Take a deep breath, Bills fans.
The playoff drought is over. After all this time, all that energy, all of the anxiety… it’s all over. At long last, the Buffalo Bills have ended the playoff drought after 17 years.
And I could sit here and type away about the ins and outs of their game against the Miami Dolphins — which was only ever in doubt for a fleeting few moments after Miami recovered the onside kick at the end of the fourth quarter — but special moments call for special exceptions.
And this, friends, is as special a moment as you’ll find to a tormented fan base such as the Bills.
For those of you in Buffalo (and outside of Buffalo, really) that have lived through the Bills, breathed every bit of information, scalded them for all of the missteps through the past 17 years — it all washed away after Andy Dalton hit Tyler Boyd for a Week 17 touchdown that none of you are sure to forget.
It all starts with the job that Bills head coach Sean McDermott has done — and it’s hard not to be impressed. He took a roster that really didn’t have the depth to stack up with some of the elite teams in the league — but what they had was a belief that they were working towards something special.
It’s cliché, and you hear it all the time when a new coach is hired — that they want to change the culture and to establish their own identity. But, quite literally, McDermott did just that when he took over as the head man of the team.
They turned over the roster — really even turning it upside down in a lot of places except for a few key starters. They started trading away players from the team that many thought would have been the very individuals to help get the Bills where they ultimately ended up on this Sunday night: in the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
Through all of it, the Bills held a belief in themselves — and it was hard not to notice almost every single day through the year. There were certainly some down moments throughout the season — especially when the Bills had a stretch of games where they were blown out four out of five straight weeks.
However, even then, when a head coach like Chan Gailey, Rex Ryan, or any other names of drought lore would have lost a bit of the locker room — McDermott always had the pulse of his team in 2017. And they were rewarded at the end of it all.
It’s hard to not be impressed, and no matter if they win or lose on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, there has to be a bit of a calming feeling throughout the fan base that the franchise is finally in the right hands.
Now, unlike most covering the team on a daily basis, I have a bit of a different perspective.
I’ve lived here in Buffalo basically my whole life. 29 out of 31 years — minus the two that I was away during a pair of collegiate years at Florida State University.
I’ve seen the strife of the drought take hold, and what it’s done to the most optimistic of people through the past 17 years. It hasn’t been pretty, to say the least.
And even though I’m not a fan of the team and cover them on a day in, and day out, I can’t help but admit that seeing my loved ones — that are, in fact, Bills fans — being on top of the world brings a smile to my face. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel that way — or at least, not the way that I’d want to define ‘being human.’
I haven’t talked to my 81-year old father yet, but I’m sure he’s on cloud nine considering his front row seat of the madness of the past 17 years, and the subsequent breath of fresh air once the Baltimore Ravens couldn’t complete another comeback of their own.
Through the past 17 years, whenever the Bills came up in conversation, Joe Sr.’s almost immediate common refrain — which doubled as his own defense mechanism: “Ah, they suck.”
And then over the past decade of covering this team, growing in my job and interacting with the fans — really being on the front line of all the anguish and frustration that has built up through the past 17 years, it’s not that hard to see why those people have grown in their defense mechanisms — just like Joe Sr. did.
The team was putrid for years, and Bills fans had to be the ones to bear the brunt of that without many shreds of hope or optimism. Some vowed that they were “done with the Bills for good,” if they traded a popular player, let somebody walk in free agency, or committed an awful in-game sin throughout the drought.
I didn’t believe them then, and if it was you that I’m talking about, I sure as heck don’t believe you now, either. Especially not after how it all came together — for once — for the Buffalo Bills to make the playoffs.
Sunday was the break the Bills have rarely gotten, and at long last, the law of averages finally pushed one on to Buffalo’s side of the ledger. Take solace in the fact that the year 2018 begins without ever having known the Bills’ longstanding playoff drought for a single second.
And while there will be plenty of time between now and this weekend to break down the matchup and what’s to come — it’s not about that right now. Right now, it’s about you all feeling vindicated by your unwavering belief that it eventually would get better.
So considering all that I’ve seen, for all the years seeing the passion pour out from this fan base from one year to the next even when they weren’t given much hope to go on other than a mid-first round draft pick most years, for those people that held on for dear life, all I can say is this:
Congratulations to you, Buffalo. After all that you’ve been through with this franchise, you really do deserve it.
We’ll see you on Sunday in Jacksonville, for the first Bills playoff game since January 8, 2000.