The Bills Next Door

Those who truly follow a franchise end up caring about more than the score. Bills fans are invested in the lives of players they admire in a natural extension of rabid fandom. The mutual feeling has been facilitated by how many pros commit to the area after their athletic careers. Many retain their new ZIP codes even after they don’t have to be around for work.

(Rick Stewart /Allsport)
Steve Tasker is one former Bills player who now calls Buffalo home. (Rick Stewart /Allsport)

Local resident Jim Kelly is hopefully being sustained by the never-ending dedication. Fans following his health struggles have had a crash course on cancer treatment as they yearn for promising updates. The courageousness he displayed during games has become even more indispensable in retirement.

Buffalo’s affiliation with players merely starts with watching games. The bond between competitors and viewers becomes especially strong when the former stay in the area even after their contracts expire. It’s remarkable how many jocks become our neighbors after first coming here thanks to a draft, trade, or free agent contract that expires after a few years. Former Bills deciding to make Western New York their permanent home mirrors how we choose to be fans.

You might like it if you try it. The ignorant scoff at the Queen City without feeling the need to have ever lived there themselves. Most notably, Kelly’s initial contempt for this area evaporated once he experienced life within its boundaries. Many guests change their attitude once they learn about the material, natural, and human assets of the state’s western corner. They gradually realize they weren’t just visiting all along.

Aside from damning those who serve ranch dressing with wings, Western New Yorkers can best be identified by the happiness they display for anyone from the area who excels. The enthusiasm applies whether those thriving were born there or landed later. The Goo Goo Dolls may now be a Los Angeles-based prom theme generator, but we’ll always be semi-proud of a prominent band that started with rowdy sets at the Continental. The process is enjoyable even if the end is a letdown. Losing the Super Bowl doesn’t diminish fond memories of the Conference Championship.

The bond is even stronger for those who took the reverse direction down the path. Buffalonians like watching Steve Tasker succeed at broadcasting not just due to how he he busted his tail covering kicked balls for the local football side, but also because he settled in their neck of the woods. Feeling happiness for their kids and sympathy for losses is what you do with those you consider allies.

It’s easy to maintain fondness for ex-jocks who enhance their selected town. Those who transitioned from the locker room to prominent local positions like Booker Edgerson and Ed Rutkowski turned around and helped the place that was welcoming to them.

Some ex-players are forced to face challenges far more daunting than enduring a season of double-digit losses. The return of Kelly’s cancer seemed particularly cruel, especially at a time when he was among those reeling from Ralph Wilson’s death. Meanwhile, fans endure grief for people they may have never met.

Cancer has already taken its toll: this team lost Jim Braxton and Bob Chandler from the ’70s teams to the malignancy, while Joe Ferguson has battled the disease as well. It doesn’t seem fair, because it’s not. Summoning the strength to hope and persevere as best as possible is the only response.

Players coping with ghastly illnesses soberly bring mortality to mind. We raise them to mythical status before life’s crises make us realize that they’re normal people, even if they possess an extraordinary ability.

Fans can only make it clear that their support for athletes is unflagging. The habit of doing so among those who like Erie County’s teams is why so many hired guns never leave. They settle in the area without settling. Buffalonians in location and spirit don’t stop being fans when a player retires, as demonstrated by cheering for those who wore the jerseys as well.

About Anthony Bialy

Anthony Bialy recently moved back to Buffalo from New York City and acts like he never left. He thinks "Buffalo 66" is biographical and considers it a crime against mankind that Steve Tasker is not in the Hall of Fame. He likes getting Tim Hortons on the way to get Labatt Blue. Follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyBialy.

One Reply to “The Bills Next Door”

  1. This is a great piece; thanks for writing it. It has been the case with Bills players since the earliest years. Receiver Ernie Warlick co-hosted a local morning television talk show in the 1960’s, and I remember shaking Jack Kemp’s (huge) hand at a local chicken barbecue when he was running to represent the area in Congress. I will always recall the night when Bills players came to my high school to play a benefit exhibition basketball game against the faculty. Just regular guys having fun for a good cause, while forging this bond with the community from the very beginning.