I tend to do a pretty good job of keeping sports in perspective most of the time. Sports are a fun source of entertainment and there are few things better than passionately rooting for your team through success and the occasional failure. The key to being a sports fan is the word “hope”. Hope is critical for the sports fan. It is what gets us excited for spring training and gets us excited for football to start in September. If you root for the New York Yankees or the Indianapolis Colts, hope comes easy. Your teams are going to be there come crunch time in the playoffs.
If you cheer on the Seattle Mariners or Buffalo Bills, hope takes on a slightly different meaning, but still, hope is a critical ingredient to watching the games and following your team. Hope for these fans mean an outside shot at the playoffs and a general feeling that the team is on track and better days are ahead. As long as we believe that things will get better we can continue to cheer on our team. It is a longer term view of hope.
Chicago Cubs fans are the definition of what I am talking about. They haven’t won a World Series in 101 years but the team remains as popular as ever. Cubs fans truly believe that they will win a World Series. The fact that the Boston Red Sox won a title makes the belief all the stronger. They have hope, however misguided that hope might be.
I realize that sports truly aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things, but today I am at a loss over the Buffalo Bills’ decision to hire Chan Gailey as their new head football coach. The feelings are silly of course, yet there they are. It is a sense that I am about to end my 25 year relationship with the team I had always hoped would get back to the Super Bowl and avenge the four consecutive losses in the early 1990s. A sense that I know that it is time to say goodbye. It really saddens me.
I said goodbye to the Toronto Blue Jays a number of years ago. While I still keep in touch with the Jays, it isn’t the same as the good old days. Worse, I never took on another team after I left them. I am a baseball fan without a home to put forward my passion and energy. Some years I like the Mariners and some years I like the A’s. Other years the Cardinals seem like a good team to cheer for. It is all awkward, contrived and forced. I guess that is why these days I mostly just focus on my fantasy baseball team. I really don’t want to break up with the Bills…
The last time the Bills were in the playoffs, it was 1999 and we were playing the Tennessee Titans. Mere moments from victory, we lost the game on the ‘Music City Miracle’ when an illegal forward lateral on a kick return was deemed to be legal and resulted in the Titans returning a kickoff for a touchdown. It hurt, but there was always next year.
The coach at the time was Wade Phillips, who now loses playoffs games while coaching the Dallas Cowboys. We missed the playoffs in 2000 and Phillips was canned. Gregg Williams was hired in 2001(now defensive coordinator for the Saints) and we were given hope. Williams ended up going 17-30 in his three years and it was concluded that he was not the answer.
In came Mike Mularkey in 2004, fresh from his successful run as offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers (now offensive coordinator for the Falcons). Hope! A defensive coach wasn’t the answer; we need an offensive genius! And offensive Mularkey was; going 17-30 in his three years as coach. Out he went as Marv Levy came in as the new GM of the team. Hope!
Marv hired Dick Jauron in 2006 along with his proven track record of poor performance. The team showed some signs of being ready to turn the corner, at least to those who looked closely enough. A crash to end the 2008 season again left the team on the outside of the playoffs looking in. But the team was 5-2 early in the year so there was something there. Right? Right?
The team signed Terrell Owens prior to the 2009 in a desperate attempt to extend that feeling of hope. The 2009 season was a disaster that cost Jauron his job and ended with the hiring of a 70 year old GM in Buddy Nix. I probably didn’t even need to tell you his age. All I have to do is tell you his name is Buddy and you know he is old. Hope fading…
The Bills just completed their exhaustive coaching search with the hiring of Chan Gailey, a coach who is no stranger to failure and being fired. The search was perhaps better described as exhausting as the Bills tried to land a credible coach the past several weeks. Coach Bill Cowher, a coach so fine that we still call him coach Cowher, thought about it for a few minutes which might have coincided with the last remnants of hope that existed for the Bills fans.
What follows is an exerpt of an article on Chan’s hiring from sportsnet.ca. It makes me reach for the Tums.
“The 58-year-old Gailey acknowledged he didn’t know if he’d get another opportunity to be a head coach again.
“If you sit there and say you lose confidence in yourself, no you don’t. But then you see opportunities go by. And you hope that your body of work will speak for itself,” Gailey said.
For Nix, it was Gailey’s extensive background that impressed him and met most of the criteria the GM set out when he took over the search two weeks ago.
Nix was eager to find someone with previous head-coaching experience and an offensive background.
“This guy met more of the criteria than I thought we could find,” Nix said. “And this guy’s won everywhere he’s been. … He’ll get us back to winning and get to where we want to go.””
We Buffalo fans are now left with our 5th coach in the past 10 years in a sport where coaching continuity is a key to team success. We are left with a team that has no clear vision of what it is that they are. We are left with a dying team in a dying city. The last little flicker of hope may just have been extinguished. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
So what does this all mean? Have I broken up with the Bills? I think so, but we weren’t scheduled to see each other again until next fall. I hope that maybe, just maybe, some sparks will fly and we can be together again. Perhaps there is some hope left in me after all.