Perhaps influenced by the election season, this past Sunday I couldn’t help but think of the late humorist Will Rogers, who once remarked, “I am not a member of any organized political party; I am a Democrat.” Similarly, I must confess to those who meet me for the first time, “I am not a fan of any organized professional football team; I am a Bills fan.” Unlike Democrats who generally take Republican abuse for their allegiance, I typically elicit reactions ranging from bewilderment to outright pity.
Also similar to politics, where more often than not we’re casting our votes “against the other guy,” Bills fans consistently struggle with who to disdain most at any given moment: Immediately after last week’s game, Matt Kabel texted to ask who he should be maddest at: Chan Gailey, Dave Wannstedt or Ryan Fitzpatrick. He didn’t even mention the matadors posing as a defense.
My gut response was Gailey, for playing ringleader to this band of scary men, punctuated by some bizarre play-calling at the most inopportune moments (a Brad Smith throw to the end zone? Really?) Wannstedt, I figured, had already proven we should consider anything under 30 points allowed to be a moral victory. And Fitz…well, Fitz is Fitz. That’s what he does.
But then I realized this isn’t politics. We don’t need to make our choice. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Hillary Clinton noted it takes a village. Likewise, the construction of a uniquely frustrating football team requires the efforts of more than one man. This is a team effort.
All of that said, the Bills were (tie-breakers aside) actually tied for first place entering this game. And tied for last place as well, for you glass-half-empty types.
Football fans tend to over-emphasize the importance of individual games, but I really did see the Tennessee game as pivotal. The team has generally proven itself as incapable of competing against the elite or supposed elite (New England, San Francisco). Yet, it also proved itself capable of playing competitively against the decidedly not elite (Cleveland, Kansas City). Scrape together enough of those sorts of victories, and perhaps against all odds you can sneak into the playoffs as the low-seed wildcard.
The Titans, at home, are a team they have to beat for even that most modest of goals to be a possibility. The team proved itself two points short of that this past Sunday, which is probably fitting. The Bills aren’t bags-over-the-head bad; they’re not we-get-to-draft-the-top-quarterback bad; they’re just not good enough, and still find new ways to snatch defeat from victory.
And now it’s the bye week. I can’t help but wonder who we’ll be saying “bye” to by the time the season ends. Yes, things can improve, but as of now I’ve got to believe that Gailey, Wannstedt and Fitz (as a starter) are all vulnerable. Naively, I always wondered how the team would eventually find a way to fire Gailey, who just reeks of sober competence, and would appear to be the right guy to incorporate his two outstanding running backs into the game plan. Ironically, I believe he did that this past Sunday better than he ever has; ultimately, that wasn’t enough.