When a female fan took one for the team
I attended the comeback game with my girlfriend (now wife), brother, future brother-in-law, and another friend. As we were tailgating, I asked my friend if his dad is getting the game on TV in Ithaca. He says, “I think so.” We use my fancy new car-mounted cell phone to call him and he agrees to tape it for us. So that’s awesome.
As things are going poorly, my girlfriend starts to complain. I can’t bear the thought of leaving, but after Bubba McDowell’s TD return I say, “OK, after the next score we can go.” Needless to say, we stayed until the glorious end. My girlfriend’s ordeal wasn’t over, though. As she was sandwiched between a crowd of six-plus guys she wound up taking an elbow to the head in one of the many frenzied celebrations and was a little black and blue.
Father-son bond forged in the cold
I was one of the few thousand who (truthfully) stayed right through to Steve Christie’s “shot heard 'round the world” in overtime.
My dad had been a long-time season-ticket holder, with seats in the 11th row on the 42-yard line on the Bills’ side. We had been to dozens of games together and, while the Bills had been quite successful for several years by the time the Houston playoff game rolled around, there were of course a few notable exceptions (Louis Oliver’s interception return stands out). Still, in my nearly 13 years on Earth (I turned 13 six days after the game), I had never heard my father swear during a Bills game.
Until Jan. 3, 1993. Or more specifically, until Bubba McDowell returned that Frank Reich pass 58 yards for a touchdown and a 35-3 lead.
We were in line at a concession stand, waiting for hot chocolates, when we saw the play on one of the televisions. Almost immediately after my dad let his tongue slip, I remember seeing many of the few people who had held out hope for the second half come streaming through the tunnels to join the other white flag wavers. Strangely enough, I don’t think that my dad and I even considered leaving the game. We had never done it before and weren’t about to start during an NFL playoff game in January (my dad and I love cold weather games).
What surely added to my father’s frustration was the fact that, despite all of the games we attended together in Orchard Park, I was not a Bills fan. I loved Joe Montana and the 49ers, but I always liked Houston, too, because they threw the ball all over the field and, hey, I was 12. So can you guess what team’s sweatshirt I was wearing under my snowsuit that day? Yep, the Houston Oilers. And being a 12-year-old, I would unzip my snowsuit enough just to show my dad the oil derrick on the logo every time the visiting team scored (I wasn’t going to flaunt my “fandom” – I was 12, not crazy).
By the end of the afternoon, my snowsuit was zipped up to my chin and my dad had the last laugh. Most importantly, we had an experience together that we’ll never forget.
Town of Niagara
Die-hards rewarded for hanging in there
I was home from Davidson College with some friends from school. We ended up getting tickets to the game and for some of the guys it was their first pro football game. We had a great Buffalo sports weekend, because we went to the Sabres’ New Year’s Eve game a few days before. My friends from the Carolinas thought Buffalo was the most fun place to be.
At halftime, we all had a few too many cocktails and could not find each other at the meeting place. If we had found each other I am sure we would have left. However, due to our inability to locate everyone we all returned to our seats. A few guys were in the end zone and after halftime people around them were sharing laughs and just welcoming the guys to the area. Then the comeback started and the whole crowd was hugging them and high fiving. When we caught up with those guys after the game they were ecstatic. They didn’t even care how cold they were.
It’s still one of the most memorable experiences I have had. The group of us still laugh about it when we get back together. Can we bring those days back? Have the Bills won since? Just kidding, but I do long for the good ole days.
Fans climbed fence to see the finish
We had a whole gang at that game. Some of our people left at halftime and waited in the “Billsmobile,” a panel truck painted in Bills colors with logos.
After the comeback started, they tried to get back in and were denied entrance. They climbed the fence and came back to the seats bloody and muddy. Although the Bills denied it, they eventually opened the gates and let the people back in.
The sobering reality was worth celebrating
My job brought me from Syracuse to Buffalo in October of that year. The Bills lost to the Oilers the week before so my new boss had no intentions of going to the game and offered the “new guy” the tickets. Though we were still recovering from an extended New Year’s celebration that year, a college pal and I loaded up the Mercury Tracer with ample beverages and headed for the stadium. I can remember the two of us agreeing after halftime that if the Oilers scored we were leaving. Of course, they scored on a pick-six. Whatever logic and good fortune we didn’t throw away in college led us to tough it out and witness the unbelievable. It was so unreal that we stopped drinking, sobered up and kept saying that this cannot be happening. I’ve seen some great games in person over the years (the Dave Hannan game, George Mason’s win to go to the Final Four) but there was nothing like it.
When a team and city found their way
My brother and I had shared season tickets for approximately six years by the time of the comeback game but we had been Bills fans since birth. We had experienced every high and low imaginable with the team but the comeback game came to symbolize what the Bills, and Buffalo, were. It’s easy to be a fan of a team that wins all the time and the Bills of the early '90s were easy to love. But that day we had backups playing and Houston seemed to move the ball at will. While the stadium was not full that day, most of the regulars in our section were there, but by halftime it was sparse and when Houston scored again there were probably only 25 percent of the fans still there.
When Houston scored to go up, 35-3, I put my head on my brother’s shoulder and closed eyes and prayed it would get better … and it did!
The Bills that day, like Buffalo, had lost their stars and were struggling to “play in the big leagues.” It wasn’t pretty and many people left for warmer climates (well at least indoors!) and gave up on our Bills. Those who remained were loyal and stayed and prayed for a turnaround. Those Bills found a way to win and the city is trying to do the same thing.
Those of us who stayed, even if just out of loyalty, were rewarded with history and a memory that will stay with us forever.