Saturday, November 22, 2008

Playbook Smarts

Sometimes I wonder why I watch sports. Why I put so much time and investment into an interest that often leaves me angry or depressed. There was seriously contemplation this week as to whether it was time to hang up the jerseys, hats, banner, and foam fingers to retire into a less emotional activity like crossword puzzles or sudoku. With more thought I realized that even though my love of sports causes much angst and exhaustion, it has taught me so many valuable life lessons. I am a Buffalo Bills fan, the team famous for dominating the AFC for four straight years in the 90s, only to lose the Super Bowl with each visit. Cheering for my home state of New York’s only team (the Jets and Giants play in New Jersey) comes with a special set of challenges, but some of these challenges contributed to me becoming the person I am today.

The Bills taught me about disappointment and heartbreak. Scott Norwood was the first man to break my heart. Although Buffalo had many opportunities to score in their 1990 Super Bowl loss to the Giants, it is hard to forget the moment, or the man, that ended a magical season for the Bills. With the score 19 to 20 with only seconds left in the game, Scott Norwood’s 47 yard field goal that would have won the game for Buffalo sailed outside the uprights. Scott Norwood is to Bills fans what Bill Buckner is to Red Sox fans. Just as no fan will ever forget Buckner letting a routine grounder roll through his legs in the 1986 World Series, no fan will ever forget Norwood’s missed field goal. Just like it was yesterday, I recall sitting in my living room, holding my breath for what seemed like an eternity, the ball flying through the air in slow motion, and the crushing words finally uttered by the television crew; wide right. Just the mere words “wide right” send a shutter down my spine and bring back vivid memories of the crushed hopes and dreams of that season. As a Bills fan living in Giants country, this loss was especially devastating. Just like sports, life is full of devastation, and learning to overcome it is what makes each of us stronger.

The Bills taught me about humility. How a person celebrates a victory is just as important as how a person accepts a loss. It is important to be humble in times of victory for many reasons. No one likes a pompous winner just as no one likes a sore loser and the Bills are humble when they win, and noble and magnanimous when they lose. During their four Super Bowl appearances they were America’s underdogs with the support of millions; people just wanted the nice guys to win. Surviving crushing losses does help one learn all about humility; when one understand the emotions of humiliating loses they are less apt to throw a win in their opponents face. Even outside of sports we have winning moments; job promotions, raises, eBay victories. It is important to celebrate, but not at the expense of the “loser.” (note to The Husband: I am still working on this life lesson when it comes to board games.)

The Bills taught me about perseverance. Buffalo came very close to missing out on their fourth Super Bowl appearance. The Houston Oilers (RIP) went into the locker room at halftime of the 1993 AFC wild card playoff game beating The Bills 28 – 3. One minute and forty-one seconds into the third quarter, the Oilers scored again making the score 35 -3. Most people turned off the game since no team has ever recovered from that large of a deficit. Then the Bills decided to play a little football, managed to tie the game at 38, and ultimately won 41 – 38 in overtime; the largest comeback in NFL history is affectionately referred to as just “The Comeback.” In this game the Bills proved that any comeback is possible. Lesson learned; no matter what the odds, giving up is never an option.

The Bills taught me never to get my hopes up. Buffalo might hold the record for the biggest comeback, but they must hold some unofficial record for most heartbreaking, final second losses. As a Bills fan you quickly learns what Yogi Berra meant when he said “It ain’t over till it’s over.” No matter how big a lead the Bills have it is dangerous to assume they have the win until the final seconds of the clock are done clicking and television coverage has actually switched over to another game (or 60 minutes). One game that epitomizes the Bills propensity to blow it late is the game is dubbed “The Music City Miracle.” In the AFC wild card playoff game in 2000 the Tennessee Titans defeated Buffalo 22 to 16 in a crazy play that included multiple lateral passes that left everyone watching with their jaws hitting the ground. It was astonishing; no one could believe a team could come back and win in such a grand and unique fashion, no one that is except for Buffalo Bills fans who come to expect their team to be on the losing side of these historic games. This game also provided a very good lesson on the power of revenge; the Titans were once the Houston Oilers, that team the Bills defeated in the biggest comeback in NFL history.

