Summer Sanders knows how to give a good pep talk. And if the Olympic gold medal winner could speak with the Buffalo Bills players before they embark on their last three remaining games of the season, she’d get them fired up.
“I’d tell them that I believe they are going to return to form and finish the season the way they started,” Sanders said confidently, “and that we’re going to make the playoffs. Everyone is beatable, on any day. Especially when they come into our house. I’m not just saying that. I believe they are the team they were at the beginning of the season. And they just need to remember who they are.”
It’s an optimistic speech from a true competitive athlete and one, that if you didn’t know the origin of Sanders’ Bills fandom, that most people wouldn’t understand. She isn’t your average Bills fan. She’s not even from Buffalo. When the Bills were dominating the NFL in the early ’90s, Sanders was in the midst of her rigorous Olympic swimming career. But when she first met her husband, Erik Schlopy, in 2003, everything changed.
Schlopy is from Hamburg. Schlopy, of course, is a Bills fan.
“I honestly blame the amazing, awesome, true-to-the-core, Buffalo Bills fans for this, starting with my husband,” said Sanders, 45. “I have been around the country. I have experienced many a fan. And I will not name names, but I will just say that there are many fan bases that will boo their own team in the middle of the first quarter. And Bills fans will boo, maybe at the end of the game if it’s horrendous, but as soon as it’s over they move on to the next game. Same thing with the end of the season. They move on. They’re always looking ahead.”
* * *
Name: Summer Sanders
Current location: Park City, Utah
Favorite Bills player: Jerry Hughes
Been a Bills fan since: 2007
Most memorable moment as Bills fan: Her first Bills home game
* * *
Sanders, who co-hosts “We Need to Talk” for CBS Sports, says it took just a single game in Buffalo to hook her. It was October 2007, on a frigid Monday night. The Bills were playing the Dallas Cowboys on national television. The mood was electric. A win looked possible.
“We kept scoring touchdowns on defense and special teams. I was on fire. I was cheering my head off. And they ended up losing, 25-24. I remember, right at that moment, my heart was crushed. Then I looked around and all these incredible Bills fans, including my husband, and I thought, you have been experiencing this for over a decade. To walk away from games feeling so sad and so let down, and then come right back the next week like, ‘I got your back, Bills. We’re in this together.’ I had so much respect for them. It was that moment where I was like, I am all in.”
When Sanders says she’s “all in,” she means it. Sunday is reserved for Bills football. She and her family watch every game together and cheer on their favorite players: Nick O'Leary and Jerry Hughes.
Sometimes, Sanders says she gets so fired up that she has to remind herself it’s just football. She doesn’t remember being like this with any other team, not to this extent. But there’s just something about the red, white and blue uniforms, the phrase, ‘circle the wagons.’ It’s part of what makes her want to dive all in with this community.
“It always goes back to the never give up attitude,” Sanders added. “My coach learned very early on that the way to get me to do something, to work really hard in practice, was to tell me ‘you probably can’t do this’ and then tell me what he wanted me to do. And a switch would go off immediately in my mind. I’d be fired up. I wanted to prove him wrong. I think that’s the way it is for the Bills.”
If you or anyone you know is a diehard Bills fan and has an interesting story to tell about rooting for Buffalo no matter where you or they might live, email LynsD21@gmail.com.