My Buffa-love for sports
It's official: I'm in love with Buffalo sports.
Now before you laugh at me - which is very likely considering the Bills have struggled, the local college teams barely win in the major sports and the Sabres are, well, unable to play - hear me out.
I love a good underdog story, and Buffalo is the ultimate underdog story.
It's obvious Buffalo is not known as a city that wins championships. The Sabres have never hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup. The Bills took four straight AFC title games but fell short of the ultimate prize each time. The Bisons have had some wonderful moments, but the AAA baseball franchise isn't overly popular with fans despite having talented players come through Buffalo. And no, I don't count the Bandits as a major professional sports franchise, no matter how much you yell at me about it.
Despite the lack of success, I fell in love with the character of some of the players who come to the Queen City.
Coming from New York City, I grew up rooting for the Knicks, the Mets and the Giants. My first love was the Knicks, with their tough defenses in the '90s and players who won me over with talent and swagger. The Mets have had players who have also won me over with their grit and determination over the years. The Giants have always done things with class, as their organization is a model of consistency over the years, with fans who have spanned generations.
Buffalo is the same type of city with the same type of people. This city never has the flashiest, or even the most talented, stars. The lack of playoff success in recent years is proof of this. But there are guys who earned the city's affection with their hard-hat attitude, and drive. People who come to mind immediately are Patrick Kaleta and Kyle Williams. And don't get me started on Stevie Johnson; he is one of my most favorite athletes in sports.
Most importantly, it's this fan base that has truly won me over.
Western New York absolutely loves its teams and its players, who play hard for them. Even though the Bills are a franchise that has not been successful in years, and the Sabres have seen small flashes of success but haven't been past the first round, the fans support them week in and week out. Even if they overrate their stars at times - people like Ryan Miller come to mind - the fans are passionate, and more importantly, they care.
Case in point: When I first came to Buffalo in 2007, I went to a Bills game for the first time. They were matched up against the Ravens, with a certain running back who had said not too many nice things about the people and the city when he left.
The atmosphere was electric. Fans spent the previous six hours before the 1 p.m. start time drinking and getting their collective pitchforks ready to tell that running back, Willis McGahee, where he can shove his comments. Even though it was the most fun I've had at a football game, at that point, I thought it was just a random occurrence.
Three more Bills game experiences later, and I can honestly tell you Orchard Park, N.Y. has one of the best game day experiences in the National Football League, and it would even rival some college environments.
It's a place where you don't get that corporate feel the NFL has become. The smell of cooked meats fill the vast parking lot space, and drinks are constantly a-flowing. Grandfathers bond with fathers, and fathers bond with their sons. More importantly, I have never seen a fan base with more female fans who actually know about the game of football and can hold valid arguments. In a sport that can be considered manly, this is somehow important to me.
That same argument holds true for the hockey fans. Buffalo is a crazed hockey town. Game days in the plaza have that same feel of drunken revelry and pride.
Yes, the city is going through tough times with its sports franchises, but in the midst of the darkness, you have turned me into a Buffalo believer.
So even though I'll forever be faithful to the sports teams in the Big Apple, I'm going to whisper three simple words.
Let's go, Buff-a-lo.
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