This season might be one that turns out to be very special for many Bills fans, regardless of the W-L record. While the team settles into its weekly cycle of review, relax, preparation and implementation, Bills fans spend the week either elated or deflated depending on the outcome of the previous game. It’s been that way for over fifty years.
However, it might be wise for Bills fans to be mindful of the slight drum beat that is also going on while we enjoy the ritual that defines our collective autumn each year. I’m reminded of the beginning of my senior year in high school. The year was 1973, and although there was a shiny new stadium to enjoy, there was a personal sense that my life would be forever changed by the next season. By the next year, I would be leaving home and going to college. What will it be like to be a Bills fan with a brand new life?
That was the last time I remember hearing that same drum beat, like a nagging reminder to enjoy each day, because life was about to change in ways I could only imagine in my dreams. Each day is one day closer to leaving home and becoming independent for the first time. Once the comfort and security of the home and rituals you’ve always known are left behind, life is never quite the same. It may be just as much fun (or not), but it is never the same. The only thing we can count on in life is change.
Fast forward nearly forty years. There was college, jobs, moving to the west and living in four different states. There was marriage, graduate school, becoming a step-parent, business owner, professional writer and researcher, teacher, grandparent, and finally retirement. Yet one thing remained the same throughout all of that living; my Buffalo Bills fan-hood. No matter how far flung, no matter the impediments to fulfilling personal passion, the Buffalo Bills remained in the forefront of devoted hobbies… and love him or hate him, there was only one owner.
Now the stadium is at the end of its life expectancy, and so is the owner. The WNY region throughout all of this time remains proud despite the continued decline of that which made it strong; it’s manufacturing base. Many WNYers like myself ended up all over the world in order to fulfill their dreams. However, the team provided the link which allowed us to remain connected to our birth place and friends. Many of us continued to live and die with the fortunes (or mostly the lack thereof) of our favorite football team. It remains the bond that will forever link us to our proud past, but not much longer.
Like any devoted Bills fan, I’ve been taking in all the political wrangling that is going on regarding the future of the franchise. A confluence of variables make it difficult to ignore the reality that big time change is about to come to the Bills. The recent hospitalization of Mr. Wilson serves as a stark reminder that at 93 years old, the likelihood of a change in ownership coming sooner than later is no longer deniable.
If it were only as simple as a change in ownership, I suspect most Bills fans would not have such heavy hearts. The problem goes way beyond what happens when the Bills are no longer Mr. Wilson’s team. Love him or resent him, he represents the face of the franchise. That is about to change drastically, sooner than I suspect some of us are emotionally prepared to face.
Exacerbating the unsettling feeling of ownership changes are the realities that the stadium is also on life support. The fact that this is happening in a community that is bankrupt, and in a state which has always regarded WNY as the ugly step-sister creates even more heartburn for all of us. These are the factors that generate that drum beat which reminds us all that nothing is forever… no matter how stitched together the fabric is that binds us.
The Bills as we have known them are about to become the house you grew up in and left, only to return and find that your parents are dead, and the new owners demolished it in favor of leasing the gas rights to Chevron. Time marches on and waits for no one. The speed with which this sort of transformation takes place can easily catch even the most prepared off guard.
For Bills fans, the fear of relocation has existed for decades. Many of us remember the threats of moving the team to another city occurred several times over the decades. However, unlike fans of other teams who have gone through many of the same threats, the morphing of ownership is only one of several variables loyal Bills fans are simultaneously facing.
There is the stadium issue, the Toronto games, the NFL mandate to make ever increasing amounts of revenue, among other things that are already changing the landscape for Bills fans. Heck, even the tailgate experience is being morphed into a ‘politically correct’ world. What it meant to be a Bills fan is now threatened by extinction from forces that have less to do with ownership and more to do with the changing values in our society.
So, those of you like myself who have been around to enjoy the entire enchilada with this team had better start paying attention to that drum beat. Ready or not, transformation is coming. It is coming more likely sooner than later. The drum beat is getting louder. I remember the first time I heard Mr. Wilson say to Bills fans several years ago that “we should enjoy them while we have them,” and that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Now I hear that message over and over in the background of the drum beat.
Each person must decide for themselves how best to handle change. Me? I’ve decided that win or lose, I’m going to celebrate this football season like I did my senior year in high school back in 1972-3. Some days were good, some days were bad but I cherished each and every one of them with just a little extra nostalgia… and the beat goes on…