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Why We Should Remember 13 Seconds



There is no fault in wanting to forget what happened in the last 13 seconds of the Bills-Chiefs Divisional Round playoff game. It was (and is still) heartbreaking. It was another stab to the gut in a fandom filled with them, and it would be sweet, sweet oblivion to imagine it never happened.

But you should hold onto it.

What the Junk is This?

It’s understandable if some skipped past this article based on the title alone. But trying to find some positives from an otherwise gut-wrenching night is a healthy way to help process an event one would prefer to forget.

Original Picture from Getty Images

1. Nobody Will Let Us Forget

Memory is a key component to this first positive. We might as well process “13 seconds” and come out the other side… because other fan bases won’t let us imagine it never happened. Those 13 seconds will be quick to the fingertips for every opposing fan base who wants to rile Bills Mafia up, the same way the four Super Bowl losses are supposed to be the great argument-ender in any “Buffalo vs. Everybody” Twitter battle. It’s coming, so we should all be prepared for it emotionally, mentally, and social media-ly. If you need a little help in forming your retort, you can always use: “The NFL literally changed the overtime rules because everybody recognized the better team got skewered by a coin.”

Bruce Nolan on Twitter: “I present to you: Bruce’s guide to how sports arguing works on the internet. / Twitter”

I present to you: Bruce’s guide to how sports arguing works on the internet.

2. It Lead to Elam

The second component is conjecture, but it is a reasonable projection. It wasn’t part of “13 seconds”, but watching Tyreek Hill fly past Buffalo’s defensive backfield for a 64-yd TD — which partly led to that situation — may have finally been the straw that broke the athletically-limited horse’s (corner)back. Jay Skurski’s article after the draft juxtaposed two quotes that suggest this chain of events.

“You look and you work hard to get your value right, but that’s one of those positions — we talked about it as a staff — that if you start looking back historically, we were looking at some of the names that were going in the first round, in the second round and early in the third, and we were like, ‘man, some of these guys that got taken, we weren’t necessarily as high on,’ ” Beane said. “I was like, ‘the guys we really want, we better put them up here, because they’re going to go.’ ”

With the card for Elam turned in, Beane was able to approach the rest of the draft with a certain freedom.

“I did feel a lot better after Thursday night and felt like, at this point, we don’t have to force anything,” he said.

So cornerback was a position where they had several guys they really wanted in the draft, and it was a position they (at least partially) felt forced to take. Beane and company have not previously pursued an athletic freak at cornerback like they have at other positions. The Divisional Round game may have finally convinced them to. So if you’re excited about Kaiir Elam, some of the credit should go to “13 seconds”.

Photo by Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

3. Disappointment is Fuel

The bitter let down of “13 seconds” will fuel Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Tim Graham’s article in The Athletic on the burden of losing great games includes a quotation from Joe Rose, whose Miami Dolphins lost the Kellen Winslow game: “Those stick with you, man.” Rose’s point is that, win or lose, great games are held in the memories of the athletes who played in them. McDermott, Allen, and the rest of the Bills can talk about wanting to move on from “13 seconds”, but those sound bites are more about getting the media to stop asking questions about the KC game than any real capacity to forget about that game. The Bills have two choices: let it linger, or let it burn.

Photo by Jaime Germano Rochester Democrat

Remember this picture? A dejected Josh Allen after the playoff loss to the Texans… He came back the next year to have one of the greatest statistical seasons in Buffalo Bills history. This author expects the Bills to use “13 seconds” as motivation to burn the league down in 2022.

4. It’s Who We Are

The trail of tragedies in our fandom is long. Championships bring in new fans, but collective anguish galvanizes an existing group. Bills Mafia’s shared suffering contributes to the unique bond the fan base demonstrates. Few other fans can truly empathize with the degree of sorrow that undergirds the relationship between those wearing Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Trent Edwards, Leodis McKelvin, or Nate Peterman jerseys.

Think whatever you will about the movie Split, but it carries at least one message that hits home: “The broken are more evolved”.

Those who have walked through tragedy emerge different on the other side. Now, “13 seconds” does not match the level of true human tragedy, but the pain of losses like that and “Wide Right” have an impact and challenge our fanhood. Bills Mafia is an incredibly dedicated fanbase in part because we had to carry each other through sports hell over and over again. If you weren’t a strong Buffalo Bills fan before “13 seconds”, you became one or probably aren’t still a fan.

Possibly only the Chicago Cubs had a more tortured history in professional sports than the Bills until their World Series title in 2016. The heartbreak made the celebration even greater. The litany of amazing stories about Cubs fans was a treat to read, and I can’t wait to read all of the Bills Mafia stories that finally surface when the Bills bring the Lombardi Trophy to Western New York. Agony is part of our family. But we long ago learned to pick ourselves up and carry on, not forgetting our past, but spurred on by it.


Low is a contributor to Buffalo Fanatics, a long-time Bills' fan, and not nearly as funny as he thinks. Follow him on Twitter at @LowBuffa.