ONCE AGAIN, Buffalo is paying the price for the Bills' success.
Every December since the Bills revived a few years ago, it's the same story. The football team attracts attention. The nation's sportswriters pull out the stereotype handbook and blindside Buffalo with cliches.
Cold. Snow. Blue-collar. Unemployment. Nothing but the Bills to live for. Cold. Snow. After reading a couple of last week's efforts, one wonders why we don't have a suicide prevention hot line number tattooed on our palms.
It makes one dread how our burg will be portrayed should the Bills make it to the Super Bowl. By the time the nation's sportswriters finish with us, the only out-of-town visitors willing to venture here will be close relatives -- on the condition we pay for the plane tickets.
Digest (if possible) some recent samples:
New York Post: "To (cynics), the Buffalo Bills live on a frozen tundra, play their home games in an igloo, survive on a diet of Buffalo chicken wings and beer, and represent a frostbitten constituency that turns out in impressive numbers primarily in response to the age-old question: 'What else can you do on a Sunday afternoon in Buffalo?' "
A few paragraphs later, the "cynics" are revealed to include the writer, one Jerry Izenberg. He states that Bruce Smith might actually have more than 19 sacks, but "who is going to go (to Buffalo) to check?"
Last year, the same writer opined that chicken wings and igloos represent Buffalo's "gross municipal product."
Ironically, Izenberg writes out of Newark, N.J. Newark is, to put it kindly, a shaky base from which to launch geographical critiques.
The aforementioned, however, pales in comparison to the effort in Friday's Boston Globe. Taking a cue from a recent story in the National Sports Daily, the piece begins with a lengthy ode to the tundra that is Buffalo.
Hereabouts, writes Ron Borges, the wind "sneaks into parkas like a cat burglar, skulking down their spines and boring into their souls."
And furthermore: "Stark and bare, like a good deal of the view around Buffalo for the next five months . . . "
And that wind again: "(It) puts Buffalo into such a deep freeze that not much will bring its inhabitants out until the spring thaw."
Not much. Except for monthly slogs (via dog sled) to the general store for provisions, it's see ya in April.
Fact: The average temperature in Boston for December, January and February is 33, 29 and 29 degrees. The average in Buffalo for the same months is 29, 24 and 25.
Downtown Buffalo gets an average of 74 inches of snow annually. Tropical Boston gets 42. But snow in Boston, and throughout the Northeast, is denser and wetter than it is here, because of higher humidity. According to meteorologist George Skari, Boston's 42 inches weighs about the same as Buffalo's 74.
Readers in balmy Boston were further informed:
"(The Bills) are Buffalo's one real link with major-league status."
Fact: Buffalo has a world-class art museum; a first-rate symphony orchestra; a natural wonder a half-hour away; a huge state university, and a hockey team that -- despite recent stumbling -- has not yet been ejected from the NHL.
Bills supporters are, we are told, "blue-collar trimmed fans." And "times are tough in Buffalo, just like they are all over."
Fact: From 1979 to 1989, manufacturing-based jobs here decreased from 28 percent to 17 percent, which is about the national average. Service-oriented jobs increased from 19 percent to 27 percent as Buffalo became a major regional banking center. The unemployment rate in Niagara and Erie counties, in double digits a decade ago, is 4.4 percent.
No problem. If the facts don't fit, write the myth.
A couple of Bills are also guilty of personal fouls. Steve Tasker blurts that one can't fly directly from here to any place but -- that city again -- Newark. (Aside to Steve: How about Pittsburgh, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, Toronto, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Cleveland, Montreal, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Tampa and Orlando?)
Lineman Kent Hull: "There have been a lot of layoffs with the steel industry."
Sure there were, Kent. About 10 years ago.
Funny. Thought I was beyond getting riled up by such nonsense. I dismissed the National story with a shrug. Then came last week's blizzard of misinformation and weather warnings.
If the Bills continue on course, brace yourself. Not against that cold wind that skulks down our spines and bores into our souls. But against the hot air that will emit from sportswriters' computer terminals. During the next few weeks, that's what's going to be hard to take.