Note to self: Be very careful while eating chicken wings and watching the Bills play.
Sunday marked the end of a very long drought in the life of many Bills fans – that period of wasted space between week 17 of last season and week 1 of the current season. You know that time of year – the purgatory between the harsh reality of a 5-11 season last year and the hope of a much improved season this year. That time when you wandered aimlessly on Sunday afternoons feeling dazed and empty. Perhaps you filled the void by reconnecting with friends and family. Perhaps you realized that you could actually get lots of things done on a Sunday (particularly if you have a wife who makes a list of things for you to do). If you’re the destructive type perhaps you took an interest in NASCAR.
In any event, week 1 was finally here – time to break out the Bills hat/jersey/socks/boxers, sit in your inflatable Bills chair in front of the TV, fill up your Bills helmet chip bowl (with dip tray in the facemask), grab your Bills remote in one hand and your vintage Whammy Weenie in the other and flip on the TV to see the Bills play. Is there anything better than sitting in your living room wearing your zuba pants and Jim Kelly slippers, cracking open a beer with that bottle opener that plays Van Miller saying “It’s Fandemonium!!” when you open a beer and kicking back to watch the Bills?
Oh yeah – make sure you have beer and wings. For that authentic tailgate taste cook them up in a surplus WWII army helmet (it’ll go great with the burgers you cook on the hood of your car).
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have much hope for the Bills against the New England Patriots. A young team, on the road, facing a group of experienced veterans, in a stadium where they had never won, coached by Bill Belichick who had an entire offseason to prepare – how could they possibly win? Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and be pleased at the end if the Bills showed some promise.
The game got off to an unbelievable start – a defensive touchdown on the first play of the game. More shocking still by the lack of a flag and an official ruling on the field of a touchdown. Happy as I was, I knew it would be challenged by Belichick – I mean, come on – isn’t Tom Brady the guy for whom the tuck rule was created? Isn’t it only called the ‘tuck rule’ because calling it the ‘Tom Brady can’t fumble rule’ would be too obvious? No red flag ever fell – Rian Lindell’s kick made the score 7-0 for the good guys and I didn’t even know what to do with myself (except to pump my fist, let out a good yell, have a wing and drink some more beer).
The next drive was more of what I expected – a 9 play, 80-yard drive for the Pats resulting in a Tom Brady touchdown to Troy Brown. The Bills gave up runs of 16, 27 and 22 yards – the pounding I had been expecting had begun.
Or had it? Despite putting the ball on the turf on 2 consecutive plays, the Bills drove down the field and Lindell kicked a great 53-yard field goal right down the pipes – a small lead, but a lead. Then the Bills held the Pats to 3 and out and followed it up with their second touchdown of the day – a nice 18-yard run by Anthony Thomas to cap a 73 yard drive. Bills 17, Pats 7. You could almost hear the fabric of the universe start to unravel at this strange event – surely the end of days would be upon us soon.
The world didn’t end – it just got boring. Let the yawn-fest begin. The next 7 possessions (3 by the Bills and 4 by New England) all ended in punts. The Bills forced the Pats to go 3 and out 3 times. Brady threw 6 consecutive incomplete passes and was sacked – why had God forsaken him?
More importantly, where were the huge mistakes the Bills were supposed to make? Where was the turnover that would be cashed in for points by the bad guys? Come on – the Bills were supposed to play well but for the 4 touchdowns they gave up on turnovers, right? J.P. Losman was supposed to be ripped mercilessly by the media and the unwashed masses around the country who don’t know a thing about him. It was in the script – Bills look bad, Pats look great, the media talks about a Super Bowl in New England and out of town sportswriters write that Kelly Holcomb will be the Bills starter in week 2. Much like the ABC “docudrama”, “The Path to 9/11”, the facts just weren’t conforming to the script.
I’ll admit, I was a pretty happy guy. The thought of not having to face an office full of moronic Pats fans on Monday morning and listen to them use words like “dynasty” and “undefeated” was starting to get me excited. Not since 2003 was I able to enjoy such a Monday.
So the second half starts and the Bills drive down the field, all the way to the New England 7-yard line. In a gutsy, take no prisoners, put the game away now call Dick Jauron went for it on 4th and a yard. I agreed with the call then and I agree with the call now – in that situation, in hostile territory, you play to put the game as far out of reach as possible – 24-7 would have been almost insurmountable (unless Frank Reich was your quarterback).
Willis McGahee takes the ball, dances to the right, falls forward and fails to make the first down – the drive ends with no points. I am eating a wing and next thing I know I’m coughing like crazy – I’ve aspirated hot sauce into my lungs and I may have a chicken wing bone in my throat. My eyes tear, I gasp for breath, but mostly I just keep coughing my lungs out.
The coughing continues through the rest of the game. At times it is better, at times it is worse. The Pats drive 93 yards in the next 12:08 and score a touchdown on a 3rd and 9. I gag a few times when the Pats get some very generous ball spots. The Bills get the ball and go 3 and out. On the next possession the Pats get a field goal and the score is now tied at 17. I think my lungs are bleeding – I am miserable.
But my coughing and gagging only worsens as the Bills start the next possession by being penalized on the kickoff return and starting the drive on their own 9-yard line. On third down the ball is snapped to J.P. Losman and no sooner than he receives it than he is smeared by Ty Warren for a safety – stellar offensive line play. I am now coughing so bad I almost pass out. In my state of semi consciousness I try and think back to the last time I almost died eating a chicken wing – it was the Pittsburgh game in week 17 of the 2004 season when they missed the playoffs by losing to a bunch of 2nd and 3rd string guys. No, wait – it was last season when the Bills blew a 21 point 1st quarter lead and lost to the Sage Rosenfelds-led Dolphins in 2005 – yeah – wow – I almost died that day.
I’m not sure if it was real or just the musings of a tortured mind, but I have memories of the Bills having a final shot to take the lead and getting hosed on calls by the refs, giving up sacks and failing to make a defensive stand. All I know is that the Bills lost and it’s not even worth reliving on Tivo.
In the end, the outcome of the game was as I expected – the Bills leave with the L. Only the method was unexpected – no doubt created for maximum pain. Had they been blown out from the get-go I would have expected it, but to get so close and then fall so far was the worst thing that could have happened (come to think of it, it probably would have been more painful to lose this way while Tedy Bruschi made 20 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions for touchdowns all while healing leppers in the stands between plays – that would have been worse).
Next week is another week and I think I’m going to lay off the wings for a bit – you have to be very careful because every year choking takes thousands of lives. It also limits the enjoyment of a few football games.