I have encountered many of these statements and posts on social media over the last seven months. On August 1st, 2019, I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do: create professional Buffalo Bills content for other fans to consume. So, I started a podcast, and I started interacting with other podcasters and members of Bills mafia on Twitter and Facebook. I figured I had the passion for the team coupled with what I thought was a good dose of objectivity and logic. Silly me.
Understanding Bills Mafia
After a few regular-season games, I realized I was not prepared for the ferocity with which some members of the fan base were willing to defend Josh Allen. The current fanbase is more protective of Allen than it ever was of Kelly, Thurman, Bruce, Andre or any of the other players from the Super Bowl era.
Posts in the tone and tenor of the ones I started this article with came through the Billsmafia Facebook group at a clip of 20-30 per week! Here I was trying to give objective, nuanced analysis of his play, and many fans weren’t willing to entertain the mere idea that Josh Allen could do something wrong. Even through the interceptions, fumbles, and inaccurate throws, it was Brian Daboll’s fault or Dawson Knox or the offensive line. Cole Beasley or Frank Gore are to blame. I had many conversations with my wife in which I expressed how perplexed I was about what was going on until one day, it just hit me. Josh Allen has become the human embodiment of the city of Buffalo itself. That probably sounds crazy but let me explain.
The NFL’s Whipping Boy
In order to understand what’s going on here, we need to go back to 1977. As we all know, the Blizzard of ’77 might be the event that has gotten Buffalo the most notoriety in the last 100 years. Starting at this point and moving forward, the city and community began to take its lumps. In 1982, Bethlehem steel closed, taking with it 18,000 jobs in six weeks. Buffalo became a “rust belt” city: that’s code for a city that used to be thriving until all the big factories closed, leaving behind old abandoned buildings.
Anyone who’s been alive since then has certainly lived through all the insults and disrespect that comes our way. The narrative is that Buffalo is too cold, gets too much snow, has nothing to do, downtown is underdeveloped, the sports teams suck, the hotel rooms suck, and did I mention it snows here? It seems obvious Western New York has a negative reputation that other people love rubbing in our faces. What really grinds my gears is how places like Green Bay, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota get romanticized for having the exact same weather. Raise your hand if you’ve ever watched a football game that’s taking place in one of those cities while its snowing and the announcers talk about how it’s the “frozen tundra” and “great classic football weather.”
Green Bay has 150,000 fewer people than Buffalo, but I’ve never seen it on a list of “places pro bowlers hate playing football.” What I realized is that we have had to sit back and take it while all these people insult the city and region we love. There is no real way to defend a patch of land from other people’s insults.
Josh Allen is Buffalo
Then along came Josh Allen, a player just as polarizing as the city he plays for. As we know, Allen has been and continues to be the national media’s favorite whipping boy. Fans and citizens of the team and region finally had something they could defend: a person. What happened is that for some of the people fed up with the years and years of insults being hurled against Buffalo itself, every insult against Allen has become just as personal. Standing by and “taking it” is no longer an option for them. Channeling the power of their Zubaz, chicken wing hats, and Jim Kelly jerseys, they are standing up and shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
So, where does that leave me, the objective content creator? I have a message for my fellow Bills fans. I would say this to you: without our ability to objectively critique something it will never get better. Some of us looked at the waterfront and thought it could get better, and now we have Canalside. Others have looked at the historic building in downtown Buffalo and thought it could get better. Now those same buildings are being restored or have been restored. There is a renewed sense of pride throughout Western New York, I can feel it.
I hope that Josh Allen becomes just as great as Jim Kelly. You and I both know that Allen needs to improve in certain areas. I and others like me point out Allen’s flaws not as an insult but as a mechanism of pride and love. I want so badly for the Bills to be as good they were in the ’90s. I want to feel that feeling of pride and excitement again. The only way for us to get it is through the eyes, mind, legs, and arm of Josh Allen, and to be honest, that’s kind of scary.
I’ve given so much of my emotion to players and teams during the drought that I can’t just give it away that easily anymore. Will Josh Allen become the leader of a team that I can fully immerse myself in? I hope so, but that won’t happen without further development. Until then, I’ll sit here in front of my computer and TV in Grand Island watching and waiting, secretly hoping Allen is “the one.”