A Father and Daughter Hold Special Bond Over Their Beloved Buffalo Bills
Midway through the first quarter of Sunday’s Buffalo Bills home opener against the New York Jets, my 72-year-old father turned around to face the guy sitting directly behind us at New Era Field.
“Hey bud,” he said politely, but also very fatherly with his arms folded across his chest, “I don’t mind if you cheer. But will you watch the f-bombs? I’m here with my daughter.”
The guy nodded and looked at me, slightly confused. I’m 39 years old, but my father is still as protective of me at Bills games as when I was a kid. Granted, I don’t mind an f-bomb or two. I drop a few myself now and again after a few beers. But this moment is a snapshot of what encapsulates my relationship with my father because no matter how old I get I’ll always be his daughter.
When I was twelve years old, I thought going to a Bills game with my father was the greatest privilege ever, especially in the winter time. We’d tailgate with his friends in the cold, and I’d get to feast on everything from taco dip and wings to chips and chocolate candies. No restrictions. In the stadium during the game, he’d buy me hot chocolate and a hot pretzel. We’d watch and cheer together, high-fiving everyone around us after the Bills made a great play. This was back in the nineties, when the Bills were good—damn good—and there was a lot to cheer about.
Back then I was used to attending playoff games with my father. He even took me to the 1994 AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs. When we won the game and the confetti trickled down on our blue and red winter hats like snowflakes, I looked around the stadium and up at my joy-filled father and thought, ‘wow.’ I got chills. I wanted to remember that feeling forever.
Please excuse my childhood innocence and naivety, but I really believed that the Bills would always be that good. I believed that my father would always have season tickets, that he’d always take me to playoff games, that there would be more Super Bowls to cheer for, and that my father would live in Buffalo until the day he died.
As I grew out of my teens and evolved into my twenties, the reality of adulthood hit me from numerous directions—I had to step foot into the real world and find a job. The reality of football hit as well when the Buffalo Bills dynasty ended in the 2000 AFC Wildcard game against the Tennessee Titans on a last-second kickoff return most people know as the “Music City Miracle.” That was the last time the Bills were in the playoffs. It’s been 17 years and the playoff drought is almost as old as I was when I left for college.
Then, in 2006, my parents abruptly moved from Buffalo, New York to Cumming, Georgia—about 50 miles north of Atlanta. They moved to retire in a warmer climate and to be closer to my older brother who also lived in Cumming and had young kids at the time. My father flew back for Bills games now and then, but I didn’t always go with him. We kept our Bills fandom as alive as best as we could, talking on the phone about the NFL Draft, keeping tabs on the roster as it developed and changed throughout preseason, getting our hopes up after the first three or four games of the regular season, then nursing our wounds as we watched yet another season go by in which our beloved Bills were hapless, hopeless and out of the playoff picture by mid-November.
Still, we held tight. We held tight to our connection on and off the football field. We endured the miles between us with holiday and summer vacation visits. We kept the faith despite the ever-rotating carousel of coaches. We grimaced with every failed quarterback pick, and balked when good players were either traded or left to walk into better financial deals with other teams.
Then we started a new tradition.
In 2012, my wife got tickets for the home opener through work and asked if my father and brothers wanted to come. My brothers are both married and have kids and they weren’t able to come, so I went with my father. Then my father asked if we could do it again the next year. Now my father has made it a point to set aside that weekend for the home opener every year now. It’s become our special weekend together, and it allows me to relive a semblance of those Bills games I used to go to with him when I was younger.
This past weekend was no exception. On Sunday morning just before nine, we drove over to our usual tailgating spot behind a Tim Horton’s coffee shop about two blocks away from the stadium. We set up our chairs, sipped our coffee, and ate our egg sandwiches as we watched car after car pull into our lot as well as adjacent lots, unload coolers and grills and backyard games, and set up shop. Smells of charcoal filled the air, and the buzz of what we might witness once the Bills take the field under a new coaching regime was on everyone’s lips. As the clock inched closer to ten, our parking area was almost full. And there were still three hours to go until kickoff.
At this point, my father started to get antsy. He likes to walk around and take in the energy and excitement pinging off everyone in and outside of the stadium like cellphone signals. So that’s what we did. We walked around, chatted with people we knew or didn’t know, and absorbed the sights and sounds the same way a five-year-old does when they first step foot inside Disneyworld.
Once we got through the gate and to our seats, there was a little less than an hour left to go until kickoff. The stadium was steadily filling up, and players were milling about on the field. We assessed the angle of our seats, remarking that our view of the end zone and the remaining field is “perfect.” Just before kickoff, when they introduced the Bills and the team came running out of the tunnel, I felt a familiar chill sweep over me. It was the same kind of chill I felt when I was twelve, staring up into the sky at the falling confetti when we won the AFC Championship in 1994.
Sunday was far from a playoff game . . . but we still won. And with the New England Patriots and the Jets both losing, the Bills are in first place in the AFC East. (It’s the small things.) Even though my father has already flown back to Atlanta, I will slide this game—along with all of the games throughout my childhood—in a pocket folder in my mind that’s full of Bills memories with my father and hold it close to my heart. He didn’t buy me a hot chocolate this time around. He bought me a beer instead. We clicked our cans and happily cheered to our Bills. We reveled in the win.
I’m already looking forward to next year.