Everybody on the Bandwagon!

A metaphor for the concluding thirteen seconds of the Bills’ 2021 regulation-time season.

So, the NFL season kicks off next Thursday! And playing in the 2022 season’s very first game are the Buffalo Bills, taking on the defending Super Bowl Champion LA Rams! Wow!

It’s been an interesting ride with the Bills in the last five years or so. The fifteen or so years before that were pretty much of an unending era of bad football. Somehow every year the team would manage to do something in the offseason to make fans think “Hey, maybe they’re turning the corner, maybe they finally won’t be crappy this year,” and yet…every year another terrible season. Records like 6-10 and 7-9 as far as the eye could see. Every year, picking somewhere between 9th and 13th in the draft, and yet somehow never getting better.

Longtime readers will remember that through all that, I simply stopped watching them. There was a weaning process that took place over several seasons (where I’d watch the first few games but eventually stop), but when the 2009 Bills took the field in a home game against the Cleveland Browns, and held the Browns’ quarterback to just two completions, and still managed to lose 6-3, I started thinking that the Bills were not a worthy use of my time.

Well, long story short, eight years later they drafted a quarterback named Josh Allen from Wyoming who has turned out to be an unimaginable stud of a player, and they put a whole bunch of talent around Josh Allen, and lo and behold, the Bills are good again. In fact, as I write this, they’re a common pick by “experts” to, as Tom Berenger once said in Major League, “win the whole f***in’ thing”.

Obviously, this region’s mood is…very different now, as far as football is concerned. Bills-mania is everywhere, and especially this year, where the Bills may be about to field the single most Super Bowl-ready roster in their history. It hasn’t felt like this around here* since the early 1990s, when the Bills famously went on their run of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances (none of which produced a championship, but hey, it was still fun to live through).

During the long run of football futility, Bills merchandise would show up in stores in August and September, and then usually quietly disappear except for a few key items by November. Ohhhhh, not so this year! The Store is constantly getting in shipments of Bills stuff, to the point where we’re struggling with where to put it all. Last year there was a special run of a certain toy made with a Bills theme, and The Store got pounded on the day this was released to the public. Now, we’re all wondering, “OMG, what’s it gonna be like if they actually do win the Super Bowl?”

(I’m not making any predictions, by the way. This isn’t any fear of “jinxing” things, but simply acknowledging the reality that the NFL can be a wide-open free-for-all once the playoffs roll around. Last year saw both conferences’ fourth seeds make it to the Super Bowl, so…you never know!)

One thing about fandom, though. I saw this sentiment on Twitter the other day, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen this type of thinking:

Yeah…folks, ignore this. If you’re out there cheering for the Bills because it’s fun and you just love that everybody around you is happy about it, and somebody tries to gatekeep your fandom by asking you if you watched the Bills fall to the Patriots 34-20 on the last day of the 2013 season to wrap up yet another shitty 6-10 campaign, just tell them to feck off.

Seriously.

I have posted the following several times, always as a reminder to sports fans that if their team sucks, they are not required to support them or watch them play or do anything at all. This flies in the face of the notion that “If you’re a fan you’re always there for your team!”, which I think is just a big waste of time. There is no virtue at all in being a staunch fan when your team sucks, and your joy when the team wins is no better or worse in comparison to whatever suffering you may have chosen to endure or ignore.

When the Bills were eternally crappy, I finally just stopped watching the games entirely. At the time I imposed a rule: I would start watching again whenever the team reached a point where they were no fewer than four games over .500. (Meaning, only when they would have won at least four more games than they’d lost.) At the time I imposed this rule on myself, I honestly didn’t think it would take that long for them to get to that point. If memory serves, I came up with that rule in 2010 or 2011, and the Bills did not reach my new rule for watchability again for something like eight years. By that time I was so accustomed to not watching football that…I just went on not watching football. Hence my new version of sports fandom, where I only read about it, like folks did before teevee and even radios everywhere.

But I remember a lot of mocking when I would tell people about my four-games-over-.500 rule, with the most common being a derisive comment along the lines of “Oh, so you’re just a fair-weather fan now.”

