Photo: Mitch Springer - USA TODAY Sports

The ongoing drought, and our conversations

No playoffs for Bills since 1999. Can reliving it all go too far?

Mike Schopp
July 11, 2017 - 11:02 am

Truth be told, I get conflicted.

It's not like defending the Bills for their last few, or 17, or 27, or 57 years of history is needed, or called for. No one's expecting that. But there are times when I think talking about the playoff drought becomes excessive. There are times when I think "enough already".

But what often happens when those moments arise is a listener telling me how much he or she enjoys it. How good it feels.

That's why a daily diary last year that I called "Droughtology" of the Bills' then-256 straight games without a playoff appearance felt worth doing. Without having discussed it with Howard or Jeremy, I bet their previous deep dives into the drought and the ensuing reaction has them feeling empowered enough to put on their "Tournament of Drought", which is ongoing. And their good idea led to my "Wheel of Drought" segment this summer. Yesterday, Bulldog, Ryan and I re-lived the 2004 finale against Pittsburgh for, oh, probably the 300th time.

Is there a physical threshold for this? Is there a limit to how much discussion about J.P. Losman, Aaron Maybin and EJ Manuel the human body can take?

Perhaps. Of course it's not a question what we can handle, it's about what we want.

So why do we want this? Because somehow, in a twisted sort of way, it feels good.

And now the housekeeping: First, the usual few words about how long the drought has actually been in existence.

Seventeen years without a playoff appearance is the longest active streak in the NFL, NHL, NBA or MLB. It's longer than any NFL playoff drought that doesn't pre-date the AFL-NFL merger -- and since 1999 there are more playoff teams per season, 12, than ever before. When Facebook launched the Bills' drought was already four years old. The drought is older than gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez -- and maybe even you.

And second, my regular somewhat sarcastic postscript that the Bills' last playoff game itself was an all-time gut punch. Better to have loved and lost...

It's not making the playoffs that impresses anyone, it's winning there. In that vein, the Bills' drought is third-longest among active teams. Cincinnati and Detroit have gone longer since their last playoff victories, and it's not for a lack of chances: The Bengals and Lions are a combined 0-11 in playoff games since the Bills' last postseason appearance.

So is it all overkill?

Yes and no.

Our business is conversation, and it's both reasonable and smart to center discussion around the franchise's defining characteristics. In this case, that's losing. Most NFL fans probably identify the Bills more with their four straight Super Bowl losses than this drought; in a way, the drought takes the focus off the more famous defeats that to more people define the team. Further, it gets harder every year for most people to believe in the Bills winning, so ignoring that and talking about each upcoming season as an entirely independent event seems naive, or patronizing. Show us, Bills.

Most people, but not everybody.

I got a call last week from a listener in Wisconsin who criticized Bills fans for being so negative. He mentioned how Packers fans talk every off-season like their team is going to the Super Bowl, yet all Bills fans do is brace for losing. 

As if that's the fans' fault.

But not every fan is the same. Many don't follow the team as closely as, well, those who'd read a column like this. Some fans can get to a place where every upcoming season will be The One. And those are the fans who, probably, when hearing us go back to the drought are asking the server for the check.

You can't please everyone.

The drought hasn't been fun to watch, but it can be fun to talk about. When fans respond as we dip back into old games it feels like we're watching an old movie together. It brings us closer, and that's our broader objective. Howard, Jeremy, Bulldog and I have been here with you for almost every game. So too John Murphy, whose perspective and loyalties as a team employee are different than ours, and perhaps also sensitivities, but, at least in my conversations with him, has a good sense of humor about the drought. When it comes to the Bills' many years of losing I feel like we're kind of your extended family.

Conversation at family reunions isn't always easy either. Not everything is weddings and carving the turkey.

Once the season begins focus, naturally, veers forward, away from the past. That lasts for as long as belief does of a playoff appearance this year. As soon as that dissolves, we take the season and throw it on the pile.

If they make it this year we'll celebrate and move on. If they don't, be prepared next spring and summer for many references of how the drought will have become a legal adult who can vote, and drink in Canada.

That could be fun. Right?

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