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Grantland honors forgiveness, passion of Bills fans

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

In 8,507 words, Grantland guest writer Ben Austen has perfectly encapsulated what it is to be a Buffalo sports fan, a story of hope, forgiveness, passion and the emotional well-being of a fan-base that all of us in the Queen City can relate to.

In his piece entitled “The Glorious Plight of the Buffalo Bills”, Austen touches on everything from the light and whimsical to the dark and grim, the encouraging progress of the city to the warts that still peak out from time to time.

Although he returns to the Norwood saga, a rather forgettable time in the minds of Buffalonians, Austen harps again and again on what makes Bills fans special—a fanaticism that’s so inexplicable that it becomes infectious. He points to the Ralph Wilson Stadium security guard who forgets his duties briefly to celebrate a Donald Jones’ touchdown, Mayor Brown’s backing of the Terrell Owens signing and the inimitable pre-game tailgate festivities that make attending a Bills game more thrilling than any Red Zone package the NFL Network can offer.

The beauty of Austen’s piece is that it’s a real depiction of a city detaching from its Rust Belt shackles. There’s a balanced view of the improvements we like to boast about—the Hotel at the Lafayette, the Bills’ 2011 win over the Patriots, the loud-and-proud Bills Mafia represent the positives, while the Bills’ seemingly blind-eye to the black community and the growing chance of relocation aren’t ignored, either.

Kudos to Austen for such a thorough piece—and it’s neat that he mentioned locals like Howard Simon, Town Ballroom’s Donny Kutzbach, Chris “Bulldog” Parker, Nick Mendola and Bills Mafia founder Del Reid by name. To close, here are a few of my favorite lines from the article.

In Zubaz, with faces painted, with Mohawks dyed blue and red, they drank shots of a sickly sweet cherry liqueur from a bowling ball’s finger holes.

I clumsily asked if he and his friends wore the pajama pants ironically. “We’re not making a mockery of ourselves, if that’s what you mean,” Brian said. “We feel they look pretty cool.”

After the extra point, I watched as the guard began to catch his breath. I could almost see his heart start to settle into its normal rhythms. He turned to me. “Ooh,” he breathed, a kind of post-coital sigh. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave. I know that’s totally unprofessional after mauling you like that. But I’m sorry.”

“People in Buffalo came to my side when I needed them. It’s like what Coach Levy said,” Kelly went on, becoming about the 10th Buffalonian I heard use Marv Levy’s pregame words as an expression of civic pride: “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?”

Grantland, the project of ESPN’s Bill Simmons, launched in June 2011 and features articles—many of them long-reads—by respected journalists around the nation.

(Header photo by Robin David Brown from the Bills vs. Titans tailgate gallery—see it here.)

TAGGED: ben austen, buffalo bills, buffalo bills fans, grantland, hotel at the lafayette

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