Seeking to fortify myself for a busy Christmas Eve, I stopped off at Cole’s on my way home from the Bills late Wednesday afternoon. Not surprisingly, I saw my old pal, Rex Carr, ensconced in his usual spot at the farthest end of the bar.
Rex fancies himself Buffalo’s greatest sports fan. He says he had the suffering idea down before Darcy Regier ever uttered the word. He was staring vacantly at an ESPN show, a glass of egg nog, spiked, I presume, in front of him on the bar.
“What’s up, Rex?” I asked. “Shouldn’t you be home with your new wife, singing Christmas carols by the fire?”
“Well, if it isn’t old Sully Scrooge himself,” Rex snapped, wiping egg nog off his chin. “You here to rub the Oakland loss in my face?”
“You know me better than that. I wanted them to win that game as much as anybody. I’ve covered meaningless season finales since the disaster in ’04. It’s a better story when something is at stake.”
“Tell me about it,” Rex said. “You know what I wanted for Christmas? For the New England game to matter. Still alive for the playoffs going into the last game, I would have taken that. I really was starting to believe in them again.”
“How many times have I heard those words out of your mouth, Rex? You’ve been telling me for more than 20 years that you’re not going to get emotionally involved. You said it after the Super Bowl losses, after No Goal, after Drury and Briere, after they got off to that great start with Fitzpatrick in 2011.”
“They really had me going after the Packers game,” Rex sighed. “I watched that YouTube video of Kyle Williams firing up his guys after the game. I wanted to buy in. But a voice inside me said, ‘Just watch, they’ll go lose in Oakland.’ ”
“I got sucked in, too.”
“I’ve told you before,” Rex said, “the worst thing about being a Buffalo fan is you’re trained to expect the worst. Now they’ll probably win in Foxborough.”
“Well, it would be their first win ever at Gillette Stadium.”
“So what?” Rex said. “The Pats don’t even need the game. And do you think I want to torture myself this offseason, knowing we beat Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady but lost to some rookie in Oakland in-between to ruin our playoff chances?”
“Hey, they beat the over-under for wins,” Russell the bartender cackled, refilling our glasses.
“Three guys from the defensive line made the Pro Bowl,” I said. “I wonder if that’s a first for a non-playoff team. I thought Jerry Hughes might make it four. But it might keep his price down in free agency.”
“I’d trade two of them for a real quarterback,” Rex sneered. “How long do we have to suffer? I mean, watching Orton reminds me of Bledsoe at the end. I don’t want to hear about his offensive line. Get a guy who can move. The good quarterbacks make throws down the field despite bad O-lines. Rodgers has done it. Roethlisberger did it for years.”
“The pressure’s on Whaley to get a QB,” I said. “I’ll be interested to see what he says next week in his presser. It’s about time he took some heat. Marrone has to stand there and answer questions about that offense every day.”
“If we can get a solid starter in here with this defense, we might actually take the next step next year,” Rex said. “I don’t want Cutler, though. And I don’t believe in EJ. But why not let him play in New England?”
“Because Orton gives them the best ...”
“I get it,” Rex cut me off. “Look, I’m not crazy about Marrone and Hackett, but we keep going through coaches and coordinators. The bottom line for this 15-year playoff drought is the sorry quarterback play. I’m tired of losing to Brady.”
“I feel sorry for you fans,” I said. “And I feel bad for the players. There’s a lot of good guys on this team, even Dareus. I’m not supposed to root, but how can you have a heart and not feel for guys like Fred Jackson and Kyle Williams, who lay it on the line every week and have never played in a playoff game?”
“True Buffalo guys,” Rex said. “They deserve better. And Fred deserves a better lead-in to his TV show than you and Bucky, by the way. I agree with you on one thing. Pegula needs to bring in an experienced football guy to look over this operation. Why not Bill Polian? He didn’t get stupid all of a sudden. Didn’t he tell you EJ would struggle this year?”
“Maybe Pegula learned from his mistakes with the Sabres,” I said.
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Rex said. “That’s why I worry about them winning a meaningless game in New England, it’ll give Pegula a false sense that everything is hunky dory.”
“Well, at least the team isn’t going anywhere, Rex. Remember when Pegula bought the team, how excited you were? You said it didn’t matter what happened on the field this year. The team was staying in Buffalo and that was enough.”
“I do remember,” Rex said.
“You talked about Pegula being like a gift from the heavens. You got choked up listening to guys call up radio shows and talk about their dads taking them to games as kids. You called it a miracle when Kelly’s cancer went into remission at about the same time. “
“Yeah,” Rex said, his face brightening. “Now that you mentioned it, it has been a pretty good year to be a Buffalo fan. Merry Christmas, my friend.”
“Merry Christmas, Rex,” I said. “And how about those Sabres? You think they have a shot at 28th?”
“Don’t push your luck, pal.”