The one positive you can take from being afflicted with the chronic and often incurable condition known as “Being a Bills Fan” is that as bad as you have it, you can always find someone who has a more virulent strain.
So if you ever come across Ray Ciccarelli, and you don't want to get any sicker, don't let him breathe on you.
Ciccarelli, 58, didn't come down with the disease the way the vast majority of us did, by being born here and exposed to it by relatives who should have known better than to let us go to games or watch them on TV or tell us bedtime stories about Cookie Gilchrist.
He isn't even one of those people who had a choice and could have followed another team, but was damned by proximity, like the poor souls in Rochester, northern Pennsylvania and Southern Ontario.
Ciccarelli, a school administrator, was raised and still lives in the Adirondacks, but some of the most beautiful scenery in the world has never been a match for the chance to have his heart ripped out once a week from September through December, half the time in person.
That's right: He's a season-ticket holder whose driveway is more than 300 miles from The Ralph. We all know people who live far away and still live and die with the Bills – some of whom drive to games from far away – but I'd always figured that most of them lived here at one time. Ciccarelli never did.
“I'm sure I'm the only guy east of Batavia who knows who Dan Darragh is,” he said of the Bills' 1968-70 backup quarterback whom, God help me, I knew about without looking it up.
Ciccarelli's exposure is genetic; his family on his father's side is from Buffalo. He had vivid memories of visiting the area when he was a little boy and came to think of our town as a kind of Xanadu. He describes his first visit to Antoinette's Sweets as “like walking onto the set of a Disney movie.”
Loving the Bills became intertwined with everything he loved about Buffalo and his family. (Sound familiar?) He started following the team in 1964, the first of two consecutive AFL championship seasons. His first game in person was Nov. 9, 1975, against the Colts. He has been a season-ticket holder with a group or an individual since the '80s, usually driving in the night before, eventually with his wife and kids.
Like many of us, he remembers the occasional highs and the increasingly frequent lows of seasons past, and he is suffering as much as anyone with this sustained period of worse-than-mediocrity. But unlike most of us, he has a six-hour drive ahead of him when the final whistle sounds.
I just had to know why he keeps putting himself through this. His answer was more about Buffalo than about the Bills.
“I've never, fortunately, gotten far enough to actually answer those quandaries, because I still keep coming. And I know why. Down deep inside, … I won't give up on Buffalo,” he said. “I realize the economy, environment, politics, etc., and it just makes me want to keep fighting the urge to ever give up. I truly love the people, first and foremost. I love the reality and frankness, yet the neighborly attitude of Buffalonians. I love good Italian bread for the same reason: tough and crusty as hell on the outside and soft, flavorful and real on the inside.”
This might be the worst case I've ever seen.