By Patrick Keyes
Despite the on-field futility and off-field shenanigans of recent years, a new coach and general manager give Buffalo Bills fans hope again as the season fast approaches.
But not even the well-oiled hype machine will change the reality for one of the faithful, who, for the first time in the team’s history, is saying, “I’ve had enough.” That person is my dad.
Thomas Keyes has missed only three Bills’ home games since 1960. At the end of last year, after nearly 500 regular season and playoff games, he decided that he “just can’t get that excited about this mess anymore.”
The high cost of tickets to see a subpar product on the field, and a game experience that ignores fans over the age of 50, finally got to be too much.
Sadly, this stirs up a big “So what?” at One Bills Drive. One or two less behinds in the stands means nothing in the business of professional football. The big money is all that matters, and the average fans end up meaning a whole lot of nothing.
So, despite having as many as seven season tickets at a time, including club seats he rarely used but bought because of the threat to move the team in the late 1990s, Dad means nothing to the Bills.
Regardless of the team’s indifference, guys like my father, who sacrificed incredible amounts of time, money and energy to go to games, do matter. I hope someday the Bills realize that.
Nobody forced Dad to go to games – he loves football. A fan of the All-America Football Conference Buffalo Bills of the 1940s, Dad still talks about that team’s star quarterback, George Ratterman. When the American Football League came to town in 1960, Dad was immediately hooked. He went to all of the games that first season, and in 1961, he bought his first season ticket – for $35. How many people have hung on that loyally for that long?
In my family, fall and winter Sundays have always been about football and the Bills. Dad’s passion was infectious. My mom, Joyce, went to games for more than 30 years until she succumbed to cancer shortly after the Bills’ last Super Bowl appearance.
My mom’s brother, who had Down syndrome, went along for more than 20 years as well, before his health failed him.
I’ll spare stories of their tailgating prowess, but will add that our “family” in the Bills Backers North revered Dad’s commitment, his knowledge of Bills history, his quick wit and his taste for an adult beverage.
Our amazing seats, four rows up on the visitor side upper deck, looking down on the 50-yard line, were the same since the “new” stadium opened in 1973. Every time we walked to our seats, we stopped for a second, thankful for the chance to be there.
Now, the years, the cost and the ensconced mediocrity in the football department have abated Dad’s passion for the game. He is sadder about this decision than he will admit, but it’s time to move on.
I’m not keeping our seats. I want to watch the games with Dad. So this fall, we’ll be in front of the TV. After all, Dad is sharp as a tack, and still a real fan of the game. And while a part of him will never give up on “next year,” he can’t get that worked up anymore.
Sure, we’re encouraged by the talk from the new football regime. But hype is cheap, and tickets are not. Until a full-blown change of direction is realized, the Bills will lose more fans like Dad, and team officials should be worried. Would it kill them to really thank the fans they have, and had?