By Chris Stucchio
The Buffalo Bills will be starting their regular season on Sunday, and whenever they’re playing NFL games that count, it’s always my favorite time of the year.
My first experience with being a Buffalo Bills fan came in 1974 when I was in second grade. At the time my family was living in a duplex that was located in a suburban area just outside of Buffalo. Although I was playing sports regularly then with kids in the neighborhood who were 4 or 5 years older than me, I had never seen a football game on TV or in person, and I really didn’t know anything about the Bills’ franchise either.
At some point that year, though, my mother took me to a big department store with escalators, and she bought me a white Buffalo Bills sweatshirt with the team’s newly designed logo on it — a blue charging buffalo with a red streak.
I thought it was going to be a big hit with my friends, but it wasn’t. They said the red standing buffalo that had been the team’s mark from 1962 until 1973 was much better, and that it didn’t matter anyway because the Bills were never going to be good now that they were in the National Football League instead of the American Football League.
Even though I was very young, it didn’t make sense to me to be so negative and pessimistic. Weren’t hope and optimism part of what made being a fan fun? As an act of defiance, I wore that sweatshirt almost every day for quite a while.
Within a few years, I was watching the Bills away games on TV by myself, and if their home games weren’t televised in the Buffalo market, which was almost always the case back then, I would listen to them on a beat-up old brown battery-powered AM radio with a round tuning dial.
My team might have been bad a lot more than they were good during that time, but I wasn’t going to let them down by not following them.
One of my fondest memories was attending quarterback Jim Kelly’s first game as a Buffalo Bill, which was on Sept. 7, 1986, at Rich Stadium – now New Era Field – against the New York Jets. The Bills were coming off consecutive 2-14 seasons and were the laughingstock of the NFL, while the Jets had made the playoffs the year before with an 11-5 record.
In the fourth quarter, with the Jets leading 14-10, Kelly threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to a little-known wide receiver in his second year named Andre Reed. Although the Bills ended up losing that day, 28-24, it didn’t feel like they had lost.
I think the 80,000 people in attendance could sense something special was going to happen in the next few years for the team, and it did, starting in 1988 when Buffalo finished 12-4, won the American Football Conference East and made it to the AFC title game.
Whenever people get down on the Bills for losing four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s or for not having made the playoffs since 1999, I always think of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” particularly these lines:
“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same.”
For me, it doesn’t matter how many exhilarating wins or heartbreaking defeats the Buffalo Bills have. The team will always be a part of my soul, and nothing is ever going to change that.