When it comes to losing, no sports city boasts more experience than Buffalo, N.Y.
The Bills squandering a potential playoff victory when the Tennessee Titans executed their Home-Run Throwup – er, Home-Run Throwback – in their 2000 Wild Card matchup.
The Sabres getting robbed when Brett Hull’s disputed overtime goal was upheld in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals.
And of course, Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field-goal attempt sailing wide right in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXV.
It’s as heartbreaking of a track record as there is in sports.
But there’s more to Buffalo sports fandom than our most infamous defeats. As a proud resident of the Buffalo-Niagara region, I decided to dedicate my final column to the unique attachment Buffalo sports fans like me have to our favorite teams.
NBC’s Tim Russert, himself a Buffalo native, summed up this relationship perfectly in a Sports Illustrated article on Sabres co-captain Chris Drury last week: “The Sabres and the Bills are the city. They give it life.”
He isn’t exaggerating.
Buffalo fans live and die with their teams in a way few outsiders can understand. Once a booming industrial center, Buffalo’s population and economy have been sliding for decades. In 1950, Buffalo was the nation’s 15th-largest city; by 2000, it had fallen to 57th. Along with snow and chicken wings, the Bills and Sabres provide my declining city with a national identity.
I think they give us a sense of personal identity, too.
On Feb. 2, 1994, Bills fans (i.e., the entire population of western New York) were mourning the team’s fourth-straight Super Bowl loss. In other words, the sun wasn’t shining, children weren’t playing and offices were full of employees standing dejectedly around watercoolers analyzing what went wrong. Despite pledges to “strive for five in ’95” (yes, we were excited about the possibility of a fifth Super Bowl appearance), Buffalonians were depressed.
To help us deal with the pain, The Buffalo News published a serious article in which local psychologists gave Bills fans advice about how to deal with the devastating defeat.
One of the experts quoted is Charles Behling, teaches at Michigan and happens to be one of my favorite professors ever. Then a psychology professor at the University at Buffalo, Behling told Bills fans to “talk and ask themselves why they identify so strongly with the team.”
Even though his words weren’t mean-spirited, readers were incensed. Behling once told me people flooded his office with letters and phone calls, some of which bordered on threats. As a relative newcomer to the city, he simply didn’t understand what we were going through.
If that doesn’t prove how much Buffalo sports fans care about their teams, I don’t know what could.
For years I’ve argued that Buffalo has the longest-suffering fans in sports. The Bills won back-to-back AFL championships in 1964-65, but the city hasn’t seen a title since (not counting the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons’ three championships from 1998-2004, among other minor sports titles).
I’ve never witnessed either of my favorite professional sports teams win a championship. For a passionate sports fan from a sports-obsessed city, that’s a lot of suffering.
Three weeks ago, ESPN.com’s Page 2 supported my stance by awarding the Bills first place in their Pain & Suffering rating. The Bills took the top prize thanks to Wide Right and the Music City Miracle, not to mention their back-to-back-to-back-to-back Super Bowl defeats.
As crazy as it sounds, reading that article made me so proud to be a Buffalo sports fan.
Even though we’ve lived through heartbreaking finishes, controversial calls and just plain embarrassing seasons, we’ve never given up hope – and we never will.
That’s why the Bills consistently rank among the NFL’s top teams in terms of per capita TV ratings.
That’s why the Sabres place near the top of the NHL in merchandise sales despite hailing from a small-market city.
That’s why signs at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport have read “Go Sabres!” all season long.
And that’s why thousands of Bills fans – my father and I among them – remained in Ralph Wilson Stadium during a near-blizzard in 2002 to watch the Bills destroy the hated Miami Dolphins, whom we taunted with a chorus of “Let It Snow.”
We still believe that someday the Bills and the Sabres will each bring home a championship.
Even if the Sabres, who have given us our best shot at a title in almost a decade, fail to capture the Stanley Cup this season, Buffalonians will never stop cheering for their beloved teams.
But it would be amazing to see Buffalo’s losing streak finally come to an end.
– Wright would like to thank everyone who made her three-plus years at the Daily so memorable, especially Jose, Amber, Katie, Matt, Mike and the entire sports staff. If you want to commiserate with her about being a long-suffering sports fan, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.