Since the news of Gord Downie’s death came out Wednesday morning, Anthony George has listened to one thing, and one thing only, while driving around Western New York.
“My truck has not heard anything other than the Hip for five days,” said George, 22, of Angola. “Gord Downie is a legend in Buffalo. It’s basically ‘Little Canada’ here.”
And on Sunday morning outside New Era Field, George was belting out the words to the Tragically Hip’s “New Orleans Is Sinking” with his friends as they prepared for the Buffalo Bills to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Canadian flag flew at the tailgate next door, one of several being flown across the tailgating grounds. As is usually the case, a healthy minority of cars were adorned with Ontario license plates – a testament to the Bills’ cross-border appeal.
The Tragically Hip were beneficiaries of the same phenomenon. Though the Kingston, Ont.-born band was unapologetically Canadian and was far more popular north of the border than in the United States, it has a uniquely dedicated American following in Buffalo.
“Every tailgate, I listen to the Hip,” George said, adding that other Bills fans often come up to him to share their mutual appreciation for the band, which Downie fronted from the Hip’s formation in 1984 until his death from brain cancer.
Buffalo sports fans heard Downie’s voice before watching Buffalo’s other major professional team this week, as well. The Sabres aired a tribute to Downie before the team’s home matchup with Vancouver on Friday – a montage of Sabres highlights set to the Hip’s song “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan).”
Our open tonight.
Thank you, Gord. pic.twitter.com/AkVruJf7bc
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 20, 2017