Since the Bills’ season is always no more than 17 weeks (actually between 10 and 15 since it’s generally determined rather quickly Buffalo’s not making the playoffs), I need something more to hold onto.
I suppose I have always been like other Buffalo fans in this regard. Growing up, we had the Sabres hockey team, which generally started its season right around the time we knew it was going to be another dismal year for the Bills. But that option is officially gone from my life. There is no hockey in the South.
My parents bought me Sunday Ticket this year in an effort to keep me out of the local sports bar on Sundays. Now you can watch the Bills at home with Kalista, my Dad had said, and I instantly fell in love with the package. I could see every game, get bottom-of-the-screen updates on my fantasy players and watch multiple games at once. I could feel like I was in Orchard Park, N.Y., or Olean or Portville for a few hours each week.
This euphoric state ended, though, as soon as the game was over. I’d been used to entire towns moping over a Bills’ loss or rare win. I was looking for conversation about Ryan Fitzpatrick’s throws or Fred Jackson’s runs to fill grocery stores and restaurants, but got nothing. It wasn’t until the Bills beat the Patriots and started 3-0 that I heard any mention of my team at work.
I considered following the Carolina Panthers. They are a non-conference team (that’s a huge deal – one can NEVER follow two teams in the same conference or division), will likely make the playoffs when Drew Brees retires and people around here talk about them, even if it is only a little bit. But this was unnatural to me and didn’t last. I suspect I’ll forever hate (I’m not using this word loosely here) every team in the NFL except Buffalo.
That’s fine. I can deal with a life sentence of following a crappy football team with a wrinkly owner who reeks of senility, stupid daughters and no hope for his team’s future. I have other options.
While the locals do mention the Panthers, the teams they really talk about are Clemson University and the University of South Carolina (known as “USC” here, which somehow isn’t confusing considering literally the entire remainder of the country reserves this acronym for the University of Southern California). Away I go: pick a team to follow and love it. Even if it is college – a level that’s historically never won my attention.
It’s funny how this has worked. Even before I had the “you need to follow a local team” conversation with myself, I’d noticed an attraction to the Clemson Tigers. The few people in South Carolina I’ve come to call friends are Clemson fans. The mass of enemies I’ve made here are South Carolina fans, either sworn or assumed. C.J. Spiller – who I believe will replace Fred Jackson at running back for the Bills next season – is a Clemson legend still talked about here. Supporting him for the Bills is sort of like supporting Clemson.
Plus I’ve no interest in wearing paraphernalia with “Cocks” written all over it. I remember as a child seeing some older kids wear South Carolina hats simply because of this secret phallic reference teachers and parents couldn’t really dispute. A gamecock is not a mascot I can take seriously.
All of this said, my gravitation toward Clemson reached its climax earlier in the week as the team prepared for the Orange Bowl against West Virginia and I, for the first time in a long time, was excited about a game not involving my Bills.
Clemson allowed 70 points and lost by 37.
So, it didn’t go too well – my first endeavor as a Clemson fan. But unlike Buffalo sports fans, fans here 1.) do a really good job of differentiating between football and real life, and 2.) seem to have lousy memories. I joined them in being disappointed and let down, but not destructive and nearly without hope. My production at work was unaffected.
And I’m looking forward to next season.