Dear Rookies: Let me welcome you to Buffalo even though you will not play a single game in the city and likely will not live there. Ralph Wilson Stadium was built in Orchard Park back when your grandparents were around your age, and it’s likely to be sold out for seven home games this season.
I’ll save you the trouble before you ask. Nobody has a sensible reason for building the stadium in the suburbs rather than downtown. When the stadium opened in 1973, the city’s population was about 200,000 higher than it is now. The population figures are a tad misleading. Many left the city for the suburbs, such as Orchard Park.
Wait, it just dawned on me that you weren’t questioning the location of your new home. You wanted to know why there were only seven home games rather than eight.
That’s easy: Money.
The Bills have one game in Toronto every year under the guise they’re expanding their fan base into Canada, which is just across the Peace Bridge (DO NOT ask about the Peace Bridge). It’s true only to a point. The Bills have fans in Southern Ontario, but most would rather drive to Orchard Park than Toronto to watch a game. The atmosphere is better here than in Toronto, which is to say there’s atmosphere.
Toronto doesn’t really have any allegiance to Buffalo, but the Bills franchise does appreciate the fat paycheck that comes with playing one game there every year. For years, players have complained about the game because TO feels like an away game and OP is definitely a home game. It should be stopped ASAP, but it continues because they can’t resist the $$.
In return, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL play a few home games in Buffalo. That’s just a little inside joke, but that leads me to another point. This is a hockey hotbed. If you’re interested in seeing a quality hockey game, Canisius College and Niagara University are a short drive away.
Otherwise, you’re out of luck.
But that’s for me to say, not you.
Remember, you’re a rookie. Keep your ears open and your mouth closed. It will take you a long way in the locker room and a longer way in the community. Buffalo is a small town, but it’s not Mayberry. The people here love their connection to big-time football players, but they never fully embrace big-time attitudes.
EJ Manuel, ask your godfather.
Do not admit to reading this. It equates to breaking a cardinal, although unwritten, rule of every professional athlete. Today, you will be told to ignore what’s being said in the media. You probably learned that in college, but around here it really means don’t read anything unless your team is headed for the playoffs. Then, read everything.
In terms of years, it’s been a baker’s dozen since the Bills reached the postseason. You were likely working on fourth or fifth grade. Many years ago, around the time you were born, the Bills reached four straight Super Bowls. DO NOT ask anyone over 35 years old what happened in those games, especially the first one.
Here’s some advice: If the kicker misses to the right side of the post, avoid saying publicly that he missed the kick wide right. It’s a communal kick in the stomach. People accuse you of being insensitive and clock you with a left hook. And that’s just the women. Just know there’s a reason Wide Right is capitalized in these parts.
However, there is no better place – and I mean NO BETTER PLACE ON THIS PLANET – to play than Western New York when the Bills A) make the playoffs; B) win a playoff game; or C) contend for a championship. At least that’s how it was 18 years ago, which was the last time anyone experienced B.
Good heavens, that was before the Internet.
That’s not true, according to the Internet.
And that brings us to social media. Stevie Johnson is a must-follow on Twitter for entertainment purposes only. Examine his Twitter feed. Study his approach. Make note of the things he says and the message he’s trying to convey. When you have it figured out and are prepared to tweet, write the direct opposite of what Stevie would say.
Looking for a true leader? Follow guys like Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller.
Jackson never forgot that he was an undrafted free agent from a Division III college, worked his tail off, has had quite a career and made a good buck. Spiller was a first-round pick out of Clemson who never whined about playing behind Jackson and is now an emerging star. Kyle Williams is another consummate professional. All are class acts.
You can learn a different lesson from Mario Williams, who signed a $100 million contract before last season. The Bills spent two days wining and dining him. They flew his fiancee into town to show her around. He vanished for the first half of last season. She vanished with a $785,000 engagement ring, and plenty more, after the season.
My point: Be careful. People will try to capitalize on your fame and fortune. But it helps to inject common sense into the equation, too. If you feel it’s necessary to buy a 10-carat engagement ring, which is about 10 times the median price of a home in the city of Buffalo, find a girlfriend who doesn’t care about your job title.
After all, good people are easy to find in Buffalo. They’re everywhere. Really, for six days out of the week, they don’t ask for much. You can have fun without being hassled. It just takes a little while to understand the region. Before long, you will fall in love with the place the way Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Steve Tasker and many others did.
When family comes to town and wants to see Niagara Falls, take them to the Canadian side. The Anchor Bar is known for its chicken wings, but there are a zillion other places. They are not Buffalo wings. They are definitely not buffalo wings. They aren’t even chicken wings. They’re just wings. And they’re only for kickers and punters.
Don’t let me forget the weather. It’s not what you see on television. It’s much worse. Just kidding. The national news only shows up after a storm. It was beautiful for a week before you arrived. It doesn’t snow in May, not usually, anyway. Summer and autumn are gorgeous. The winter is … you know this is Buffalo, right?
Take comfort knowing that warm people and hot quarterbacks offset cold winters.
During the glory days, the Bills used the weather to their advantage. Kelly & Co. approached cloudy and 20 degrees like sunny and 80. I don’t remember the Bills complaining about the weather when they were stacking up AFC championships. I do remember opponents being petrified, however.
Anyway, the snow isn’t the problem.
The Bills are the problem.
That’s where you guys come into play. This city has never won a Super Bowl or a Stanley Cup. That’s a whole bunch of losing, and it never gets easy. What happens in Orchard Park on Sunday directly affects the mood in the 7-1-6 on Monday. The sooner you understand that, the better for everyone.
Welcome to your new home. Now, get to work.