As many of you know I'm not the world's biggest football fan. I like it, I don't love it. My portal into sports is by talking about and analyzing them, and I often find football talk lacking. But I don't find the sport's popularity surprising. It's played in short, manageable seasons; the big plays and big hits are thrilling; the field fits perfectly on a modern TV screen, making football easy to look at; and the emotions that ripple through huge crowds at massive stadiums are unmatched by probably any sport except soccer.
I loved football when I was a teenager though, and I was an NFL Films junkie. I can still recite from memory some of John Facenda's lines from the Super Bowl wrapups. Facenda, who died in 1984, is my all-time favorite sports announcer. Not only did he have The Greatest Voice Ever, he was known for meticulously editing his words and his cadences to best fit the footage, and in turn, do the best job possible in telling the story. Every detail mattered to Facenda, and the words were music to him. Facenda would actually use musical notations (staccato, legato) on his script to help him remember just the way he wanted it. I loved him.
I think the Facenda/NFL Films partnership peaked in the mid-70s. (What, you didn't have an opinion on this?) The 1974 year in review is one of my favorites, partly because the Bills made the playoffs that year and they're featured prominently in the show. It's not a Facenda line, but there's a quote from that show that has stuck with me.
We see the Bills drop a close one in Miami, 35-28, and we get a couple of clips from the losing locker room. Of course the Bills were on a losing streak against the Dolphins -- one we know that would last until 1980 -- and Miami was the two-time Super Bowl champ. Bills coach Lou Saban is asked a question about how his team can feel good about one of the game's positives, despite losing. Saban's response was beautiful:
"It was still 35-28, that's all I remember," Saban said. "We've got to beat these people one of these days."
The promising 2012 Bills season opens September 9 against the Jets, a team that has won five straight and seven of eight against Buffalo. The most recent meeting, last November 27, was a game the Bills should've had. They blew a late lead and squandered great chances on their last drive en route to another defeat from Rex Ryan's Jets.
The start of this season of optimism is wrapped up by that game and Saban's old quote. There's your chance, Bills, to show that things really are different. Things that matter in football aren't won in March, or at the draft. They're won in the fall and winter. It's fine if writers power-rank you ahead of the Jets. What matters is beating them.
I've been fired up for that game since well before the schedule even came out. As soon as last year ended I was saying that I wanted to see Bills-at-Jets Week 1, 2012. No better way to show you've moved ahead. This isn't beating Kansas City last year, a fluky division winner, or Seattle, or Houston, or any of the frauds the Bills have taken out in openers recently. The Jets aren't great but they outrank you until show different.
Beat the Jets and take it from there.
I'm tired of forcing compliments on our teams simply because I get sick of being negative. I want the Bills and Sabres to earn the praise. It shouldn't be that hard to know good from bad. They do keep records in these sports. I don't want Ryan Fitzpatrick to be good for a seventh-round pick, I want him to be good. To mix metaphors with my favorite sport, baseball, I don't want the Bills to be fast for a catcher. I want them to fly.
Off-season optimism is fun, and it beats the alternative. But you've got to beat these people to truly impress. You've got to beat them.