Believe it or not, this season will be the fifteenth since the Music City Miracle. Fifteen seasons. No matter how many times I see it, I still get sick to my stomach watching it go down. The look on Wade’s face said it all that day, and I’ve never forgotten it. What has been easy to forget is almost every season since. Few if any of those dismal years are memorable, all but one.
Many people, including myself, had written the Bills off in 2004 after they were annihilated in Foxboro during week 10. The Bills managed only two field goals in a game that was never close, and the season was basically over. The Bills were 3-6 and would need to run the table in order to have any shot at making the playoffs. In order to do that they would need to win 4 of those games on the road, and finish it off at home against the Steelers. That’s seven straight and some serious help from other teams each and every week. It wasn’t probable, but it was possible. So, I showed up the next week as I always did to watch the Bills take on the Rams in a somewhat meaningless game. It turned out to be the first of six straight wins, and each week just kept getting better and better. At that time my focus was elsewhere. Fantasy football had quickly become my new passion, and picking the right players has always been something I was good at.
It bothers me to this day to tell people my Fantasy Football Nightmare of 2004. As the Bills made a historic push to the playoffs I was side tracked and feared the inevitable. During our draft in August, I passed on Brady and took McNabb simply because I couldn’t forgive myself if I took pleasure in seeing him beat the Bills. Twice. I did well to follow this philosophy for almost the entire season rarely running into any conflict of interest. I made the run even more interesting when I picked up Lee Evans a week before his breakout game against the Dolphins in week 13. The rookie was incredible catching two Bledsoe bombs in the third quarter that put us at 6-6. Everything fell into place when I acquired Evans and my fantasy risks were paying off. Then things changed.
As my fantasy playoffs approached, I began to realize I had set myself up for something I wasn’t prepared for. You see, the league I was a part of rewarded the play of a good defense with big point totals. In fact, it was a crucial component to success as it so frequently is. Drafting a solid unit was a top priority of mine. I took the Steelers in the 8th round and was mocked mercilessly for the gamble. Once the sacks and turnovers started piling up all of the jokes ended. Unfortunately, once week 17 came the joke was on me. I cruised through my fantasy playoffs much like the Bills cruised through the Bengals and 49ers during weeks 15 and 16. Lee Evans continued to make it look easy catching 3 more TDs in those road wins. The Bills had just won six straight. They were coming home to play the biggest game in years and all I could think about was the Pittsburgh Steeler defense.
It’s sad that most people remember that game as the Backup Game. Tommy Maddox might have started at QB that afternoon, but I promise you that defense came to play. I watched that defense put me over the top week after week. Now I was being forced to watch them do what they had done all year to my team. They suffocated our offense that day and if Nate hadn’t returned that pick in the third quarter the game wouldn’t have been close. Pittsburgh has always found a way to make a big play in games like that and they didn’t disappoint. I hated myself for knowing it was coming, and when James Harrison returned Bledsoe’s fumble for a TD in the 4th quarter I got what I asked for. That sack, fumble recovery, and score helped me win my first fantasy football title, and I hated everything about it. Miserable rides home from 1 Bills Drive are part of the deal, but January 2nd, 2005 takes the cake.
After collecting my due and proper from the fantasy commissioner I walked away for 10 years. I couldn’t imagine putting myself through that again. Cheering for anyone to beat the Bills just doesn’t feel right. So, it comes with sincere regret that I inform you that this year I fielded a pretty solid fantasy team after a ten year absence. Analytics and ESPN have made everyone a fantasy expert these days, but I can still pick some winners. I wanted Aaron Rodgers from day one but missed on my chance to get him during the draft. So, when the opportunity came to get him after week 3 I jumped on it. I traded Luck straight up for Rodgers and haven’t thought twice about it. That is, until now.
This might be the best year since 2004, but has been a frustrating journey. That journey can continue or end come Sunday. The Packers are a Juggernaut. They will not be resting anybody as the Steelers did during our home finale in 2004. Nothing is set in stone in the NFC and I am certain that the cheese heads are treating this game as a regular business trip. Rodgers is having a career season. He has 35 TD passes to only 3 interceptions. 30 of those TDs came after week three when he became my franchise player. Watching him play has simply been awesome. Now, as he leads the green and yellow into Orchard Park I can only hope the Bills defense can slow him down. This year the Bills have yet to beat a really good team at home. The Packers are a really, really good team led by a clear MVP favorite. So, I will head to my seat Sunday with dreams of this season continuing for the Bills. I can dream for a shoot-out, but chances are a Bills win will end any hopes at a fantasy title. Either way I will get exactly what I deserve; an ending I probably won’t like. That’s nothing new for me. That’s nothing new for any of us.