True Grit: A Tribute To Western New York Bills Fans

Those not born near the lee shore of Lake Erie often have a difficult time understanding the bond that exists between those of us who were blessed to be born and raised in Western New York. This is especially true of people from farther regions of the country. They don’t “get us.” Cities and regions are like babies who grow up to become very different kinds of people. Each has their own identity based upon genetics and history.

 (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Bills fans are mourning the loss of Mr. Wilson and praying for a miracle for Jim Kelly. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Most places around the country seem to have lost their distinctly regional identity in an age of franchised restaurants. There are not many places left in the United States where a specific kind of cultural identity stands out as much as it does in Western New York. What evidence is there to back this up?

History. At the time Western New York was being settled in the early 1800’s, it became regarded as a “western outpost” (that pleasure is shared with Pittsburgh as well). Like the wild west being settled in the late 1800’s, the early 1800’s were a time when moving to Western New York was akin to living on the edge of civilization. The rush of people from Europe to the United States before World War I through Ellis Island created a generation of people who formed the backbone and essence of Western New Yorkers today.

I know this because I am a granddaughter of two incredible people who escaped Austria to settle in South Buffalo at the turn of the 20th century. Grandma was 16 years old when she and my grandfather came across the Atlantic with a baby, three months old. Her husband spoke five languages and found a job with an insurance company in Buffalo, New York. It was time to escape Austria, as the Austria-Hungary Empire was collapsing.

My grandparents were one of hundreds of thousands of people who settled in the Buffalo area after factories grew for decades after the Erie Canal was built. Buffalo was settled in distinct neighborhoods, primarily by language affiliation. If you traveled along Ridge Road back in the day, you could move through blocks of streets where ethnic groups congregated as they tried to make a life for themselves in a new and strange land.

Fast forward a few generations and we still find that many Western New Yorkers today have roots that travel back to the European immigration period of the mid-to-late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They had children who had many children. The population grew from the base of residents already there. By the 1970s, the population began an unprecedented exodus as the factories that supported people moved elsewhere or closed.

Since that time, Western New York has been a net exporter of people to other parts of the country. However, immigration of new people moving into Western New York has been much less than in other parts of the country over the last 50 years. Therefore, many of the people who live in Western New York have very deep roots in the region. I believe to some extent this explains our uniqueness as a region of people who are very passionate about how our legacy is defined by others.

Why is this important or relevant to NFL sports fans today? The fans of the Buffalo Bills are uniquely deep in their geographic roots, unlike any other team, other than perhaps the Green Bay Packers. Therefore, in the minds of many Bills fans, we take it very personally when fans of other teams disparage Buffalo, not just for the folly of our sports teams, but because of our very distinct cultural identity.

The pendulum is just starting to swing in terms of Western New York emerging from cold storage after 50 years of being made a laughing stock around the nation. I lived through the jokes about Western New York lobbed at me after living in five states in the western U.S. Like many native Western New Yorkers, I had to leave the area to have a chance to maximize my career potential. But just like many other “transplants,” I never lost my root system. It’s as deep into Western New York as ever, more than 30 years after leaving the region.

Most people from other regions of the country do not ‘get’ us. They have little or no understanding of what it’s like to grow up like our ancestors who moved to Western New York from many parts of the world. Yes, the weather stinks. We know that and are proud to say that a blizzard is preferable to an earthquake, hurricane, mudslide, or volcanic eruption. So put a sock in it if you are going to rag on our beloved homeland.

Many people from the Queen City already suffer from an inferiority complex from living in the shadow of New York City, and now we find ourselves more than five decades into professional football as fans still waiting for the first Lombardi to be hoisted in downtown Buffalo.

Cue up the four Super Bowl losses. Add to that 14 years of playoff drought, and you can see why there is little chance of any ‘bandwagoners’ left among Bills fans. Props go to those who never grew up in Western New York, but have stood by this football team. There is a special place in heaven for all of you.

Finally, here is a little tidbit of information to share with those who have no clue regarding who we are as a fan base:

We are loud and proud.
We are loyal and compassionate.
We fight each other in good times and hug each other when times are tough.
We don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of us.
We will never shut up, give up, or let up.
We will persevere.
We ARE True Grit.

Never has a sports fan base faced the humiliation of defeat in a championship game in any professional sport four years in a row. Don’t feel sorry for us sports world. There isn’t a thing left you can throw at us that we can’t handle.

All we ask as a fan base is that you toss some kindness and prayer if so inclined to our reluctant son, Jim Kelly. Our hearts are broken for this man and his family, who are a deep part of the fabric of who we are as a community of people.

