Niagara Gazette

Sports

September 25, 2011

Good times never felt so good

COMMENTARY

ORCHARD PARK — It might’ve been the happiest day of my life. No, not Sunday, but back in 2003, the last time the Bills beat the Patriots.

I was off at college, in a house full of friends, living free of responsibility, intoxicated by (among other things) the incredible performance my favorite football team had given, and the exciting future that seemed to lay before them. We talked about saving money to make the trip to Houston for that year’s Super Bowl. I was going to set aside a few extra bucks to get a charging Buffalo tattooed on my head.

Since joining the media mob six years ago, I’ve successfully detached myself from my former fandomonium. Win or lose, the Bills no longer make me want to shout. If I happen to watch an away game with you, don’t try to high five me. I don’t care about this team as much as you do. I prefer being a proud professional, not a delirious devotee.

This one though... this one was different. For the first time in my career, I had a hard time staying emotionally detached. The old feelings were percolating under my skin. Not because of what transpired, but because of where it went down. I may not be a fan anymore, but I empathized with everyone at The Ralph who sat through so many embarrassing losses to these bullies from Boston, anxiously awaiting this moment. Wondering if this streak would ever end. Wondering if these teams would be playing in Foxborough, or Toronto, or Los Angeles, when it eventually did.

When the moment finally arrived — in such captivating and fulfilling fashion — the fans showed their appreciation. Nobody wanted to leave. While Fred Jackson and Drayton Florence waved giant Bills flags, 70,000 strong swayed to tune of “Sweet Caroline.”

Good times never felt so good. Even for a cynical sportswriter.

As soon as the game ended, security personnel rushed to protect the goal posts. They knew those things were coming down if left unattended. Perhaps they should’ve let it happen. The fans deserved an over-the-top celebration.

Nobody has ever circled the wagons like these Buffalo Bills. They’re the first team in NFL history to overcome an 18-point deficit in back-to-back weeks. You can’t compare this comeback to the legendary one against the Oilers. But go ahead and stack these wins up against those three rally-backs the ‘90 Bills strung together.

Sure, it’s only September. We’re a long way from the playoffs. But the Bills are now front-running in the AFC East. And after beating the mighty Patriots, you have to give them a chance in every remaining game on the schedule.

But let’s not look ahead. This game was too memorable to forget so quickly.

Like many coaches, Chan Gailey has a 24-hour rule. Win or lose, it’s on to the next game by the end of the next day. In the locker room on Sunday, Bills linebacker Chris Kelsay went up to Gailey and said, “I’m asking for a couple more hours.”

Kelsay was a rookie when the Bills beat the Pats in ‘03. Every time he faced New England since then, he expected to win. Every time, he was proved wrong. Sometimes it was in gut-wrenching. Other times it was humiliating.

“Finally,” Kelsay said. “This is the 17th time I’ve played these guys and only the second time we’ve won. It’s the biggest win of my career. I can’t think of any bigger. We’ve never been to the playoffs. Monday Night games, we’ve come close but lost. To beat these guys at home in front of our fans, with the way they hung behind us, despite being down early. It’s huge. I’ll never forget it.”

This win was an emotional release for the fans, first and foremost. But it was just as satisfying for Kelsay, Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman, the only three players who endured all those losses and suited up Sunday. I’m sure Terrence McGee enjoyed the win, but not nearly as much as he would if he were healthy enough to take part. At least he was there, though. Ralph Wilson, unfortunately, was back in Detroit, housebound by a broken hip.

“He was in the back of some of our minds,” Kelsay said.

And how about Van Miller? He doesn’t work the broadcasts anymore, but he attends every home game, dressed head to toe in Bills gear. When Lindell lined up to kick the game-winning field goal, Miller stood up in the press box and called the play.

It sounded surreal. It gave me goosebumps. I felt like a kid again. I felt like a fan.

For the next 24 hours or so, I feel that’s appropriate.

Contact sports editor Jonah Bronstein at jonah.bronstein@niagara-gazette.com

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