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Bills fans grieve -- but still believe -- after loss

Bills fans spent the 24 hours after Monday night's heartbreaking last-minute loss to the hated New England Patriots going through many of the stages of grief.

They cursed at their televisions. They prayed Leodis McKelvin never gets another chance to fumble a kickoff. They questioned how they could ever let this team get their hopes up.

And they unloaded to everyone they know on online message boards, Facebook and Twitter accounts and other Web sites where fans gather after Bills wins and losses.

"I think that's definitely cathartic on some level," said Chris Stucchio, a Facebook venter and law firm employee who explained "the Bills are just part of my soul."

Tuesday was a day for Bills fans to work through the emotions generated by Monday's painful 25-24 loss to the Pats, who came back from 11 points down with 5 1/2 minutes left.

The debacle was a reminder to Bills supporters here, and expats living across the country, that this team can always find a new and more creative way to give up the lead in a game.

"It's just like your heart gets ripped out of your chest," said Tom Campbell, the editor and publisher of the online magazine WNY Labor Today.

But Buffalo sports fans are a loyal lot, and most vowed to stick with the Bills to the end. Some even preferred to look on the bright side of a surprisingly close season opener.

The team binds Western New Yorkers, and being a fan means knowing you'll always have a community of fellow Bills boosters to celebrate or commiserate with, the fans said.
"It's the common thread that's bringing everyone together this morning," Stefan Mychajliw, the spokesman for the Buffalo Public Schools, said Tuesday.

In the hours after Monday's game, this community vented on sports talk radio, online chats and on their Facebook and Twitter pages about the stunning turn of events at the end of the contest.

"That allows me to get out my emotions . . . so I don't go out in the street looking for dogs to kick," joked Rich Quodomine, a Rochester native and die-hard fan who now follows the Bills from the Albany area and writes e-mails and Facebook postings after most games.

Many talked about how painful it was to once again watch the Bills blow a game in the last seconds in front of a national cable TV audience.

This is the third season in a row that the Bills have lost a heartbreaker on Monday Night Football, following debacles against the Dallas Cowboys in 2007 and the Cleveland Browns last year.

A lot of fans were struggling Tuesday to put this loss in context, which was difficult considering how fresh the pain was.

"It's not as bad as 'Wide Right.' Hey, they only lost by one point. They lost in the last two minutes. We didn't embarrass ourselves," said Sharon Morrissey, who works for People Inc. and has been a fan since the late 1960s.

Morrissey wasn't the only one reflecting on the positives from the game, whether Fred Jackson's running or the solid protection the inexperienced offensive line gave Trent Edwards.

"Were you surprised how well the O-Line played? I think they should get some confidence heading into the rest of the season," "Mike" said during Allen Wilson's "Bills Replay" chat Tuesday on the Buffalo News Web site.

Some said they never believed the Bills would win the game, because they know this team's recent history.

But more than a few fans said they allowed themselves to hope, when Jackson scored to put the Bills up 24-13 late in the fourth quarter, that this might be Buffalo's night.

"I'm a cynic because I'm a Bills fan, but there's a part of me that says, 'This is where they turn it around,' " Stucchio said.

Karen Buell watched the game in the cradle of the enemy, Belchertown, Mass., where she works for a bank and is vastly outnumbered by Patriot fans. So the Angelica native is used to taking abuse for her loyalties.

"You have absolutely no dignity. There's nothing you can even say to people," said Buell. "It was tough coming in to work today."

Why do Bills fans put themselves through this? Why are they willing to spend so much time, money and emotional health on a team that rarely, at least these days, rewards their faith?

Buell, talking to her younger sister Tuesday, told the 18-year-old: "Get out now while you can."

But even though Mychajliw has suffered through years of losing -- and he compared Monday night's loss to the pain of performing a frontal lobotomy on himself -- he's raising his daughter as a Bills fan.

With the Bills winning Monday's game, he had set out a tiny team jersey for his 3-year-old daughter to wear Tuesday. Then Tom Brady and the Patriots struck -- twice.

"Within 70 seconds, I pulled out a new shirt," he said.

For many, being a Bills fan is part of their DNA. They can't imagine not rooting for them, no matter how many last-second losses or 7-9 seasons they endure.

"If you cut me, I'll bleed red and blue," said Mike Brady, a Department of Defense communications specialist and Buffalo native who dressed his 3-month-old son in an Edwards infant jersey for Monday's game.

"I'm a Bills fan. Part of being a Bills fan is always believing."

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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>Memorable

The heartbreaks ...

1. Wide Right

2. Home Run Throwback

3. Dallas MNF debacle

4. Harmon drops the ball

5. Miami sacks Flutie

and some big wins

1. The Houston comeback

2. Kelly's end zone dive

3. Reich's MNF magic

4. Flutie's naked bootleg

5. Three TDs in 77 seconds

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