It warms me to see a new generation of local fans experiencing a rise in the fortunes of the local football team. Although stadium arrest records suggest that those who allegedly misbehave at games are old enough to remember the Bills’ glory days, there is a wave of teens and twentysomethings who know much about those times but experienced none of it. I am glad of it.
So I wander a local shopping mall and note, as I did in the Super Bowl years, that fully one in three fellow wanderers is wearing some sort of Bills regalia. Women, too. There seem to be considerably fewer shoppers in the malls, though, compared to the early '90s.
The preparation for the games is reminiscent of those raucous times and remains the same, only for a different generation. The supermarkets are busy on Sundays, until game time. Then they get quiet until halftime, with a rush of one- or two-items only shoppers who hurry in and hurry out. It’s quiet again until post-game. On my street at 12:45 p.m., cars park and drivers and passengers enter homes, bringing six-packs and bags presumably full of food. Come on over and watch the game here. They all vacate the block, shortly after the game ends.
Beyond football, something of a rebirth is happening here. It does not affect each neighborhood equally but there is something in the air. Residential rents are rising as anyone with an abandoned factory of brick – and Western New York has plenty of those – yearns to turn it into a high-paying set of lofts. Oh, if brick-walled apartments ever go out of style…
Indeed, our expanse of factory space stuns out-of-towners. Those in other cities tore theirs down, years ago, during their own building boom. That boom, of Buffalo and Niagara Falls and points between, came later, and thus there are all those ex-manufacturing plants to plunder and live in. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a group which is all its name implies, held its 2010 convention in Buffalo and was amazed by all that affordable brick space. It was also stunned by the Town of Tonawanda’s Green Acres neighborhood, all those quickly-built homes that serve as an iconic reminder of the post-war suburban building boom, and they actually found a few totally unmodernized, right down to the kitchens, but that’s another story.
The deeper one knows and understands a subject, the more there is to worry about. Ask a committed Catholic, a retired intelligence officer or a specialist in drug addiction; they care the most and know things the lay pessimist doesn’t. So it is with sports. Concussions, for example, were an unmentioned side effect of a football career before it became a scourge obligating parents to discourage their sons from involvement. Once the National Football League came around to conceding the danger, it is reverting to just another side effect, and little to worry about when your team is winning.
Sometimes I feel like some old-timer whose wild experiences in youth just cannot compare to current wild experiences. We cheered and were cheered by the Super Bowl Bills but somehow did not happily commit acts of arson or assaults on folding tables. On the other hand we weren’t famous. The Bills’ most recent victory came in Nashville this week, and roughly one-third of those in attendance were not cheering for the home team. Chicago’s team played in Washington that weekend, with perhaps one-eighth of the fans in the stands noisy Chicago partisans; the television announcers made note of it. I noted that those who arrived rooting for Chicago likely were Illinois residents transferred by business or government to D.C. Did 20,000 Western New York residents really have business or relatives to see in Tennessee this week?
This sort of thing is unprecedented, and younger Bills fans are now experiencing one of the joyful moments of what is typically the up-and-down sensibility in a lifelong attachment to a team. Other teams have this effect, but with an asterisk: Boston, for example, is the home of many colleges, and an incoming freshman can depart as a graduate and an enduring Red Sox fan. Plenty of people who have never been to New York are Yankees fans; it’s the history, the glamour, the constant television presence, the feeling that one is connected to a place that, well, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.
There are Bills fans all over America. This is somehow more grassroots than “Leafs Nation” or seeing Notre Dame’s football team as a triumph of Christianity. They are Bills fans because there is some sort of joy in it, but we knew that all along.
Contact Ed Adamczyk at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.