Despite generations of acquired wisdom, life can still host a repetition of poor decisions.
Whether it’s to drink a fifth of Canadian whiskey out of fruit bowl or lose a Bob Dylan song in the embers of a torched relationship, children have been ignoring their parents’ advice against such acts for generations. They’ve heard stories of pain, stupidity or regret, then proceed to make the exact same mistake in the exact same situation. After enough of these experiences, though, enlightenment can set in. Teenagers or young adults will leave the Crown Royal on the counter or save every lyric on Blood on the Tracks for themselves. But, in other instances, they’ll continue to replicate the mistakes of their forefathers. Despite all the pain, frustration and annoyance they’ve witnessed or experienced over the years, they’ll continue the senseless commitment passed down from their fathers and uncles.
For the rest of their lives, they’ll invest in the seemingly calculated heartbreak of the Buffalo Bills, an agonizing decision of loyalty they learned from their families.
After Sunday’s embarrassing 35-8 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the cycle continues. Bills fans are knee-deep in another season of collapse after high-profile promise, yet show no interest in shielding the next round of Queen City-associated youth from the familiar disappointment. Buffalonian couples will do a variety of things to help with their children's upbringing. They’ll buy organic baby food to help them grow strong; they’ll trade a choke-hazard blanket for an infant sleep sack to keep them safe; they’ll spin Mozart for Babies on a small stereo to enhance their little ones’ learning capacity. But, as soon as that kid is old enough to wear a football jersey, you can bet they’ll have a royal blue or white 2T pulled over their head. They’ll be no hesitation, no consternation. Parents will do it, just as their parents dressed them in Bills t-shirts or elastic-cuffed sweatpants when they were kids. And, when they do it, they won’t spend even a second considering that one jersey’s association could possibly torment their child for the rest of his or her breathing existence.
For decades, family advocates have been rallying against the effect that dark things like Ozzy Osbourne records or The Undertaker’s choke-slam have on young children. These are just two apparently detrimental culprits, but there’s been plenty of overlooked ones as well. Things like Mazzy Star songs, John Cusack films or phantom clip penalties in the Fiesta Bowl can frazzle some kids more than a gruesome Saw movie marathon ever will. In the early pages of his literary classic High Fidelity, author Nick Hornby’s protagonist Rob Fleming contemplates such oversight with the following:
People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and misery and loss (25).
My house was no different. I had easy access to a variety of wrenching songs by John Lennon (“I'm Losing You”), Simon & Garfunkel (“The Only Living Boy In New York”) and Billy Joel (most of An Innocent Man) amid my parents record collection. And, because of their address, interest and familial allegiance, they innocently introduced me to the football team who’d eventually destroy my stomach lining. My parents taught me about the teams of Gilchrist, Kemp and Stratton, the ones that roped in my South Buffalo grandfather with AFL titles in ’64 and ’65. They told stories about O.J. and Ferguson, Joe D. and the Electric Company. They talked about the stadium that once employed my mother as an usherette and welcomed my father as a season ticket holder. They gave me the Bills and their checkered history, but never considered all the possible repercussions of this decision.
Did they know that, by the time I was six, I’d develop a fluctuating emotional connection to a team that went 2-14? Could they’ve predicted how excited I’d be for Jim Kelly’s debut in 1986, or how angry I’d be at Ronnie Harmon’s hands in 1989? And, could they’ve foreseen the emptiness I’d feel on the mornings following four consecutive Super Bowl losses amid my puberty? No, no and no. That could be the lament of every Western New York mother or father who waited through a pregnancy in the late 1970s. Now, it’s too late.
There’s a new generation of Buffalo-loyal parents, ones who were fed just enough heroics to outweigh the cataclysmic heartbreak; enough memories of guys named Smith, Thomas, Reed and Paup to overshadow guys named Johnson, Williams, Losman and Hardy; enough cheers from games against Houston or Miami to overshadow the games against Dallas or Tennessee. These parents have made their share of youthful mistakes, from rounds of Jameson at 67 West to tickets to Hammer or Milli Vanilli at Memorial Auditorium. And, when their children are old enough to trip over the same stupidity, these parents may share their common stories to warn or relate. But, when it comes to Buffalo football, an infectious, emotional obsession with this region’s residents for over fifty years, they’ll make the same traditional mistakes their parents made.
Instead of learning from short-sighted purchases of Price and Posluzny jerseys, they’ll buy their children Spiller and Merriman jerseys. Instead of spending their Sundays at parks or museums, they'll gather with their sons or daughters inside living rooms or stadiums. There will be screams and cheers, expletives and apologies, and all will fly from September mornings through January evenings. Through it all, parents won’t shield their children from the possible disappointment. They won't act because bouncing through their brains is an enduring hope, one that slipped in when they were kids themselves. Despite all the publicized losses and pathetic finishes, there’s this clinging faith that, one day, the Bills will deliver the big one—and it will somehow be the greatest day of our lives.
Buffalonians have been waiting for this day for generations. On the eve of another Thanksgiving, one we'll inevitably spend talking to relatives about an anemic pass rush or sailing Fitzpatrick passes, we know that day's probably not coming this year. Until it comes, decisions to enable the family cycle of tortured fandom will continue.
One Sunday at a time.
(Author's note: This post was finished while listening to Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.")