What Will It Take For The Bills To Succeed?

7 Sep

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Our annual rite of passage has arrived, fellow Bills fans. Eternal optimists, we are.

Last time I checked, Ralph Wilson Stadium New Era Field (the name change itself should have elicited a post here already, but we digress) has sold out for yet another home opener. The September 15th Thursday night tilt with AFC East rival New York will be be “fandemonium,” as our beloved Van Miller would have once said. But it’s tough to have a lot of confidence in this team.

The Western New York area has not wavered in its support of the Buffalo Bills. Yet somehow, the reward for such commitment to filling a 75,000 seat stadium in some of the harshest weather seen in the NFL is being a punching bag, a punch-line, and a loser.

To the fans’ credit, they had to support the Bills in order to keep the Bills. The endgame that played out during Ralph Wilson’s final years appears to have been a test. Selling off home games to Toronto prodded the resolve that Western New York had to host an NFL franchise into the future. It was reminiscent of the test Green Bay endured through the years of the Milwaukee experiment. Would it have been wrong for Buffalo fans to spurn Wilson & the Bills after all? In an era where the city suffered through so many financial pitfalls, fans could have decided to keep their money and pack it in with the team that was potentially abandoning them.

Fortunately for us, that didn’t happen. The fans continued to show up. Through bad teams. Through attempts to change tailgating rules. Through it all, the fans supported the Bills.

In the end, a wealthy couple saw the potential. The Pegulas decided to invest in Buffalo in more ways than just the Bills, and through that has come stability and hope.

But just as it happened with the previous owners, the early times for Terry & Kim Pegula have been frustratingly mediocre. There’s just enough win in the team to keep fans coming back, but just enough lose to add another year to the “Drought.” For a team that’s been so well-supported at the ticket office, the Bills just haven’t been able to break through.

Why is that? Why is it that Baltimore gets two championships in the first 15 years of hosting the relocated Cleveland Browns? St. Louis got to celebrate a Lombardi Trophy in 1999-2000, only a few years after the Rams relocated – and they failed to sell out their opening game in 1999. And in another sport altogether, what about the Florida/Miami Marlins, who have two more championships in their short history than the Bills(if you ignore AFL championships, which everyone outside of the 716 seems to do anyway)?

Sure, success on the field has very little to do with the spirit or loyalty of the fanbase. The Rams were a case of league parity, while the Ravens have benefited from a playoff expansion – the Super Bowl victory is more about going on a 3-4 game winning streak than it is about being the cumulative best over a season.

And the point that’s often made about New England’s dominance is valid, but it ignores the state of the league and the flaws that existed at One Bills Drive for many years. Rarely can you win in the NFL if you aren’t committed to building a winner, and there were many years where Wilson wasn’t very committed.

That attitude appears to be gone with the Pegulas. But there is an air with the new regime of satisfaction before the result. There is a lot of time and effort spent on public relations, and at times the team seems to be putting a feather in a cap that hasn’t been worn since the days of Kelly, Thomas, and Reed. Add to that the bluster of Head Coach Rex Ryan, who seems to put a lot of stock in being the clubhouse leader in June, and it begins to wear on you as a fan.

This is not to dump on all of the PR efforts the team undertakes. Instead, it’s another quip of frustration over watching a team fail to succeed.

The bar isn’t set very high at this point, Buffalo Bills. 12 out of 32 teams get into the Playoffs. Our optimism may be eternal, but our patience may be wearing thin.

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