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Janine Talley’s Journal: Darryl’s passionate about the fan connection

This is the third in a series of six columns for The Buffalo News by Janine Talley, wife of Bills great Darryl Talley.

With the passing of Van Miller last week, it seemed appropriate to reflect on the word “fandemonium.” Urban Dictionary defines fandemonium as “The craziness and confusion caused by thousands of people trying to force their way into an Anime/Comic/Star Trek Convention.”

However, the word was used by Van Miller 27 years ago to describe Buffalo Bills fans’ reactions seconds after the team won the 1988 AFC East title in overtime and they rushed the field in celebration. While that moment for fans, players and their families will live for generations, many times the most rewarding interactions with fans come in a more intimate setting. I’ve been asked hundreds of times why the connection between fans and Darryl resonates. It’s simple: He really does enjoy the synergy.

Darryl is a natural schmoozer; he’s comfortable in any setting and will talk to a doorknob. It’s a gift I envy. He’s also a huge football fan; our television has ESPN on a loop. You want to talk about football? Darryl’s your guy.

I’ve had food wilting in the Florida sun because someone’s stopped Darryl in the grocery store parking lot and struck up a conversation about football. I was once in the emergency room with the mumps – trust me, they’re not eradicated – and as soon as the doctor figured out who Darryl was he went from tending to my blowfish face to talking about the Bills. Yoo-hoo, doctor, over here. Sorry to interrupt your riveting conversation regarding who’s going to be the starting quarterback this season, but do you think I could have something for the excruciating pain emitting from my salivary glands?

During the early 1990s, while sightseeing the Coliseum in Rome, we found ourselves being followed by a group of Japanese tourists. Darryl became uneasy because with every turn we took, they kept pace and he grew concerned that perhaps he’d have to defend us on the very site where gladiators once fought lions.

A cooler head in our party decided to approach the group and ask if anyone spoke English. Through butchered language and pantomime, they were able to convey that they recognized Darryl and were huge fans. They went on to explain, laboriously, that he was highly regarded in Japan for his work ethic. The blue-collar tag he so proudly wore translated continents away.

For my 40th birthday, Darryl took our daughters and me to the Bahamas to celebrate. After a dinner of sushi, we stopped by the lounge for cocktails. We weren’t in there two minutes when a guy recognized Darryl. It started out as a handshake and a photo, and morphed into the girls and I retiring to our rooms while Darryl and Joe from Philly forged a late-night friendship.

About 20 minutes after Darryl returned to our room and fell asleep, the phone rang. On the other end was Joe from Philly. He apologized for calling so late, but had just one more question he needed to ask Darryl. I envisioned Darryl on the phone with Joe from Philly as the sun rose over the Atlantic, guzzling room service coffee and blabbing about the comeback game. I told Joe from Philly he could find Darryl at the pool in the morning and he could ask his question then. Yes, I’m a killjoy.

It wouldn’t be unusual to find Darryl, Thurman, Bruce, Andre and Cornelius poolside at a resort. During these trips, I’ve seen Thurman and his wife, Patti, wade in the water for hours talking with a couple from Long Island, strangers when the conversation started. I’ve seen Andre toss a Nerf football across the length of a pool several dozen times with a guy he didn’t know, the guy’s eyes glistening with joy.

But there’s a certain type of fan the guys always assign to Darryl. You’ll hear one of them say to the rest, “Here’s one for D” and the teammates will scatter, leaving Darryl with “Stan from Ithaca.”

Stan makes his approach as he slips a little on the wet deck, causing his rumrunner to slosh up and over the brim of the plastic cup he’s carrying. He wears his smile like the Joker. His flip-flops are from the gift shop and they’re two sizes too big. He lost the ones that fit him in the ocean the day before. Stan’s been at the pool every day since his arrival, deprived of sunscreen; his nose and shoulders resemble smoked salmon.

Stan introduces himself to Darryl with a robust handshake, the kind that says, “An NFL linebacker doesn’t intimidate me” and begins the conversation by telling Darryl he’s been a Bills season-ticket holder since 1988. Darryl thanks him for that. Stan then asks if it’s OK if he gets a picture with Darryl and hands me his camera as if I work for the resort. I snap a photo or two. I hand Stan his camera and he takes a seat on the edge of the lounge chair recently vacated by one of Darryl’s teammates.

Neither Stan nor Darryl notice that I disappear into the water and swim up to the pool bar and join our friends. Stan wants to discuss the four Super Bowls. Darryl obliges. Thirty minutes into the conversation, Stan is kicked back on the lounge, feet crossed, beer belly and shoulders exposed to the wicked Caribbean sun. Darryl’s switched positions with Stan and is now on the edge of his seat, limbs animated, mouth moving.

As we watch Darryl and Stan from the pool, two sea breezes later, Andre asks, “Do you think your husband’s on Super Bowl Twenty-Seven yet?” Then Bruce says, “Dre, why don’t you go over there and find out for us.” “Shoot, I’m still trying to forget that game,” Andre responds.

Toward the end of their conversation, Stan feels the need to confess that until the arrival of Darryl and his teammates, he wasn’t having such a great time on his second honeymoon with his wife, Marge. He’s never left the contiguous 48 states before this trip and just sitting by a pool all day isn’t his idea of fun. He admits that while his wife sat under a palm tree and read her magazine, he watched the guys and talked himself into the courage to come over. Darryl chuckles.

He thanks Darryl for his time, sends the rest of the guys at the bar a cocktail, and gives a fist pump to the air as he teeters back to Marge. Stan’s second honeymoon is a success.

Darryl is assigned the “Stans” of the world because he has the ability to defuse their critique of his play and the play of his teammates and the patience to listen to it. It’s agonizing to hear for the millionth time what he or one of the guys could’ve or should’ve done to win those games. Discussing what many fans consider a failure, the loss of four Super Bowls, and his ability to point out their successes on the football field reinforces Darryl’s pride in himself and his teammates. And with that, both Darryl and Stan get something from the experience.

email: janinetalley56@gmail.com

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