The Bills taught me to study history, because it often repeats itself. When Buffalo had the opportunity to win in the final seconds of their Monday night match-up against the Cleveland every fan deep down in their hearts knew what was going to happen. The similarity between the Bills final play of the game and the final play of the 1990 Super Bowl again the Giants was sickening. Just like Scott Norwood, Rian Lindell was given the opportunity to win a big game with a field goal from 47 yards. Just like Scott Norwood, Rian Lindell took that 47 yard field goal and kicked it wide right. It was like déjà vu. It is important to learn from your past mistakes, and to go the extra yard to set up a better chance for success.

Buffalo Bills football made me a stronger, hopeful, and more realistic person. So as much as this week’s loss made me consider swearing off of football there are still far too many valuable lessons the game, and my team, can teach me. I just wish there were more lessons that included winning.


Nursedude said...

Actually, for a long time to be a Minnesotan was a lesson in complete heartbreak as far as pro sports. As a kid, I watched the Vikings get totally outplayed in 4 Super Bowels. I still see red every time I see the NFL films archive footage of Chief's coach Hank Stram gloating "This is just like STEALING!" as as his offense used misdirection to great effect where Carl Eller and Alan Page were grasping at ghosts. The Twins came up short very often as a kid, the North Stars were oh for two in Stanley Cup finals...hell, even Minnesotans who ran for President, Humphrey and Mondale were 0-2.

Thanks God for the 87 and 91 Twins. I have said it before: I have seen Bruce Springsteen in Concert, I have played rugby with my son, U gave held my grandchild, and I have seen the Twins win the World Series. I can die tomorrow a happy fan.

PS Spare a thought for the people of Western New York, who have had the Bills and Sabres come up short. They live in a city that is slowly dying, and they are some of the nicest people I have ever met anywhere. If any city deserves a winner, who have done their fair share of suffering it's Buffalo.(Chicago does not count, because they still have the 85 Bears and 6 NBA titles with Michael Jordan)

Nursedude said...

addendum-sorry about the spelling, just got off a night shift.

HeidiBowar said...

I'm going to have to share this with John as I know he is feeling the same things! He usually needs to go to a bar to watch the games, but stated last night that he's done. We reach this point every year!

He thinks they have been losing because we haven't gone to church in 3 weeks. So yes, we will be going tonight. We'll see if it helps! :)

Alex said...

Only one note from me: The Music City Miracle was just the one lateral... and if you go look up the clips you'll be pretty hard pressed to say whether or not it was actually a forward pass.

What I remember about that game was the way that in the last drive for Christie's tying field goal, Rob Johnson lost his shoe during one of the plays, and continued to run the hurry-up IN ONE SHOE until they could get the clock stopped. I recall this being at least two or three plays...

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Nursedude- The Husband and I believe that we get along so well because of the shared misery we have with our football teams. We also contend if the Vikings and the Bills ever met in the Super Bowl it would be a sign of the apocalypse.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Heidi- You and John are required to attend mass for the rest of the football season. I'll send money for the offering. Thank you for helping them with this week's incredible win.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Alex- To a Bills fan it felt like a dozen laterals. I think there were actually Titan players doing pirouettes on the field as part of their well choreographed routine.

Nursedude said...

Wow, Buffalo lost AGAIN today. This time at home, to SAN FRANCISCO...YIKES. No playoffs in Orchard Park this year. The Bills are sinking faster than CITI stock.

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Wonder who will make fewer changes for next season, the Vikings or the Bills?

TheReluctantEater said...

A few seasons ago, I made the decision to become less invested in sports, well, the only team I care about - The Packers.

I asked a lot of questions, like "why do I get so emotionally invested, when in the end, it seems like a net loss?" There always seemed to be more heartbreak than joy...because you expect your team to win, and are crushed by disappointment.

Of course, thanks to the internet, I can keep up with things, and watch the highlights, but even a crushing loss doesn't seem to ruin my day like it once did (perhaps because I find out what happens each Sunday night).