Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Bills fan in North Florida

It appears as though I've mentioned religion one too many times in this forum given that the most recent banner ad is for something called "God's Final Witness". Whatever the Hell that is, I cannot possibly endorse it. Presumably it's something insane so I recommend you avoid it. If nothing else it may get you on an e-mail spam list you'd probably prefer not to be on.

Let's get back to the important stuff, your Buffalo Bills. After watching them on Sunday in Jacksonville I'm not 100% sure these are still my Buffalo Bills. It was interesting travelling to Jacksonville, a vibrant, youthful city, to watch the Bills. For those of you who have never been to Florida's First Coast, it really is a very unique part of the state. The weather is more moderate and there are few, if any, retirees or tourists. If nothing else, its worth a trip for the seafood which tends to be served in a manner showcasing its freshness and variety, not the ease in which it can be fried as is the focus of most Floridian tourist traps. Anyways, when we showed up on gameday it was not difficult identifying those who had travelled from upstate New York to watch their team. How can I say this nicely...there is something distinctive about woman from Buffalo versus their Floridian counterparts that goes beyond the Bills merchandise. As we drove towards the stadium I remarked to the other three people travelling with me "I guess these are our people". I imagine Stefan had the same awkward feeling when he brought a date somewhere that Steve Urkell's old friends were hanging out. It was also not dissimilar to what Matt Damon must experience when Ben Affleck shows up at an Ocean's 11/12/13 premiere. (Ed: I couldn't chose which one I liked better so I doubled up)

The game started with the obligatory jingoistic patriotism...and by jingoistic I mean freakin' awesome! I was able to sit back and smirk at the contrived post-Thanksgiving cheese-fest until four F-15s flew overhead in formation. Instantly I went from cynical left-leaning foreigner to flag-waving zealot. Thank God there wasn't an Army recruiting centre (er...center) nearby or I would be in Basrah by now. You can literally feel the fly-by. It reaches deep into your bones to bring out even the most hidden flagophile. Damn the $25k pricetag or the fact that air defense is rendered temporarily unavailable, I need to start everyday with a fly-by. I would be twice the man I currently am.

Unfortunately the action on the field didn't measure up to the action flying awesomely low above the stadium. The Bills performance was reminiscent of recent "Bad JP" efforts. He made some decent plays, couldn't make the big play and ultimately made a few crippling mistakes. The defense was decent until they got the Jags into third and long situations in which they were woeful. An overly simplistic post-mortem goes something like this: JP only makes one, or even two, or his costly turnovers and the defense stops the Jags on 3 or 4 of their 5 "third and longs of 10+ yards" (as opposed to only stopping them once) and the result would likely have been different. The defense is banged up and undersized so I'll give them a bit of a pass but in terms of JP, it's time to move on. It's not me, it's you. One day you may develop the ability to make better decisions but we can't afford to wait. Trent Edwards may not have your arm or swagger but his time has come. In the end the Bills did what I asked which was to give JP every chance to prove he wasn't the guy. It pains me to say it, but the Losman era is officially over in Buffalo.

So back to the fans. Gameday at Alltel Stadium, the home of the Jags, was remarkably different than a Sunday afternoon at the Ralph. This was true in terms of what I didn't see (vomiting, fighting, fat chicks taking their shirts off) and what I did see (kids, sunshine, courteous behaviour). This is clearly another sign of my advancing age and changing point of view now that I have a kid but this experience was a bit of an eye-opener. The fans were still loud and the beer was still flowing so it still felt like a football game as opposed to the whitewashed experience of the SkyDome or the Air Canada Centre. Now ultimately Buffalo can't help the fact that they have terrible weather and a crumbling stadium but there has to be something they can do to make it so you don't feel so dirty when you get home after a game. Maybe they can just import some Southerners to bring a touch of friendliness to the proceedings. The essence of this is best displayed in a story from my encounter with a local man in the men's room. Weird... Let's continue. I'm at the urinal beside a couple of Jags fans as the game is wrapping up who are in the midst of a not so hilarious debate as to whether it is pronounced Loss-man or Lose-man. The guy beside me then notices me and says "Oh sorry didn't see the Bills fan" in what I presumed was a sarcastic tone. As I'm walking out he follows me to apologize! "I'm really sorry man, I like to be a good sport so I didn't mean any disrespect". I was flabbergasted. What a gentleman! In Buffalo the guy would have followed me out to continue berating me or to punch me in the face.

Please don't read this as any indication that my Bills fanhood is in question. As I have already stated I will follow this team regardless of the depths of Hell they bring me to. It was just interesting to catch a glimpse of how the other half (or 95%) lives. Perhaps fans in Jacksonville will read this and get a sense of how good you have it. They haven't been selling out all their games so they may be taking their team somewhat for granted.

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