If you’re a Bills fan, the sunshine never comes.
It’s been about a decade since the Bills made the playoffs, and 2008 will not see a return to the postseason.
Unless you’re a new member of Bills Nation, you should be experienced at accepting yet another disappointing season. The Internet proves this out - I see evidence of this on the various message boards where the stages of grief are abundantly evident. Stage 1, denial, is almost non existent – there are but a few fans claiming the playoffs are still possible if only the Bills run the table and finish with a record of 11-5. The vast majority of fans have advanced to stage 2, anger – you’d think this was the French Revolution with the number of heads people want to see rolling. A few have jumped all the way to stage 5, acceptance and are making the best of the situation by focusing on who the Bills will draft in the spring.
As a grizzled vet of Buffalo let downs, I find myself at stage 4 – depression. Truth be told, I am very depressed about the current situation of the Bills. So depressed, in fact, that for the first time I can remember I honestly don’t give a damn about this week’s game against Kansas City or any games beyond that. Win by 50 points, lose by 50 points, I just don’t care. The reality of the situation is that it doesn’t mean anything. I can think of nothing that would make me feel much better about this team – Marshawn Lynch rushing for 200 yards, Trent Edwards throwing for 400+ yards, the defensive line putting up a 7 sack game – none of it is going to make any difference in regards to playing in January. On the flip side, nothing can make me feel much worse about the team – continued poor play across the board, continued instances of being outcoached, finishing on the wrong side of heartbreaking games – none of these matter, either.
My apathy should not be confused with abandonment of the Bills or Bills Nation. I will certainly pull for the team and wish them well, I’ll just be doing it without much excitement. Meaningless games spurred on by meaningless cheers.
This season has shown me that the same old problems are still with us – suspect coaching, quarterback who may (but likely will not) be the guy for years to come, failure to make plays when needed, lack of tight end, poor offensive line play, etc. etc. etc. Simply put, these things aren’t getting better. When we fail we like to think that these deficiencies might be addressed for “next season”, but they never seem to go away. Buffalo is not one season, one coach, one quarterback or one tight end away from advancing ore even making the playoffs. To think that not only will these problems be addressed “next season” but that by solving them the Bills will be ready to take the next step is folly – the sad reality is that we are many changes and many years away from being one of the better teams in the league. Certainly some weaknesses will be addressed, but as time marches on other challenges will pop up. By the time we get a decent tight end will we still have a decent quarterback to throw to him? A decent secondary? I don’t see a plan where everything comes together at the same time. Don’t talk about “next season” – it’s the day that never comes.
My apathy shocks and stuns me. I live for football, Bills football in particular. I count the days to the start of the season every summer (heck, I even count the days to the preseason or scrimmages). I carve out my time to make sure I see every game, including preseason games, no matter what – not an easy task when you have a job, a house, a wife and two small children. I work like crazy every week, tackling he almighty “honey do” list so I can block off 3 hours of uninterrupted time each weekend watching the beloved heroes in red white and blue as a reward.
I am far from alone in my experience. Fans just like me get as amped up as I do. They work hard so they can enjoy a few hours of football on the weekend. Some of them may feel just as tired and empty as I do today – victims of the day that never comes.
It takes quite a bit to hit this point. It’s tough to negate that which gets your heart beating faster, that which you drives you to get through the week, that which you consider a reward for all the hassles of a busy life, but I feel like a broken man.
Perhaps it’s the never ending cycle of hope, heartbreak and anticipation that next year will be better, but I’ve finally realized that “next season” is truly the day that never comes. Here’s a recap of the merry go round from hell:
2008 (partial) – Promising start at 5-1 and a Brady-less Patriots – this is the Bills’ year! Losses to 3 straight division rivals capped off by a horrific loss on national TV to the Cleveland Browns – season over.
2007 – Week 1 began with a last second field goal loss to Denver at home. Later, a 1 point loss to the Dallas Cowboys, at home, on Monday Night Football, wherein the Bills collapsed and fell victim to an onside kick and a 50+ yard field goal. No sunshine here.
2006 – In a loss to Tennessee, the Bills trail by a single point but do not attempt a 43 yard field goal into the wind, instead opting to throw an interception for a touchdown and taking the loss. The Bills also lost a game to New England by 2 points after giving up a safety, failing to capitalize on an interception and giving up a drive that eats the last 6 minutes of the game. Maybe next year.
2005 – Bills lose 5 “win-able” games, including a loss to Miami where they led 21-0 in the first quarter and led New England by 2 scores in the fourth quarter. No playoffs, no sunshine.
2004 – Bookends of misery in 2004. The season starts with a week 1 loss at home to Jacksonville on a last second touchdown catch, made possible by Nate Clements going for a meaningless interception instead of knocking the ball down, giving up a crucial 45 yard reception. The last game of the season is one the Bills need to win to make the playoffs, and they fail to beat Pittsburgh’s 2nd and 3rd string players at home in Orchard Park. Possibly the most devastating loss in the last decade, and all you really need to know about the 2004 season. Opportunities squandered.
2003 – Bills start the season by thumping the Patriots 31-0 and lose their shot at the playoffs by failing to make a 2-point conversion against Tennessee. So much hope, but the day never came.
2002 – The Bills begin the season at home by taking the first game to overtime with a late touchdown and promptly surrender a kickoff return for a touchdown to the Jets on the first play of the extra period.
2001 – Bills lose games to 2 teams at the hands of ex-Bills (Doug Flutie in San Diego and Antowain Smith in New England). Bills lose a game in New England when they are not given a fumble recovery because the ball had been touched by an unconscious David Patten whose head is partially out of bounds. This only happens to the Bills, folks.
2000 – Bills lose overtime game to New England and don’t make the playoffs. Ugly.
1999 – The Bills made the payoffs! Unfortunately, the first game is the infamous Homerun Throwback game against the Titans. I witnessed the rules of physics being rewritten (a forward pass the refs see traveling backwards) and a bar full of adult men and women crying. There’s always next year.
So there you have it, the painful roadmap to my current state of mind. Maybe it’s the depression, but I see nothing that makes me feel the future will be much brighter. I’m not buying into that “next year” crap again – after a decade I am at least smart enough to realize that the playoffs are the day that never comes.