To start— yes, I know I’m not using the word, “metaphysical” correctly, but I thought it sounded funny. What I really meant was something more like, “Zen.” Or at least the popular understanding of what “Zen” means to people who know little or nothing about Buddhism. The Buffalo Bills are the most Zen team in sports.
Oh well, another promising season is over, once again at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. Going into the game, the Josh Allen-era Bills had a 50% win ratio against the Pat Mahomes-era Chiefs. The Bills tend to win in the regular season, and the Chiefs win when it counts. This reminds me of the Bills in the early 90s, when they twice beat teams in the regular season (the Giants in 1990 and the Cowboys in 1993) who would go on and beat them in the Super Bowl.
So why is this Zen? Or metaphysical? Or whatever I mean? Because, if there’s one overarching message of the Buffalo Bills it is that life is hard and often unfair and any meaning or value that comes from it derives from the journey, rather than a destination that never comes.
Martin Luther King said, “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” He would have had a slightly different, reordered message if he were a Bills fan. What he would have said in that case was, “I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that it really doesn’t matter.”
So, the picture that accompanies this post is of me, alone in a box during an actual Bills game a few years ago, not watching the game. I was there for work and for reasons I’m not going to get into here, yep, I had a box all to myself. But the box wasn’t really for me and I wasn’t there to watch the game. I thought this image and the story behind it were similar to the experience of watching the Bills in the playoffs— they’re not there for the same reason everyone else is. Especially with a 17-year playoff drought in recent memory, simply being in the playoffs is a rare and special thing. But it’s wrong to think of the Bills being there for the same reason as everyone else— they are not there to win. They are there to give us stories to add to our collective identity of perpetually being on the brink. Perpetually hungry, frequently beaten but never defeated, the Bills are Buffalo.
And for Buffalo, the big achievement having to do with the Bills is keeping the Bills. Other communities can feel a vicarious sense of accomplishment by reflecting on their team’s championships. For us, victory is having kept the team at all. Victory is not abandoning Buffalo.
So that’s loyalty and persistence. Thriving in the face of adversity and repeated, cyclical disappointment. Failing and starting over. Never not starting over. Hope for the future. Hope. Well, that is Buffalo. The Bills serve their purpose.
Free Form Friday is my weekly non-Bowie blog post. Come back tomorrow for more David Bowie.