero and the 2012 team is about to betray us like Donnie Brasco, life as a Bills fan feels pretty alright today.