Twice in less than two weeks, Buffalo is faced with that burning question:
Bills or Sabres?
Fans walked the fine line between franchise loyalties Nov. 12, when they flipped back and forth between channels to watch their teams play on the road. Both won – the Sabres defeated the Florida Panthers, and the Bills beat the New York Jets on a Thursday night.
But fans will have an even bigger dilemma Monday night, when the Bills play in Foxborough, Mass., against the New England Patriots, while the Sabres are at home to take on the St. Louis Blues at First Niagara Center.
What’s a Buffalo fan to do?
“For me, I’m a Bills fan first and foremost, so it’s not much of a debate,” said Matt Sabuda, who spearheaded a fan alliance to keep the Bills in Buffalo and now does a weekly Bills analysis on WBFO-FM. “I think in this town, the Bills are king.”
“I’ll be watching the football game,” agreed Del Reid, co-founder of the fan group Bills Mafia. “I love hockey,too, but I’m Bills first.”
It’s a bit unfair, though, to pit the two Buffalo teams against each other or try to compare the two games, Reid said. The Sabres game is one of 41 at home, he said, while the Bills play 16 games during the regular season.
And while the two franchises may have a history of competing for Western New York’s affection, Reid noted how that rivalry has been absent since both teams came under the ownership of Terry and Kim Pegula and their theme “One Buffalo.”
In fact, Bills coach Rex Ryan talked about the Sabres last week when told Nov. 12 was the first time in five years the two teams won on the same day.
“They play again the same night you play New England,” Ryan was told.
“Oh, do they really?” Ryan said. “All right, let’s go. Let’s make it two in a row.”
Tickets are still available for Monday’s Sabres game, said Michael Gilbert, vice president of public and community relations for the Sabres.
“We can’t show the Bills game in the building – it’s against league rules – but we’ll have updates,” Gilbert said. “I think nowadays everybody has a smartphone anyway, so they’re going to get updates.”
The organization realizes attendance could be on the lighter side Monday night, because it’s a busy week.
Not only is there a Bills game Monday, but Thursday is Thanksgiving, and there are two other home hockey games: Wednesday against the Nashville Predators and Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Gilbert expects a lot of fans to attend Monday’s Sabres game, then head to the local bars and restaurants afterward to catch the rest of the Bills-Patriots game on TV.
“Our game starts an hour and a half earlier,” Gilbert said. “Our game should be over by 9:20 p.m., and by then the Bills game will probably be in the second quarter.”
Most fans, like Bob Barnashuk, will be tuned in already at home, flipping back and forth between the action.
“It will primarily be around the Bills, but definitely checking in with the Sabres,” said Barnashuk, a Hamburg attorney and lifelong Bills and Sabres fan. “I think most Buffalo sports fans in late fall and winter are much more focused on the Bills.”
But Barnashuk warned about the mistake he made the last time while watching the Bills game at the home of his sister, Kim, and her husband. Barnashuk commandeered the TV remote, changed the channel and spent too much time watching Sabres highlights during the second intermission.
By the time he switched back to the football game, Barnashuk had missed the fumble recovery and return for a touchdown that put the Bills ahead, 9-3.
He also had his remote privileges revoked.