At the end of the last century, the Buffalo Bills were eliminated from the NFL Playoffs by the Tennessee Titans because of a play which is now known as the “Music City Miracle.”
Although the throw from tight endFrank Wycheck to wide receiverKevin Dysonappeared to everyone except Titans fans and, unfortunately, the referee, to be an illegal forward lateral, the resulting touchdown was allowed to stand. And the Bills lost by a score of 22-16.
So began the epic journey known around Western New York as “The Drought.” For 17 long, torturous years, the Bills failed to make the postseason. This annual exercise in futility was the butt of countless jokes and NFL Today graphics.
So, you may have heard, we had a little snow for the Bills/Colts game last Sunday.
For those unfamiliar with the white stuff, what you saw on TV is what is called a lake-effect snowstorm. It occurs when a cold air mass picks up moisture by passing over a large body of warm water, like a lake. Since Buffalo is situated between two (lucky us!) Great Lakes, Erie and Ontario, these storms occur frequently until the lakes freeze over.
Along with the turkeys, Christmas lights, and the shopping frenzy of late November/early December comes another seasonal hallmark: the posting of the NFL playoff rankings during the televised broadcasts.
You have your three columns: Division Leaders, Wild Card, and, the ever-hopeful, “In the Hunt.” Over the last 17 years, the Bills have become such regular members of the “In the Hunt” club, the players should be issued camo and a tree stand along with their helmets and pads.
Head Coach Sean McDermott stunned everyone at his morning press conference announcing he was making a change at quarterback, benching quarterback Tyrod Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman. McDermott said it’s about “becoming a better team.”
Near the end of the Buffalo Bills’ humiliating 47-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints, a streaker, with literally nothing except copious amounts of alcohol to protect him from the 47 degree temperatures, jumped out onto the field. The completely naked man, later identified as Tristan Lambright, 29, managed to run free for more than 70 yards before he was subdued by security.
Needless to say, the faithful fans who stayed to the bitter end of the game were delighted with this spectacle. They cheered loudly as Lambright sprinted to the end zone, accomplishing something that the Bills’ offense failed to do all day. Twitter exploded with fans’ observations that Lambright had a longer run from scrimmage than either running back LeSean McCoy or quarterback Tyrod Taylor had managed all season.
Some fans, not completely kidding, urged Bills general manager Brandon Beane to sign Lambright to the team. There were also suggestions that Beane sign the security personnel as they, unlike the Bills defense, actually managed to tackle a runner.
When head coach Sean McDermott finally hangs up his whistle at the end of his football career, he should take a job in marketing. McDermott has a slogan for every situation. He has them printed on signs hanging around the locker room. They are sprinkled throughout his speeches to the players and the media. For home games, McDermott came up with the catchphrase, “Defend Our Dirt,“ and went so far as to give each player a little glass jar containing some of the rubber fibers from the playing field at New Era stadium mixed with sand from training camp.
As corny as that may be, the message was received. The Bills are a perfect 4-0 at home following Sunday’s 31-14 win over the Raiders. This is the first time they have been perfect at home since 1995.
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander is one of five team captains that make up what Coach Sean McDermott calls his“Leadership Council.” Alexander, along with quarterback Tyrod Taylor, kicker Stephen Hauschka, defensive tackle Kyle Williams, and center Eric Wood, are the players that McDermott says he depends on to be a “sounding board … in terms of what’s going on, how the team’s reacting to things.”
This sounding board was particularly valuable when the team was sorting out its response to the anthem protests going on around the league. Prior to the Bills-Broncos game in Week 3, a long meeting was held in which McDermott, all the Bills players, general manager Brandon Beane, and team owners Kim and Terry Pegula were able to respectfully discuss their viewpoints and work out a mutually agreeable solution. On Game Day, Alexander was one of 12 Bills players who knelt during the anthem, while McDermott and the remaining players linked arms along the sidelines in a display of solidarity.
Alexander commented on his reasons for taking a knee that day. “We have great privileges here but as … a U.S. citizen I [wanted] to call or bring attention to things that need change. With that, today I kneeled but I won’t continue to kneel. [Today] I kneeled to show those guys …that I am with them.”
A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind.
A journey into a wondrous land of imagination…”
It began after the final second elapsed on the Bills 23-17 win over the (formerly) undefeated Atlanta Falcons. All around Western New York, a low murmur of voices were expressing wonderment. Disbelief. Excitement. Almost every caller to the local radio post-game shows began their comments with, “I know there’s a lot of the season left, but do you think…?” Or, “I know I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up yet, but…” Or, “The team wasn’t supposed to be any good this year. How do you explain…?”
It does feel as if we’ve entered the Twilight Zone. Staring at the AFC East standings, seeing the Buffalo Bills, 3-1, all alone at the top of the heap, is nothing if not surreal. The previous week’s win over the Denver Broncos was a terrific accomplishment for coach Sean McDermott’s team. But getting a win on the road, against last year’s NFC Champions is something else altogether.
Since taking over the leadership of the Bills, General Manager Brandon Beane and Head Coach Sean McDermott have begged both players and the fan base to “Trust the process.” Trust them during the NFL draft, when they swapped their No. 10 spot with Kansas City and dropped 16 places in exchange for the Chief’s 2018 first-round pick. Trust them when they traded starting cornerback Ronald Darby to the Eagles for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a 2018 third-round pick. Trust them when they absolutely stunned both the fans and even the Bills players by trading wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams for cornerback E. J. Gaines and a 2018 second-round draft pick.
Beane assured Bills fans that their plan was to do everything necessary to get to the playoffs this year. But, at the same time, they traded away established players for future draft picks. Confused? Just trust us, they say.
The first two games of the 2017 season were a shaky win over a “tanking” Jets team, and an abysmal offensive showing in a loss to Carolina. These did little to inspire confidence in the new regime. Fans were quickly resigned to the idea that the 17-year playoff drought would eventually turn 18.
NF: Where did you learn about football – When? and from Who?
MP:Like so many, I have my dad to thank for making me the sports junkie that I am today. I’ve always enjoyed competition and, when you add that to a “tomboy” personality, a love of sports grew naturally in me. It was something Dad and I had in common, and, since I didn’t have any brothers, we spent a lot of time watching and talking about it together.
Actually, the first sport I fell in love with was not football but baseball. I learned the game from watching it on TV, and by listening to the radio broadcasts of the Detroit Tigers, my dad’s favorite team. My passion for football grew slowly, and not really from watching the NFL—after all, the Buffalo Bills teams of the 70s were not exactly inspiring! It was from watching college football with Dad, specifically Notre Dame football, that I was bitten by the bug.
NF: Priorities of Life – What are your top 3?
MP:I’d have to say my faith in God would be the first priority as I honestly don’t know where I’d be without that. Next would be my family. I am so grateful for my wonderful husband, my three sons and my “special” girl. I hate to think how empty life would be without them. Finally, as a confirmed introvert, I make a point of finding some peace and quiet in each day to enjoy a cup of tea, dark chocolate, and a good book or crossword puzzle. It reminds me to appreciate the simple things in life.