Jim Kelly defines the spirit of what it means to be a Western New Yorker. He is a Western PA guy. He knew but resisted his fate as a young man, only to become a son who we embrace as our own. He married our own, and his children are our own.

Bills Nation is mourning the loss of our iconic Mr. Wilson, and in deep despair as we grapple with the enormous difficulties facing our beloved son. So to all the nation of sports fans who send their condolences, thank you. It is deeply appreciated as we try to move forward as a community of people of proud fighters. We are used to going it alone, but we also welcome support along the way.

About Robyn Mundy

Robyn Mundy is Editor-in-Chief of the BillsMafia blog at BuffaloFAMbase.com. She's a retired oncology nurse & psychotherapist who loves to write about her life-long passion for the Buffalo Bills, and occasionally something of clinical or social relevance. Robyn lives with her husband Gary and their dogs in the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. Robyn is also a proud founding sponsor. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynMundyWYO.

12 Replies to “True Grit: A Tribute To Western New York Bills Fans”

  1. Beautiful article!! I was born raised and educated in Buffalo, I also relocated for job opportunities, now live in Charlotte, NC , was season ticket holder from 1960-1989 missed 4 home games in the period. Health issues has slowed my traveling but my love and passion for my Bills has never for a moment wavered. I attended 2 super bowls including “wide right”, but I AM A BILLS fan till the “end”

    • Thank you! I hope that your health issues are resolved and you will be back at The Ralph this season <3

  2. I’m from Argentina. I’m Bills fan since the 90’s. Congratulations for your article. Almost it made me cry. Regards

    • Wow! Argentina Bills fan… that is awesome. Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the tribute. I would love to meet you and shake your hand.

      As I stated in the article, there is a special place in heaven for people who are not from WNY who love our Bills!

  3. I spent time living in Buffalo during the mid 80’s, and then again during 1994. These were the greatest times in my life. Will never forget the Bills football teams out and about, Mickey Rats, Angola on the Lake, all good times.
    Presently live in upstate NY, but garnish a love for Buffalo forever.

    • Mickey Rats, oh my! Now that is a blast from the past. Thanks for your comments here and hope to see you at The Ralph!

  4. Thanks Wyo! There certainly is a bond that can’t be broken and is cemented even further during times like these. I pray each day for Jimbo and am in a state of disbelief about the week we Bills fans have had.

    • Hi Pam! Good to ‘see’ you again. Hope to make it back for training camp again this year. It would be so great to see you again. Thank you for taking the time to read the tribute.

      It has been a rough week in Bills Nation. Every prayer helps!

  5. Heart warming read WYO. I grew up in Buffalo but left for school and never returned to live only to visit family/friends and attend Bills games. I have lived all over the USA/Argentina and now China since but still feel all my Buffalo roots and I am very proud of them!

    I watched the comeback game at the Houston Airport Bar with all the Oiler fans and missed 3 flights to Dallas and had to stay over in Houston until the next morning. The game just kept going on and on and just like our fans the Bills just would not give up or quit! I could not board a plane while the team and the fans still had the spirit to fight! That day we were rewarded. One of the few times I can remember luck being on our side!

    I went to all 4 Super Bowls and watched the hopes and dreams of the people of the region go down in flames! I even flew from Buenos Aires to LA for the Cowboys 52-17 humiliation. Then right after the game flew back to Buenos Aires wearing all my Bills gear and facepaint knowing full well I had a 2 1/2 hour layover in DFW Dallas Airport! Boy did I take 1 big time for our city and the people of Buffalo in that airport that day! But just like any native of our city I would have it no other way! Like you said ” There isn’t a thing left you can throw at us that we can’t handle.” we are made of tougher stuff than most!

    Now with the passing of Mr. Wilson and Jim Kelly’s ongoing fight for life the region and it’s people have been knocked to their knees but we will persevere! It is what we do and how we roll! All of our thoughts and prayers are with both families and Ralph will someday soon watch his beloved team from heavens sky box suite win that final game!

    I sense this may be a good time to apeal to your forgiving nature as one of Buffalo’s finest daughters. Do you think you can lift the lifetime posting ban you placed me under on the Bills message board? Afterall it has been 5 years now! Ha! Ha! Fat chance of that right! I was deserving of your ban and like any Buffalo person I accept it as another bump in the road and just read now.

    • What a fantastic story! I can’t imagine what it must have been like at the Dallas airport. Thank you for sharing your experience.

      We have Argentina well represented here, fantastic!

      LOL… I ban very few people from the message board so you are in rare company. Shoot me a message at the BBMB. Need to know what your username is on the board.

    • Have always found it very interesting when someone trashes Buffalo or WNY. When I then ask them if they have ever been there, at least 90% say they have not. smh