A View from Calico Jack’s – Who’s Your Daddy?

Well, it’s good to see the Bills are already in mid-season form; it makes me believe the Three Stooges could reunite today and have their timing down flat. In fact, the sensation of being poked in the eye, taking a saw to the head and receiving a belly punch was all-too-familiar to Bills fans this past Monday night.

We pride ourselves on our resiliency when it comes to the Bills, and as Western New Yorkers in general, but in fact we tend to handle this team’s remarkable, almost-unimaginable blunders in different ways: some of us scream and curse; some of us become sullen; some of us might actually cry (there’s often a gone-wrong financial transaction involved in the latter, or lots of beer).

And then, there’s me. I watched Monday’s game with huge intensity, as I’ve watched every single game since 1990. My throat was still raw Tuesday afternoon. But, something odd happened to me in the final five minutes. When Leodis inexplicably blundered…I laughed. And I pretty much laughed all the way home from Calico Jack’s.

My wife thought I lost it. My old friend Gerry agreed with her.

I respect them a lot, so had to ask myself: have I finally snapped? Gone nuts?

That line of inquiry led me to even larger questions: are we ALL FREAKING NUTS for continuing to live and die with this absolutely ridiculous team?

The answers to these questions are beyond me, and I’m at least lucid enough to know when to call on a professional.

Meet Diane Spear, a prominent, Manhattan-based psychotherapist (www.dianespeartherapy.com), and complete non-football fan who agreed to share her thoughts on the Bills, Bills fans and our respective grips on sanity. Following are excerpts of our conversation, at least as far as my apparently delusional mind recalls them:

NYCBBB: Diane, thanks so much for talking with me. I’m really worried about a number of my friends.

Diane Spear: Your friends?

NYCBBB: Yeah. I mean, well, yeah, me too, I guess.

DS: OK, why don’t you start from the beginning?

NYCBBB: Great. Let’s start with the source of the problem: the Buffalo Bills. They embody the cliché of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s institutional and historic, even though the team personnel changes – Lord knows, it changes all the time. Is it possible that they’re engaging in self-destructive behavior, burdened by their history?

DS: Absolutely, it’s possible. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They’ve been bad for so long, and might have troubling envisioning success.

NYCBBB: Yeah, well, I can see their point. But, what about us, the Bills fans? Why do we stick with this team, and why do we care so much? Wouldn’t it be logical to stop caring, or to just walk away, like you might from a bad marriage?

DS: To me, it’s more like a parent-child relationship. No matter what feelings you might have about Mom and Dad, those feelings are hard-wired and not so easily dismissed. Think about how humans kill each other over dumb things – anything ranging from sex to, “hey, you cut in front of me.” But, we don’t kill our parents, that’s the ultimate taboo; once you’re hard-wired, you always go back home to get the love you want.

It’s like abused-child syndrome. You might avoid your parents or you might even wind up in a foster home – but, the second you see Mom, you’ll run up and kiss her.

NYCBBB: I’d never thought about actually killing someone.

DS: What?

NYCBBB: Nothing, nothing. Tell me, is it simply foolish to expect the team’s behavior to change? Can we somehow influence that with our attitudes toward them?

DS: Will Mom and Dad change? Don’t hold your breath. If this kind of behavior takes place over decades…well, that how it’s going to go unless something changes dramatically. I have a friend who loves the Red Sox, and she held out hope on the border of optimism and delusion. But, it did happen with the Red Sox; they got new ownership, new management, new players. Things changed.

NYCBBB: How about the relationship between the team, the fans and the city? Buffalo is often referred to as the hardest-luck city in sports, and clearly the city itself has long-fought for respect. Is there a connection here? Does the aura of a city get visited on its teams, or vice versa?

DS: It can be a contributing factor. But, when it comes to your loyalty and the loyalty of other Bills fans, Buffalo is the city you’re from. There’s strong loyalty there; love that was planted a long time ago. If you think about it, it feels good even when it feels bad. It could be a misplaced love, but once it’s there, it tends to stay there.

When they lose, it’s like a wound to your self-esteem. If they’re an extension of me when they win and it’s great to be from Buffalo, what does it mean when they lose?

