The chants, as bold as the coach who encouraged them, began raining from the upper deck Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium as the Bills put the finishing touches on Andrew Luck and the Colts. They could be heard across Western New York, reverberating across the state and into New England.
“We want Bra-dy! We want Bra-dy!”
Pardon me for being presumptuous, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Buffalo fans had too many Kool-Aids spiked with vodka while celebrating the 27-14 victory over a supposed AFC powerhouse. Maybe the Colts, humbled in the season opener, weren’t the only people in the stadium who spent the afternoon getting blitzed.
Buffalo fans for years wanted Brady, only they wanted Brady playing for the Bills. Many chanting Sunday were furious because Brady’s four-game suspension was thrown out in federal court. When people in Buffalo say they want Brady, what they really mean is that they want a piece of him and the Patriots.
Darned right they want Brady, now more than ever.
Any self-respecting competitor is determined to play the best. Brady led the Patriots to their fourth Super Bowl title last season. He was named the game’s most valuable player for the third time. For the last 16 seasons, the Pats have been the Bills’ primary nemesis and a standard of excellence by which all seasons are measured.
Brady is 23-3 in his career against Buffalo. One loss came in last season’s finale, a throwaway game. New England had won 35 straight home games against AFC teams, including 17 wins inside the division, before that loss. The Bills’ only win in Gillette Stadium meant nothing.
The Patriots are still the Patriots.
And they’re coming to town Sunday.
Brady opened the season in predictable fashion, completing 25 of 32 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns, three to Rob Gronkowski, against Pittsburgh’s suspect defense. He had a built-in advantage, of course, that goes beyond deflated footballs. The Pats beat the Steelers in Foxborough, where Brady has a 91-15 career record.
The best quarterback in football history will hear a distinctly different tone Sunday when he plays his first road game since DeflateGate. He’ll find an inspired Bills team with an audacious coach, an electrifying quarterback, fresh running backs, a proven defense and a rejuvenated fan base that for months has salivated over his arrival.
For the first time since … well … a long time, Bills fans have genuine reasons to believe they can stand up to the Patriots. They watched a Buffalo defense make Luck, one of the NFL’s elite passers, look ordinary. And that was without star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and, for all but one play, veteran safety Corey Graham.
The stadium was loud Sunday. It was proud. It’s how Rich Stadium sounded during the good old days, when fans paid for seats they never used because they stood the entire game. It was the Bills at their finest. Even though fans have been optimistic over the years, it came off as manufactured and insincere.
This? This feels real.
Now they want more. They want Brady.
It’s no longer just Bills Nation that believes in Buffalo. It’s the nation. Tony Gonzalez picked the Bills to win the Super Bowl. Trent Dilfer selected them as his favorite. The bandwagon is filling up with supporters whose drawers aren’t filled with Bills sweatshirts for every day of the week.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers also are climbing aboard. The line for the Bills-Pats game was even early Monday before shifting to the Patriots being favored by a point Tuesday. It wouldn’t be surprising if it moved back to even with fans betting the Bills over the next several days.
Ralph Wilson Stadium can be one of the NFL’s toughest venues for visiting teams, but only when the Bills are competitive. It’s particularly brutal when the Bills have a winning team, a potential playoff team. In the early 1990s, a vast majority of opponents were down a touchdown before getting off the bus.
Rex Ryan felt the need last week to tap into the fan base for help leading into the opener. C’mon, Rex, know your audience. These people become unglued when the Bills are relevant. They’re starving for a championship.
You’re not going to find many fan bases that are heartier and hungrier than the fine people in Buffalo. Nobody needs to ask them to raise their voices. They don’t need tips on being rude and belligerent. A few might even be intoxicated on occasion. Many would gladly rip off their shirts, flex their muscles and cuss out an opponent.
And that’s just counting the women.
“I can’t wait to see what our fans are going to be like when you have the hated Patriots, I mean, this kind of rival coming into our stadium,” Ryan said. “I don’t think our fans need any more prompting.”
Brady isn’t going to be bullied, of course. If anything, he’s become more defiant after knocking Roger Goodell for a loop in federal court and standing up to people across the country who viewed him as a cheater. He’s more worried about the Bills’ defense than another packed stadium filled with bloodthirsty fans.
But that’s not going to stop anybody from trying Sunday.
You want Bra-dy?
You got ’em.