I don’t know how many of you are Buffalo Bills fans, but I used to be one. Living in Buffalo during the Jim Kelly-Thurman Thomas-Andre Reed heyday was the greatest sports environment I have ever witnessed. But as with most things heydayish, it would come to an end. And I am the cause of that end.
This much is true: since January 8, 2000, the Buffalo Bills have not made the playoffs of the American Football Conference. Prior to that, the team had an incredible string of success dating back to the 1988 season, which coincided with my Bills’ fandom. I cannot take credit for their success, but I am to blame for their swift and brutal demise.
On that fine January Saturday morning, I prepared myself to cheer my Bills on to a wild card victory against the Tennessee Titans. With Doug Flutie, he of the Flutie Flakes cereal, at the helm, the Bills had engineered a second consecutive trip to the AFC playoffs. At the time, I lived in Las Vegas, so I arose at 9am, dressed myself in the appropriate garb, gathered up the requisite foods and beverages, turned on the pregame show and with about five minutes until kickoff, settled in to watch the game. I was in heaven, pure bliss. Until the door knocked.
In our apartment complex, a knock at the door was rare enough to elicit a mild alarm. As a Buffalo Bills fan, any interruption to the hallowed pregame ritual was a red flag. I chose to ignore the first knock out off instinct, but the ensuing pounding, brought on no doubt by the television audio, led me to spring into action, lest my sleeping wife be roused. Not wanting to tempt her wrath, I stepped lightly to the door and peered through the peephole. I don’t know what I feared to see more: a Metro police officer; an old school Mob enforcer; or a meth-addled stripper, but as I made out the shapes in the fisheye glass, I was relieved.
Two young clean-cut men in dark slacks, white shirts and black ties. In other words, no threat, just Mormon missionaries. I composed a short but respectful blowoff as I reached for the door handle and opened the door just enough to slide my head through. A preemptive strike against proselytizers is one of my main front door tactics.
“Hey guys, I’m about to watch the Bills game. I have a lot of good friends who are Mormon, but we’re a Jewish household and not interested, thanks.” My verbal barrage clearly startled the young Mormons, whose faces belied their discomfort at having been detoured from their script. But before I could close the door completely, a stiffarm sprang from the closest boy.
“That’s all well and good, he said, but we’d just like to discuss your spiritual needs…” he said as he pushed the door open slightly. My reflexive action was to push harder, closing the door against his will. Also, I would need to be a bit more adamant without being impolite.
“Sorry guys, I’m not in need of spiritual…” I started, probably more combative than the situation called for, but behind me I heard the referee’s whistle and the kickoff was on. I slammed the door shut and headed for my seat. That’s when the fateful question rang out, loud and clear, despite the door between us:
“Is football more important than your eternal soul???”
Looking back now, across 12 seasons of Buffalonian playoffless Purgatory, I can reasonably state that, no, football is not more important than my eternal soul. But as I sat down on the couch wrapped in my Buffalo Bills fleece blanket, my soul was the furthest thing from my mind. As the game progressed, the Bills fought for a 16-15 lead with mere seconds left to play. If you are a fan, you know what ensued— the so-called “Music City Miracle.” On that last kickoff, with time expiring, the Titans improbably, through a series of what only could be Direct Divine Interventions, ran and lateraled and ran and lateraled until they scored the winning touchdown.
I had not intentionally watched another Bills game over those 12 seasons until last Sunday, when the Bills themselves scored a last second victory. I’d like to think that the curse is lifted. But I know better, and I offer my humble apology to Buffalo.