What a difference two years makes.
As the National Football League descended upon Houston this week to decide the future of three franchises — and their fan bases — one can’t help but think how much it could be different in Buffalo.
Three organizations: the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, and St. Louis Rams all face the stern reality of relocation from their cities. The Rams are on the way there, and could be joined by either the Chargers or Raiders when it’s all said and done.
Cities, plural, because the market wants not just one team, but two in total.
The Chargers and Raiders, at the very least, would stay in the same state — albeit a considerable distance from the city in which they’ve been housed for years on end. For the Rams, though, all connections to the team will be severed.
And with the nightmare that’s happening in St. Louis, if it weren’t for a series of events in Buffalo, it very well could have been the Bills.
It was like a dark cloud that hung over the minds of Bills fans. Each and every year that passed, the voices for the eventual move back of an NFL franchise to Los Angeles grew louder.
In a market like Buffalo, many believed the letters ‘L’ and ‘A’ would precede the ‘Bills’ nickname when it was all said and done.
Torture, fear, anxiety… any word you can use to describe it, that’s how Bills fans felt for years on end.
“I hate to use the word, but that was the narrative growing up,” said longtime Bills fan Del Reid. “It’s like, well, the Bills are going to move eventually because people keep leaving the city, and it’s small, and eventually the team is going to leave too, because that’s what everybody’s doing.”
Then, Ralph Wilson, Jr., passed away, and the fears of relocation — whether it was to Los Angeles or Toronto — became a stark reality. Would it be the beginning of the end for the organization in Buffalo?
That’s when Terry and Kim Pegula saved the day.
On September 9, 2014, after months and months of angling and news of other, less-friendly ownership groups being amongst the finalists, the Pegulas came through.
One month later, the NFL ratified them as the new owners of the team, and all those fears for a decade-plus were for naught. The Bills are staying in Buffalo for the long-term.
“The cloud is gone, and the threat of them moving is over,” said another Bills fan, Michael Necci. “I was so excited that my kids were going to be able to watch the same team that I grew up watching,” Reid added.
So, rather than any offseason problems the Bills may have being underscored by the looming fear of Los Angeles, all fans have to worry about now is how they’ll get back to the playoffs.
It was such a close call, though, that Bills fans, more than most others, can feel for the people of St. Louis.
And instead of enduring the heartache of their own, they’ll view it from afar -- because the Pegulas made it so.
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