It’s been quite a week. Since expressing my frustration and despair of the current state (and projected future) of the Buffalo Bills I’ve had quite a bit to think about. The situation is a mess – a huge mess. In the forefront of my thoughts is fan reaction to the current situation.
I received more e-mail feedback from last week’s article than I have for any other single piece I’ve written over the years. The piece was referenced in e-mails sent out to both the NYC Bills Backers and the Boston Bills Backers. I heard from Bills fans all over the country, many expressing frustration greater than or equal to my own.
Fans are angry. Fans are distraught. Fans are walking away, not knowing what to do. It is UGLY. Most of us have seen some pretty bad times as Bills fans, but I received lots of feedback from fans who feel there is little or no hope for the future and that they’ve finally experienced the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Response to my article was overwhelmingly positive, with many indicating my thoughts echoed, at least in part, their own and that I had struck a chord with them. While I said I did not plan on attending any Bills games next year, several long-time season ticket holders told me they did not intend to renew their seats. Some went so far as to indicate that they would be rooting for another team next season. While it’s been years since the Bills were contenders, the horrific finish to the season and the decision not to make any organizational changes put many fans over the edge.
Quite a few people may have read more into my article than I intended. Several people referred to me as a “journalist” and referenced the influence I might wield – both of these gave me a chuckle. Let there be no mistake – I am certainly NOT a journalist, nor do I pretend to be one. I do not have a degree in journalism, nor am I paid to write. I have no access to the Bills organization beyond buying tickets to see them play. That’s a good thing, because it allows me to write in an unencumbered manner, as a fan with an opinion. I enjoy being able to say what I like about the Bills (last week’s article was a great venting exercise). I am not trying to start any sort of movement, nor am I advocating what fans should do in terms of supporting the team going forward. If you like what I have to say that’s great, if you want to discontinue your season tickets that’s your decision – I don’t have any agenda to start a boycott against the team. At the end of the day I’m a fan who likes to write my opinion about the Bills.
A have seen a developing rift amongst Bills fans, and when we start to go after one another as fans it’s a good indication that there are some big problems. A couple of people blasted me for expressing my thoughts last week and took almost identical tones and messages in doing so. According to these folks, I am not a “true fan” because I refuse to wholeheartedly endorse the current Bills, mind-boggling operational decisions be damned. Not going to enthusiastically support the Bills in spirit? - Not a fan. Not going to support the Bills financially? – Not a fan. Don’t have season tickets? – Not qualified to express your opinion as a fan. They feared that any voice of dissention against the team, any voice of dissatisfaction of the product, and reduction on the amount of Bills tickets and merchandise purchased would guarantee the Bills leaving Buffalo in the near future. Suck it up and smile – at least we’ll still have a team. I see similar sentiments on some of the popular Bills message boards. While a reduction in people buying merchandise and game tickets certainly won’t help the Bills, I don’t believe it is going to alter the future home of the team – that decision is out of the hands of the fans (more on that another time).
I don’t know how I can state this strongly enough, but when fear drives loyalty and people take it upon themselves to judge others based on their perceived minimum levels of orthodoxy, adherence to the program and financial support, you have a situation better suited to a religious cult or 1930s Germany than to an enjoyable Sunday afternoon with wings and beer. It is beyond insulting that at a time when so many fans are hurting, some “holier than thou” types would question anyone’s credentials as a fan and seek to have them cast out of Bills Nation.
Speaking out against poor organizational management is the height of being a fan – failure to demand better from a team you support with your heart, your time and your wallet and a willingness to accept mediocrity and the status quo in the name of stability is cowardly. Upper management accepting mediocrity and the status quo in favor of organizational stability is what got us into this mess!
Also worth commenting on is the correlation between fan age and their willingness to continue on as fans with the same level of enthusiasm as in the past. Younger fans, those who started following the team during or even after the Super Bowl years of the early 1990s seem most willing to express optimism and to continue on as die hard fans. Many in this group see the problems the Bills have, prolonged as they may be, as temporary – they are optimistic the Bills will be serious contenders sooner or later. Some continue to believe the team is a year or two away from being a contender.
Older fans, those following the team prior to the mid 1970s, aren’t happy with the current state of the Bills but claim they’ve been through much worse, including 1967-72 when the Bills went a combined 17-64-3, and consecutive 2-14 seasons in 1984-85. These battle-hardened fans may not optimistic about the Bills, but 3 seasons of 7-9 with the prospect of more in the future isn’t going to drastically alter their Sunday afternoon routines.
The fans most distraught with the Bills appear to be in the demographic that includes me – fans who started following the Bills in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. This group saw the Bills bounce back from horrific mid-1980s teams to become a force by the late 1980s and early 1990s. But for 1994 (7-9) and 1997 (6-10), the Bills made the playoffs every season in the 12 years of 1988-1999. The fall from the top was expected, we all knew it would happen, but we didn’t expect that we wouldn’t have more than 1 winning season since then. In an age of free agency and the salary cap the NFL has become cyclical – prolonged periods at the top or bottom are the exception rather than the norm. The prospect of this continuing into the foreseeable future has fans feeling like it may be time to take a step back from the team until they show some signs of life. As I explained to my wife, I don’t think I can continue to live and die with the Bills – all the dying is killing me.
Almost everyone who contacted me laid the blame for the current situation at the feet of owner Ralph Wilson. The anger and ill will expressed at a man many Bills fans believed should be in the Hall of Fame a few years ago was startling. In my next article I’ll explore that topic and the future of the Bills in more detail. For now I’m going to take some more time coming to grips with the current situation, taking some deep breaths and advocating that we as fans stick together – I hope you are doing the same.