It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be a Bills fan today. There is a palpable sense of anticipation on the eve of arguably the most important season opener in decades. So much has happened in little over a year that it seems surreal when you realize that everything painstakingly put together over the course of such a short period of time is about to be put to the ultimate test.
For Bills fans, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for all our lives. Some like myself have witnessed the entire ride, others have known nothing but missed playoffs and broken dreams since the turn of the century. We each bring our unique experience as a fan into the equation as we get ready to launch a new era in Buffalo Bills history.
In little over a year, the Bills have changed ownership for the first time. A team with a few good pieces in place was transformed into what is hoped will be a team that can realistically compete for a championship. New owners, new coaches, and a lot of talented players were assembled in a methodical, albeit frenetic pace.
This Bills team has plenty of shiny new toys just waiting to be unwrapped. Older fans like myself marvel at the speed in which this transformation has taken place. We’re not used to seeing this much change occur within the organization over a decade, let alone one year.
The process of retooling this team was not implemented without its share of pain along the way. The departure of Fred Jackson to Seattle reminded many older Bills fans of having their hearts ripped out when the great players of the Super Bowl era were jettisoned in one day due to salary cap constraints.
Those of us that remember what that felt like to go through that type of transition are also aware that this Bills team will likely face more painful cuts again after this season. After Marcell Dareus signed his contract extension this past week, the Bills effectively committed themselves to salary cap hell again, unless there are contracts that can be restructured to accommodate the most expensive defensive line in the history of the NFL.
However, that is a discussion for another time. Right now the clock is ticking, and the season of our dreams is about to unfold right before our eyes. This week I found myself realizing that my entire life as a Bills fan has led up to this moment in time. I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard.
It’s a strange feeling when you realize that all of your ‘fanhood’ has been building for this one moment in time. I think part of what Bills fans are experiencing today is similar to what Tyrod Taylor is probably feeling right now as well.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons Bills fans are so excited about Tyrod. The Bills are way past due to win the lottery at the QB position.
The mysterious Mr. Taylor offers something more than the usual amount of hope and prayers that the Bills will finally identify their first ‘face of the franchise’ QB since Jim Kelly. One of the many reasons he resonates so profoundly with this fan base is because at this moment very few in the national media are paying serious attention to him.
Furthermore, like Tyrod Taylor, Bills fans have waited a very long time to have “their moment”. We have endured hardship as a fan base like no other. For the first time in our lives, we have a legitimate shot at a championship title, for a team and fan base that richly deserve it.
I liken this experience to walking up to the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time. There is that ‘holy moley’ sensation that completely takes over your sensory mother board when you take in the entire landscape and realize what you are seeing. Wow.
We have to be careful at that moment because the sensory overload feels so surreal that you can become completely transfixed by it. For anyone that has gone through the process of getting married, recall that feeling you had on the day you were getting ready to commit your entire life to a loving partner.
There is this “oh my goodness this is happening so fast” aspect to the experience. Many people describe it as going by so fast that the recollection of the event actually becomes a blur.
This is that equivalent moment for Bills fans. We’ve spent over a year being mesmerized by one amazing development after another regarding this team. Now it’s time to take that shiny new car out for a spin and see what we’ve got to show for the enormous effort.
Will our dreams finally be realized so we can live happily ever after?
Will we be left feeling satisfaction after years of yearning, or will there be a sense of “is this all there is”? You’ll never know unless you actually achieve that goal.
For younger Bills fans, say those recently graduated from high school, the closest equivalent experience might be how you felt on your high school graduation day. You’ve prepared all your life for this moment, and the future is just laid out in front of you to grab on to and realize your dreams.
The bottom line is that most of us can relate to having a moment in time that you would like to ‘freeze frame’. This is THAT moment for Bills fans. We’ve been scorned by the rest of the football world for decades.
All the complaints about the Bills as we knew them no longer apply. No more blaming ownership for not being willing to fork over top dollar to field a championship level team.
No more “if only we had a top tier coach” or frustration over losing players to other teams via free agency. Buffalo is no longer a city in decline with two sports teams destined for perpetual mediocrity.
Everything we hoped and dreamed for our team for decades has been checked off. As a fan base, are we prepared to experience success? After a decade and a half of humiliation, what will it feel like to have a reason to be proud of our sports teams again?
There is a certain sense of complacency that comes from perpetual mediocrity that has made Bills fans ill prepared for the possibility of success. The “act like you’ve been there before” mantra becomes more of a challenge when you haven’t “been there” for the better part of two decades.
However, ready or not the football season of our dreams is upon us. Everything you ever wanted as a fan is in place for this team to make a leap into the playoffs and beyond.
Win or lose, no one can say “same old Bills” anymore. Don’t let this moment in time escape your attention, folks. No matter what happens this season, savor it. Take pictures. Write about it.
But most of all, let yourself experience every moment, good or bad. If ever there was a team and/or a time better suited to shed the label of lovable loser, I can’t think of it.
The AFL champions will be honored at The Ralph at halftime of the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. Many of our beloved players from the Super Bowl years will be there. Many of you reading this will be there.
Everything we’ve ever experienced as Bills fans has led to this one precious moment in time. This is a time like no other in the history of the team. Win or lose, no one can say that every concerted effort to win a championship was not made.
The rest is about to write itself. Strap yourself in and get ready for the ride of a lifetime.