The best feeling I ever had at Ralph Wilson Stadium came on January 12, 1992. My college girlfriend was back in the area from a holiday break in Wisconsin, and she joined me and two friends at the stadium for the AFC Championship -- Bills-Broncos.
I felt good that day for a lot of reasons. I was glad to have her back. I was excited for the game. I was eager to see the Bills win (they were heavy favorites) and go to the Super Bowl for the second straight year. I was pleased with the nice weather.
But most of all, what I felt was pride. Pride in my team having this showcase game. Pride in the loud and loyal crowds for which Buffalo was so well-known and well-respected. Pride in hosting Dick Enberg and much of the top football media, the profession to which I aspired. Pride in being able to flaunt this all in front of my girlfriend, a lonely Vikings fan.
In all the sports world, Orchard Park was the place to be. And I was there.
Life as a Bills fan is different now in almost every way. The glory days are long gone. While the crowds are there in numbers, some of the good spirits have been replaced by rowdiness stemming from indifference. The last truly important game played there took place seven years ago, the last playoff game there a piddly wild-card game in 1996.
And our pride has been severely damaged.
Not only do we not have even a good team anymore, worse, we lack the confidence that we'll ever have one again. The aged, absentee owner has left us behind to fend for ourselves upon his passing -- or, just as importantly, he has given us that impression. (Bills brass is smart enough to know this and would correct it if it weren't true. I think.)
Fans are not all cut from the same cloth. Many have no difficulty staying loyal, being proud, backing the Bills no matter how incompetently they've been run. I say good for them. I envy you. Sometimes I wish I were like you -- loyal to the hilt.
But I'm not. I think you should have to earn people's respect., not just have it given to you merely because you exist. I'm not into monarchies. What makes a king special, who his parents were? I believe in meritocracy, that success and achievement be rewarded. If a restaurant gave you cold food and had lousy service, would you go back?
The Bills are this restaurant, and luckily for them many people can find no place else to eat.
The Bills are lucky there's so little competition for them here -- no big-league baseball or basketball teams, for example. If there were, Ralph Wilson might actually have to try a little. I doubt Terry Pegula and the Sabres, who the Bills always exude a sense of superiority toward, have made a dent in the Bills' approach to fan-friendliness or commitment to winning. (On an personal note, of about the last 10 conversations I've had with a certain Bills executive, I'd say seven or eight have included him taking a shot at the Sabres for how less important they are than the Bills on the sports radar. This is the attitude we're dealing with, folks.)
The Bills make a reported 20-30 million dollars a year in profits. What happens to this money? Ticket prices go up, coaches and executives are hired on the cheap, broken record, ad infinitum, blah blah blah.
The bottom line is, if it's enough for you to be proud of your team simply because it is YOUR TEAM, good for you. If you're like me, you might be asking this question: