Is there football karma? Are there Higher Pigskin Forces that align to help certain franchises but stand in the way of others? After watching the brilliant “Four Falls of Buffalo” it’s hard to feel otherwise.
NFL Films authored ESPN’s newest 30 for 30, and the true hero of the film is Buffalo and its fans. The most indelible and incredible image from the piece is not the Frank Reich comeback or Thurman Thomas losing his helmet. It was the 30,000 supporters that showed up to downtown Buffalo… after a loss.
Lost in history among the quartet of heartbreaks were these annual civic gatherings, a chance for the city to pick one another up emotionally. A place where parents took children out of school to “learn the lesson of forgiveness.” NFL Films is a factory of masterpieces but the studios may never have told a more poignant story than the healing of Scott Norwood. While he’s been the national object of scorn and ridicule for 25 years, in Buffalo the fans chanted his name just days after that crushing loss to the Giants. They demanded he come out to the podium instead of hiding shamefully in the shadows, and they serenaded him with love and appreciation.
That act of compassion saved him. Norwood gets choked up discussing it. He’s a reserved, quiet, serious man. He’s stayed far out of the spotlight. The Bills released him a year after that fateful miss. He never played again. When he recollected that rally he couldn’t stop his watery eyes.
Tim Russert once led a Bills prayer on network television for crying out loud. This wasn’t a Joel Osteen special. It was “Meet the Press.” What city picks up its goat and showers him with support? What group of fans can be emotionally devastated four times in a row, and still believe? Still hope? Still love?
Buffalo can, and does. Who is more deserving of redemption than that? It reflects the story of rust belt brethren – football towns seemingly destined to only feel heartache, never euphoria. The Buffalo sports experience is lot like Cleveland’s. There’s no joy in these Mudvilles. Maybe the Bills pain would be easier to swallow if the Sabres could just win a damn Cup. But that’s never happened, just like the Browns haven’t ever won a Super Bowl, nor the Cavs an NBA title, and you have to travel back to WWII since the Indians won a World Series.
But Browns fans keep coming back for more, buying season tickets, snatching up jerseys of the next soon-to-be-busted quarterback. Cleveland has played at more than 90 percent capacity this season, which is actually less than the equally tortured Lions. Detroit has filled up 95 percent of Ford Field’s seats to watch a forlorn franchise that seems to simply restart the clock of misery every five years. Ford Family hires a bad GM. He hires a bad coach. Lions never win. But at least Motown has the Red Wings and Pistons to deliver some happiness.
Cincinnati fans don’t have hockey or basketball to save them from the Bengals. They’ve got the Reds, who haven’t done anything of note since… well, the Bills lost that first Super Bowl. Is it worse to have no hope like Browns fans – decades of ineptitude and busted picks? Or to constantly make the playoffs only to predictably get punked once there?
You could easily make the argument this is the Golden Era of Bengals football. Coaching stability. Two solid starting QBs (Palmer, Dalton). Six postseasons, three division titles in the decade. But it sure doesn’t feel like it in the Queen City, especially after Dalton was injured Sunday. Will it ever end?
Vikings fans surely feel this pain. Chiefs fans, Chargers supporters, Falcons die-hards all know this story. But there’s nothing quite like the Rust Belt. The economy shifted last century. Jobs left. Skies grow dark every fall. Snow comes in sheets. And how to tell the wonderful people of places like Buffalo that it’s New York City’s championship yet again, another San Francisco title, or Boston’s 8 millionth Duck Boat parade? How to explain the ball bouncing just the right way for similar towns like Green Bay and Pittsburgh?
What has Buffalo and the others done to deserve this? They showed up. Had their hearts ripped out. Then showed up again to tell the team it was okay. And they’re still showing up.
Bills fans have become a football parody by tailgating with WWE wrestling moves, copulating in the parking lot, dropping their pants and displaying those buffalo tattoos and full moons. But don’t be fooled into thinking every Bills fan is a dizzy bat-puking frat bro falling over the railing. To keep your sanity you must harness some episodes of insanity.
Here’s a plea for the Football Deities to give the little guys their place on the podium for this historic Super Bowl. Goodness knows they’ve earned it. Just ask Scott Norwood.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.