I have a confession to make. I have always loved the Buffalo Bills. Even going back to the 1960s, when I first realized there was a team called the Buffalo Bills, I liked them.
I don’t know why.
Maybe it was the name. Buffalo Bills. As in Buffalo Bill, a/k/a William Frederick Cody. He was a wild west legend, along with Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and all those other legends.
Sure. A lot of those stories were sanitized and romanticized so that little kids like me would fall for them hook, line and sinker.
I liked all that stuff. So when the Boston Patriots (at the time) started playing those Buffalo Bills, I started paying attention.
Up to then, the only thing we had here was the New York Giants. Y.A. Tittle was the big football name up here, though I first heard of a guy with the very strange sounding name of Johnny Unitas while watching one of those Giants games, and I became an instant fan. And stayed a fan. I might be the only guy in America who rooted for the Baltimore Colts in 1969 and not the New York Jets.
But back to the Bills. They had a very good quarterback when I first started paying attention to the American Football League: Jackie Kemp. They also had a running back with the very unfootball-like name of Cookie Gilchrist. He was a decent runner who once rushed for over 1,000 yards while with the Bills.
Kemp, if you’re still following this, later became a Republican congressman from the Buffalo area and was on the 1996 GOP presidential ticket with Sen. Robert Dole.
As the years went by, it seemed as if every time the Patriots were able to make inroads — in those rare years they were scraping the bottom of the AFL/AFC barrel — the Bills were in the way.
In 1974 — the second year of the all-too-brief Chuck Fairbanks era — the Patriots got off to a whopping 5-0 start, and were looking darn near unbeatable in the process. Then, they had to go to Buffalo, which was right behind them at 4-1. When the game ended, they were both 5-1, as the Bills eked out a 30-28 win. The Patriots won only two more games and ended up 7-7 and out of the playoffs.
Fast-forward through the rest of the 1970s and through the 80s. The Bills went through a long stretch of futility while the Patriots actually had some successful seasons. Just not successful enough.
Fast forward some more to what has to be one of the darkest days in Buffalo history — The Super Bowl (don’t ask me which one; I find all that Roman numeral idiocy just so self-important) where Scott Norwood went wide right.
I was convinced the Bills were going to stomp all over the Giants, whom I have hated since forever. In the AFC title game, the Bills — with quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas in their primes — had stomped all over the Oakland Raiders while the Giants tangled with the San Francisco 49ers.
This was 1991, the Gulf War had started only weeks earlier, and there were serious concerns about security and terrorist plots and such. All I wanted was to see the Bills win.
But the Giants — even backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler — were able to play keep-away with a devastating running game and led 20-19 in the late stages. But the Bills had the ball and got to the New York 27, leaving Norwood with a 47-yard attempt. For a point of reference, Adam Vinatieri’s kick that won the game for the Patriots in 2002 was 48 yards.
Anyway, Norwood missed, the Giants won, and the Bills made three more Super Bowls in a row after that. Each game was worse than the one before.
When Dick Jauron took over as coach of the team, my enthusiasm for them was reinvigorated. After all, Jauron was from Swampscott, only a few years older than I, and I watched him play with a mixture of awe and envy. He was always a gentleman and still is.
So for someone who was always partial to the Bills anyway, I became even more partial.
For so many years now, the Bills have been patsies for the Patsies. They’d always seem to pop up on the schedule just when the Patriots needed a break from playing the NFL iron. I can’t count all the quarterbacks they’ve had.
This Saturday, they could really give the Patriots fits. They could conceivably knock them down into a third seed and deny them the bye they always count on going into the playoffs.
It leaves me with a strange dilemma. I am less and less enamoured with the Patriots. Their institutional arrogance turns me off. And it wouldn’t be a bad thing to see one of historically terrible AFC East teams rise up knock them off.