I have been a Bills fan for as long as I can remember. I had no choice growing up in a house with a dad who used to ride his bike from South Buffalo to the Camelot Inn to watch training camp almost forty years ago. He went to watch guys like Booker Edgerson, Jack Kemp, Paul MaGuire, Marty Schottenheimer, and Hall of Famer Billy Shaw back in 1967. He was 12 years old. My 12th birthday came in the summer of 1988, and by that time I knew every player on the Bills because of my dad on both sides of the ball. It didn’t hurt that my dad still enjoyed watching the Bills practice down in Fredonia so football season always started a little early in the Crowley house.
Still, there was something I lacked on my Bills fan resume at that time. I was entering the seventh grade without ever attending a Bills game at Rich Stadium. Lucky for me that changed 26 years ago this weekend. On Sunday October 23rd my dad came into my room and woke me up earlier than usual. At first I thought I forgot about serving a mass, but when I looked at my dad he wasn’t say anything and was holding a Bills rain poncho. He didn’t need to speak a word because I knew exactly what he was saying. It was my time. I jumped down from my top bunk in a frenzy and was ready to go out to Orchard Park in less than 3 minutes. Now, I was obviously excited to attend my first game, but I was equally excited to watch the 6-1 Bills take on the 3-4 Patriots (haven’t said that in a while!). The Bills had won their last two and were looking to take care of business with a team they should beat. Those Patriots were led by Doug Flutie who had few if any fans during his first trip to Buffalo. The Bills took a 23-20 point lead late in the fourth quarter and Bruce sacked Flutie with time running out to end the game. To this day I don’t think my dad has ever given me a high five nearly as powerful as the one he gave me that cool October day.
Of course there are two games I will never forget from the 1988 season. After beating the Pats in week eight, the Bills were rolling. They would return to Rich stadium on November 20th with a chance to clinch the AFC East…….in week twelve. Their opponent was the team I hated more than any other and still do. The team with the fans who have never let anyone forget that they were that one team, with that one guy, who said that ONE THING and then went on to win that one really big game. The Jets were coming to town with thoughts of crashing our party and making Jimbo and the boys wait another week before wrapping up their first division title since 1980. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to Rich Stadium and watch this historic game on that cold November day. Instead, I watched with my younger brother hoping the win streak would stay alive and the Bills would take the division much earlier than expected. I can still hear my dad telling us to make sure we watched the game because people were going to run on the field if we won. My dad knew that ‘88 team and he knew it was going to be our day before he ever drove down Abbott road. He never said it, but as he left the house I can still remember how calm and confident he was. He knew that the Jets game was the beginning of something special in our city, and I think Fred Smerlas knew it too.
I think I hate the Jets because of that game. The Bills were coming into week 12 on fire, but as usual they found themselves in one of those classic Bills-Jets games that you knew was going to come down to a field goal. I couldn’t believe that the Bills were going to blow a chance to wrap up the division at home against a team that they should beat. I can still see Joe Walton who coached the Jets in ‘88 looking up at the clock as the Jets planned to kick the winning field goal late in the fourth quarter. As Pat Leahy came out to attempt the kick I can still remember thinking, “Anybody but the Jets.” Obviously, big #76 got his paw up to block the field goal and the rest was history. The Bills went on to win it in overtime, and did it with a field goal. Of course my pops was dead on with his prediction that the fans would rush the field. The TV stations carried the footage long enough to see that the goal posts had no chance of surviving that day. The AFC East was ours, and the ‘88 season would turn into the season that basically started it all for our recent additions to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Jets have always been a symbol of something I learned long ago when it comes to football. We could be 10-1 and they could be 5-5 but the game is still going to be a battle. Sure there have been plenty of blowouts on both sides, but any long-time Bills fan can give you a list of close games with the Jets. It’s why I hate them. I bought my season tickets in 2002 and was treated to the Chad Morton show during the home opener both in regulation and overtime. Yeah, that game. I can go on and on about why I hate that team from New Jersey, and I haven’t even touched on their fans. I mean seriously, do you ever run into anyone that is ever rocking any sweet Jets gear? Ever?! Sure they have that one thing they won in that one time they went. However, most of the people that try and talk about it weren’t even born in 1968 when the Jets took down the Colts. It’s hard to like a fan base that lives in the past and talks about a team that won the Super Bowl when Lyndon Johnson was the president. Yet, once again the Bills find themselves facing those Jets with an opportunity to stay on track and make it to the bye at 5-3. As usual, this game will most likely come down to a field goal late in the fourth quarter after a long tough afternoon. It’s time for the Bills to win some conference games, and improve their chances to take the East. Who better or worse to have than those same old Jets.