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Derrick Norman's experience as a Buffalo Bills season-ticket holder has been unswerving.

The night before a Sunday afternoon game at Ralph Wilson Stadium, he sleeps in a motor home in the parking lot, wakes up at 5 a.m., dons his chef hat and — along with buddy Richard Peterson — fires up the barbeque for an enormous feast.

Before every season starts, Norman makes a prediction this will be the season his Bills return to the Super Bowl. It hasn't mattered if J.P. Losman was the quarterback or Dick Jauron was the coach. Norman's declaration has been perennial.

"Every year, the guys always tease me when I say we're going to the Super Bowl," Norman said. "We never do. The guys just laugh."

Norman has been able to ignore the ridicule with increasing success over the years. That's not because Norman, a Buffalo firefighter, is oblivious to the aggravation.

After 12 straight years of not making the playoffs, he has gotten numb to the disappointment. Slathered in malaise, he grills in the Ralph Wilson Stadium parking lot and attends the game with little payoff.

He's clearly not alone in his melancholy. The NFL's longest active playoff drought has taken a toll on fans. The strain is reflected in season-ticket sales, which, despite the splashy free-agent signings of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, are below where they were during the Jauron era.

Furthermore, the Bills offer the NFL's cheapest seats, and season tickets are multiplied by only seven regular-season dates because the Toronto game isn't included in the package.

"We've had good players on our team, but we haven't been able to get over the hump," Norman said. "The Bills always do something to get people excited, like [signing] Terrell Owens and all the moves they make.

"But you always end up disappointed. You buy season tickets and put in all this effort to tailgate, and then to not make the playoffs or have a winning season is very depressing."

Norman has been a season-ticket holder for 10 years, but had he signed up two years earlier, his annual experience wouldn't have changed.

Since the 1990s, the Bills haven't so much as sent out a mailing to alert their season-ticket holders of the possibility they can buy tickets to an upcoming home playoff game.

The last time the Bills reached the postseason was the infamous Music City Miracle defeat in Nashville on Jan. 8, 2000.

That was the final Bills game for Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith. Their departures signified the end of the Bills' glorious Super Bowl era, the time to rebuild. Buffalo had one winning season since.

"We feel their angst over the past decade plus two years," Bills CEO Russ Brandon said in his office over the weekend. "We get up every day as an organization to try and get back to where we want to be, and that's the playoffs."

Widespread expectations are that the Bills finally will get there.

Their offseason was heralded as the league's best, making Williams the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history and drafting cornerback Stephon Gilmore and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn to start at critical positions as rookies.

Top players such as running back Fred Jackson and defensive tackle Kyle Williams have recovered from injuries that cost the team last year.

With the excitement, the Bills have enjoyed a spike at the box office — but not a colossal one. Two weeks ago they had sold 43,267 season tickets, up 16 percent from a year earlier. They've sold out their first three home games.

But the Bills still haven't caught up to their 2010 total, when they sold 44,084 and are well below their recent peak of 56,011 four years ago.

"We've always been a roll-your-sleeve-up operation," Brandon said. "In some markets, there's waiting lists for season tickets and they don't worry as much. We have to sell tickets here and work at it. We're a volume-based business."

Given the high expectations, low cost to see the Bills play and a growing audience in Southern Ontario (Brandon said they buy 20 percent of Bills tickets), the disappointing overall sales figure may underscore the weariness of the fan base.

"People are excited for their team," said Bills defensive end Chris Kelsay, who joined the team in 2002, "but the past several years there's frustration for not making the playoffs. You can sense that.

"If the fans aren't seeing the urgency or the will to win, it's frustrating. But we think we finally got the talent and the chemistry on this team to make a run. It's easy to say that, and another thing to prove it."

Brandon admitted the Bills "have challenges at the back end of the schedule."

The Bills host the Miami Dolphins on a Thursday night, welcome a couple humdrum opponents — the Jacksonville Jaguars and St Louis Rams — and then finish against the New York Jets on Dec. 30.

"Hopefully, we're playing meaningful games in December because there's no place we'd rather be than Ralph Wilson Stadium," Brandon said. "The communal feel where no one wants to leave the stadium and ‘You were there!' That's what we sell. There's nothing like being here on a day like that."

Norman almost certainly will be there with his chef's hat and indefatigable spirit.

Asked is he ever has considered giving up his season tickets because of the team's inability to win, he laughed in contempt.

"I figure one day they'll pull it together and I want to be there," Norman said. "I experienced one playoff game against Jacksonville [in 1996, the Bills' last home postseason game]. I liked it.

"I want to be able to experience that again and hopefully make it to the Super Bowl."

email: tgraham@buffnews.com