Football is finally stressful. Entertainment was too relaxing. Buffalo Bills fans have been looking forward to watching a diversion while tense. Waiting to see if Marty gets back in time may cause anxiety, but it beats the certainty of being left behind.
Fans had grown nonchalant with our football ritual, at least for those of us who remember cordless phones that only let you waste the day by dialing. Not caring is a natural result of absent stakes. It may seem unappealing to anxiously wait for the season to finally appear only to contract muscles all through games. But alienation feels way worse in emptiness. You don’t have to worry about rejection if you skip the prom altogether.
Fantastic expectations mean more pain upon falling short. There’s always a tradeoff in one of those aggravating aspects of a world where nothing is free. Steve Jobs made a career out of being willing to fail, and there’s a decent chance you’re reading this on a device that descended from his willingness to yell at employees until they met unrealistic deadlines.
The letdown feels realer the better they get. High-rolling betting on fandom comes with downsides only mentioned at the very bottom of casino websites. But there are no rewards without daring risks. The rest of the division plays nickel slots.
The price of success is expecting more. True strivers expect to win again. Just ask our biggest enemy. Tom Brady found a way to win one more damn time, namely by being smart enough to be on a team with amazing lines. The Brad Johnson Precedent remains in Tampa, even if the person adhering to it won a half-dozen rings elsewhere.
This era is already too bleak to look back and calculate how many season-ending games have been watched with indifference. Instead, create cheer by focusing on how the Bills have clawed to the point where regular finale is relaxed because starters are spectators in the second half with seeding locked.
Counting down to the next playoff matchup and realizing it’s still only Wednesday is the sort of drama we need. Sports are a vicarious vacation where you hope certain others have a grand time.
Leisure has often been gloomy. Poor souls follow team that’s historically guilty of dodging life. Buffalo’s long playoff banishment was possibly not intentional, but irrelevancy resulted either way. This franchise has mercifully traveled past the brutally extensive time wandering through the Arctic where Bills fans watched grown-up teams compete for a trip to a warm city in the middle of winter. The thought of competing in a conference championship was fantastical like replacing the Skyway. Some impossible dreams come true.
Fretting about reaching the next level beats continual frustration. Failure repeated often enough leads to surrendering. Our beloved team makes the playoffs 75 percent of the time if existence started in 2017. Those backing less fortunate clubs envy the agony of elimination games. They end up checking Jobs’s legacy product during second halves because the game and playoff prospects are out of reach. I wish the iPhone had been invented to help get through Mike Mularkey’s regrettable tenure.
Driven workers make all the difference. Motivation separates contenders from check-cashers. Buffalo’s obvious talent improvement is clear when a team’s second option goes from Zay Jones to Emmanuel Sanders. But those blessed with talent truly focusing on work creates supernatural power. “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force,” noted Hall of Fame coach Darth Vader.
Brandon Beane’s focus on the right kind of skill is the most noticeable intangible possible. It’s easy for sports radio callers to focus on locker room culture without considering if character guys can actually play well. Yet he’s shown it’s possible to stock a roster with both good attitudes and players.
This isn’t enough. Observers get the sense this team remains unsatisfied even though they’ve been much better than what Bills fans have historically expected. These are pros more than technically. Have earlier versions not been good enough or not cared enough? Cashing in on talent is a chicken/egg problem, like if Josh Allen made Stefon Diggs world-class or vice versa. Enjoy the results no matter how the debate proceeds.
Being worried all the time is the reward for being connected to anything worthwhile. Lack of knowing how football games will go months from now is why we follow in the first place. It’s not like time gives us options. Having loved ones means fretting about their safety when they’re not nearby and even when they are. It’s easier to not care, which just means going through life without any connection or joy. That sounds like rooting for the Jets.
Editor’s babble: Oh my, this column was a gem. How many times have we found ourselves trying not to care about the Bills and/or Sabres? Thanks, as always, to my dear friend Anthony Bialy for forcing my brain to think… and for his many contributions to our blog. You can find Anthony on Twitter @AnthonyBialy.