And now, I quote my earlier remarks:

The Buffalo Bills aren’t friends of mine; I have no personal connection with them at all, and therefore, I see no reason to assume that they deserve a greater commitment of time or emotional energy from me than I’m willing to give them. The idea that I must devote three hours a week to watching a bunch of guys who aren’t very good at their jobs, or I’m not a “fan”, strikes me as deeply bizarre. I can be a “fan” of a restaurant, but if they start serving consistently bad food, I’m not going to keep eating there because that’s what a good fan does. That just doesn’t make sense. Being a “fairweather friend”, only there to support and help a friend in good times, is a bad thing to be. But fandom isn’t friendship. Never has been, never will be.

Believe me, it can be a real downer to hang around with football fans the Monday after a representative Bills game of late, which is another reason I stopped watching. Why would I want to feel like that, when I can do something else instead? One fan friend of mine questioned this once, saying “Well, it’s not like I’m doing something great and important with those three hours,” to which I replied, “Nobody said you had to cure cancer in that time, but maybe doing something else means you’re not spending the rest of Sunday and Monday morning in a funk over a football game.” Seems to me that, all things being equal, subtracting things from life that regularly make us angry is a good thing.

So go ahead, Bills fans, or fans of any crappy team out there! Turn them off! Watch something else! Do something else! And if your “fandom” gets questioned, so what? If and when your team wins the Ultimate Championship, there will be no Fan Police in the streets to stop you from dancing because you didn’t watch each and every crappy game they lost six or seven years earlier. When you die, there will be no Sports Fan Valhalla into whose golden halls you will be denied entry because you chose not to witness every down of their fifteenth consecutive losing season.

It’s OK to jump off the bandwagon, and get back on it. The team won’t notice you’re there. You don’t owe them shit. You have zero moral obligation to watch any more or less of a team’s games than you want to, and nobody gets the right to judge your “fandom” on the basis of their personal yardstick for voluntary suffering. For those calling me out for not watching this team, I hope you’ll remember this next time you’re sitting inside on a stunning fall afternoon watching your team lose 38-10 in the fourth quarter, or in December when you’re insisting on watching every minute of a 42-3 laugher as the Bills fall to the Broncos.

I note now that this advice goes both ways! If they’re crappy and watching them brings you no enjoyment at all, it is totally OK  to turn them off! But if they’ve been crappy for years and you stopped paying any attention because really, why spend three hours a week staring at a turd floating in the porcelain bowl, but now they’re actually good again and watching them not only doesn’t fill you with torpor and existential ennui but actually starts making you feel something akin to actual joy, go ahead!

And if there are people around you who chose to suffer for all those years who are now getting pouty because you’re back on the bandwagon, enh, screw ’em! Jump on that bandwagon! Be a fan, if you want! Screw the gatekeepers! There are no gates!

(But don’t do that table-jumping thing. God, that is some dumb shit.)

Go Bills!**

*I didn’t actually live in Buffalo during the Super Bowl run, so I’m kind of guessing as to what the local mood was. During those years I alternated between college and my then-home in the Southern Tier.

** I’m not especially in love with our regional adoption of “Go Bills!” as a greeting of choice for all social scenarios. I’m sticking with a mix of Detective Sipowicz‘s mechanical “How’s it goin'”, or Wayne‘s “How are ya now?”

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3 Responses to Everybody on the Bandwagon!

  1. Roger says:

    I rooted for the Bills in the Kelly/Thomas era. I pulled for them every SB – well, except the Giants year because I grew up on the NYG, seeing them play a preseason game in Ithaca for 4 or 5 years running in the 1960s. The Bills are the only team playing their home games in NYS, so they’re my second choice. And since NYG (and NYJ) often suck. I’ve watched more Bills in the past two years than the previous 10.

  2. Gus Hinrich says:

    I have some perspective, being a lifelong Cubs fan. Your point about the team-fan relationship being one-sided is very real. You can be a devoted fan all your life, but if you drop dead tomorrow, the team probably won’t notice.
    Teams do notice their fans as an aggregate. The Cubs were certainly aware that they had a large fan base, but that didn’t affect their play.

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