Sabres, Bills Fans on the Precipice of Glory… and Disaster

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October 25th, 2008:

Happy “New Year,” folks.

To me, the New Year begins with the Bills and the Sabres. How’s this for a new beginning: the Sabres and Bills just spent a few days with the same record – the same winning record of 5-1 – marking the first time both teams had season starts like this one since 1975, when the Bills were 4-0 and the Sabres were 8-0.

In 1975, I was wearing a blue and gold onesy and shooting Cheerios with a plastic mini-stick at the family dogs from my high chair. Since then, I’ve grown out of my onesy and into adult x-large Sabres jersey sizes with names like Audette, LaFontaine, Peca, and Stafford decorating the back. Since then, I’ve had to listen to games on the primitive internet of the 90’s while living in Australia. I’ve spent late nights at grimy sports bars in Florida, watching the old over-the-hill analog TV’s that management sticks in the corner for hockey fans while the big screens rage with college football. You can imagine some of the strange conversations I had to endure in those places, while decked out in my seemingly inappropriate hockey jersey:

“Hey, dude, are you a hockey fan?”

“No. I’m a rapper.”

“Ohhhhh… cool. Hockey is stupid anyway.”

Sigh. True story.

Since 1975, well, since the beginning, neither the Bills nor the Sabres have been able to win the Big Game. But recently I’ve made my return to WNY, and so far, that return has been a triumphant one. And this rapper smells a championship or two at “year’s end.”

I’ve mentioned the undying hope of WNY sports fans here many times. Despite the snow, despite the legendary losses, despite the reputation as a cursed sports citezenry – each year, when the puck drops on game one, anything is possible. Isn’t that the true spirit of New Year’s Day? “Auld lang syne” means “times gone by.” Those sad years and mournful losses are in the past, and who knows what is in store for the WNY sports fan.

Right now, I am drawing up blueprints for my backyard rink, and conjuring up zealous visions of a Stanley Cup and Superbowl party at my place this summer.

There are many games left to be played, heck, that legendary snow hasn’t even fallen yet. But something is different this year. I can feel it.

I’ll go see if my mother still has that lucky 1975 onesy somewhere.

I’m finally coming clean. I was the one who jinxed it all in 2008-09. Right after I wrote that piece, things began to fall apart. After such auspicious beginnings, our teams floundered down the stretch, my championship barbecue slowly flamed out. There would be no championships that year – not even a playoff game.

The Sabres would finish with a record of 41-32-9 – good enough for 91 points, and good enough for missing the playoffs by just 2 points. One game.

The Bills would finish at the bottom of the AFC East, stumbling their way to one of seemingly a dozen records of 7-9.

It’s been three years. The Bills are 3-0 and are turning heads all over the NFL landscape. The Sabres are 4-1 – in the preseason – but the infusion of Pegula fever has the NHL world spinning its wheels, trying to calculate all that has changed for the Sabres and what it bodes for the future.

TheOldCollegeTry 300x225 Sabres, Bills Fans on the Precipice of Glory... and Disaster

Placed atop my TV just before the Bills began their Week Two comeback against the Raiders. It hasn't been moved, or touched, since. Rally cat!

“This time is different,” we’re being told. OK, fair enough. For Bills fans, this is not the team of 2008-09 that squandered a 5-1 start. It’s a new energy, we’re being told. A new confidence. Well, for me, that’s all far too familiar. I’ll keep Rally Cat atop my Vizio, but I’m not painting up a “Super Bowl or Bust” sign for the bandwagon just yet.

There are many games left to be played, heck, that legendary snow hasn’t even fallen yet. But something is different this year. I can feel it.

This time, I’m just enjoying the ride, taking the games one at a time.

For most of the first half of the Bills/Pats game, I was knee deep in water, hiking along Stone Creek as I like to do to clear my head when my family man lifestyle affords me the chance. I might be a sports nut, which should be obvious by now, but I also need to breathe sometimes. I still need to get my feet wet and my hands dirty. A blog cant do that, but a creek can really refresh the soul.

So there I was, letting the water rush around me, the fish dart past me along the sunlit creek bed. But those weren’t the only things rushing over me. I was close enough to the Ralph so that I could hear the roar of the crowd echo around me, and could hear the announcer call the plays.

I hadn’t really gone anywhere.

So, I climbed up the small shale cliff, and worked my way back through the tall grass back to my car. I got on Milestrip Road just in time to hear Stevie Johnson’s touchdown grab to make the game 21-7, and was back in front of my Vizio – back in front of that Rally Cat – when Ryan Lindell cashed in a field goal to close the gap to 11 points at the half.

My feet were still muddy, cold and wet, but my heart was beating hard and fast. I guess you could I’m a lot more down to earth (literally) this time around. I’m sweating every down, but I’m more objective now. I’m looking to enjoy the ride, win or lose, listening with my feet in a stream or my eyes watching the game with the magical power of Rally Cat getting things done.

It’s a balancing act for me this year.

So far, the Bills are doing well. The Sabres haven’t entered the regular season yet, but they’re doing well too. I’m just not going to jinx it this time. I’m not going to get all antsy-in-the-pantsy and predict anything silly or stupidly hopeful – those days are done. I’m a new man now. Patient, balanced, and taking it one game at a time.

At least, I’m trying to – when Lindell hit that game winner as time expired, I felt those magical hopeful stirrings again, and there was no way I even wanted to tune them out.

Is it really going to be different for us this time? Well, I can’t answer that, but I do know this:

If anyone touches Rally Cat, there’s gonna’ be trouble.

Go Sabres.

Go Bills.

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