I’m from Arkansas: people used to wear buttons that said, “Ask me about our Governor.” But once President Clinton ran into problems, people stopped wearing those buttons.

NYCBBB: I’ve got to push back a bit here. How much can one person be expected to take before they say, “Screw this, I don’t care anymore?” I mean, this isn’t an occasional circumstance, Diane. There was last Monday. There was the Monday night game against the Cowboys. There was the home opener against Jacksonville a few years back. There was the forward-lateral playoff game…

DS: I see. Well….

NYCBBB: …there was Scott Norwood. There were four – count ’em – four Super Bowls in a row! We had a Hall of Famer who couldn’t find his helmet, for God’s sake…

DS: I understand, but…

NYCBBB: …then there was this guy named Ronnie Harmon. There was the “No Goal” game and the Clippers, and yes, I know those aren’t even football. And did you ever hear of a guy named OJ Simpson? Or even Billy Joe Hobert? Who the hell doesn’t read the playbook and then actually admits to it? Who the hell names their kid Billy Joe? You want to talk about parents with issues!? This kid would have been better off at Father Baker’s….

DS: Do I need to slap you?

NYCBBB: I don’t know. Is that extra?

DS: Let’s get back to something. You mentioned to me earlier that you view your loyalty to the Bills as a badge of honor: that you’ll stay loyal even in bad times, and you suggested you saw that as a sign of character.

My 93-year-old mother is still in Arkansas and a die-hard Razorback fan. That determination, loyalty and perseverance is something you can carry into your life. People like that, when they lose their jobs, don’t pull the blanket over their head. They persevere. They’re devoted, and they’re often trust-worthy.

NYCBBB: So, that type of loyalty is admirable, as long as you keep it in perspective?

DS: Yes. You mentioned that you laughed at the end of the game last week. That’s a good sign. You’re saying, “Mom and Dad are still crazy, but I still love them.” They’re loveable screw-ups. You’ve got to step back, and identify what’s entertaining and enjoyable about this team, and love them for that.

NYCBBB: You mentioned the Red Sox. What if, remarkably, the Bills actually win a championship at some point? Are there risks to us as fans?

DS: It can be a let down. You wonder, how can we top that? Then you wonder what happens if they revert back to their prior bad behavior. Disappointment is safe.

You’ve got to remember that it’s a game. It’s about having fun. I know sports fans don’t want to hear that. But, if the Bills somehow justify your pride in being from Buffalo, is there something else the Bills can mean to you? Like fun, or a celebration of athleticism? Or just being with other people with whom you share a bond? Who come from the same place as you?

In the end, as long as you keep it in perspective, I believe your loyalty is admirable. There is something to be said for loving even in the face of disappointment.

NYCBBB: Well, I’ll take my chances on what a let down might feel like. I’d love to have the chance to feel one. Diane, I could go on, but I know our time is up. Thanks so much for talking with me.

DS: You’re very welcome. Good luck.

OK, everyone. Are you feeling cleansed? Ready to tackle the rest of the season with perspective and humor?

Didn’t think so. It’s a process. But, hey, there’s always lots of beer and wings at Calico Jack’s and McFadden’s. That counts for something.

More seriously – and I don’t care how naïve this might sound – I do view our devotion as a badge of honor. It doesn’t mean we don’t get upset; we’ll never be the blindly loyal fans the Cubs always had before they started spending lots of money and raising expectations. We have an edge to us.

Most of us are Western New Yorkers, which is a very no-frills place to be from. We appreciate hard work and cold drinks. We appreciate loyalty. And we especially appreciate each other , which I believe is the real reason why so many of us gather every week, game after game, year after year. We share a bond no one else does, even when we’re otherwise strangers. That bond might even be, dare I say, stronger than the Bills.

Think about it: a lot of you are probably OK with “outsiders” trash talking the Bills. But, when they trash talk Buffalo, you get mad – even if you just finished talking the same trash to someone else from back home. It’s OK for family to trash family, but not for anyone else.

Must be the way our parents – and our surrogate, bumbling, infuriating football “parents” – raised us.