When a Bills fan in Western New York goes to work on Monday morning looking to vent with colleagues about Sunday’s game, misery usually finds plenty of company.
When ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Kevin Connors rolls up to the office in Bristol, Conn., his options are more limited. Unless Chris Berman happens to be around, Connors will likely need to confess his feelings about the Bills to Twitter and his 4,500 followers.
Connors grew up in Rockville Centre, Long Island, in the heart of Jets and Giants country. But rather than root for the two New York teams that play in New Jersey, he latched onto the Bills, the team favored by his father.
Connors’ dad grew up in Ilion, a village in Herkimer County, east of Utica. Kevin graduated from high school a few months after Super Bowl XXV. The painful memories of the Giants’ victory linger on.
“Keep in mind I grew up with two brothers so there was never a quiet moment in the Connors’ household,” Connors said this week by phone. “But I’ll always remember the deafening silence of the aftermath of that game, lying on the living room floor, my dad in his chair, us both just totally spent and speechless and spiritless. I don’t know that either of us have ever entirely gotten over that one.”
Connors reinforced his Central New York connection when he went to Ithaca College to major in radio-television and play for the Division III basketball team. The rest of the Bills’ Super Bowl era coincided with his college years. He made it home to watch some of the big games with his dad.
He meekly admits to “throwing in the towel” during the game that’s known as The Comeback, when the Bills erased a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers in their AFC wild-card playoff game on Jan. 3, 1993.
“I just gave up on the Bills, as did many, when it was 35-3. True story, I went into my bedroom and started writing my essay for my application to Ithaca College. One paragraph in, my dad called out that the Bills had scored to make it 35-10.
‘ Who cares?’ ” I said.
“Two paragraphs in, he called out a second time that the Bills had scored again to make it 35-17. ‘Still not interested,’ I said half-heartedly.
“Midway through the third paragraph, when he called out that Frank Reich had thrown another TD to make it 35-24, the application was tossed aside and I broke Olympic records to run out into the living room to watch the end of the greatest comeback ever.
“Today, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about my Ithaca College application – other than it was accepted – but I’ll never forget celebrating that win with my dad.”
After graduating from Ithaca, Connors landed his first TV news job, in Kingston, N.Y. He spent most of his nine years there sending out tapes to TV stations, hoping to land in a bigger market.
“I couldn’t get arrested,” he said. “I was sending out hundreds and hundreds of tapes and could not get a response. And then, lo and behold, there was an opening at WCBS Radio in New York. I put in for it and got that opportunity.”
While working in New York, Connors got to know the news director from WCBS-TV.
“After about four months on the job she said, ‘Hey, would you be interested in doing weekend sports here on WCBS-TV, Channel 2?’ And I’m thinking, I can’t get a call back from Paducah, Ky., and now all of a sudden the No. 1 market is like, ‘Are you interested?’ Of course I am.”
That job launched Connors’ career, which in July 2008 brought him to ESPN. His primary job involves anchoring SportsCenter, but he also hosts a seasonal NBA program and fills in elsewhere where needed.
“It’s been so neat for me. Since I’ve been at ESPN we’ve had Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas in studio and I’ve gotten to speak with both of them,” he said. “That couldn’t be any more up my alley.”
Connors has seen the Bills play at the Meadowlands and once out in Arizona, but has never been to Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“And my wife is a Buccaneers fan so I am going to be at the Bucs-Bills game in Tampa Bay in December,” he said. “John Murphy has invited me to come up and go to a game” in Orchard Park. “Boy, I really need to get up to the stadium and see them.”
In addition to ESPN and its news resources, Connors relies on smart-phone apps and Twitter to feed his knowledge for Bills news.
“I follow so many of the beat writers,” he said. “A lot of the local TV guys like Murph. And the Bills’ website itself.”
Last Sunday’s close loss to the Patriots made Connors cautiously optimistic about this season.
“For a team that’s led the NFL in moral victories for the past 13 years, this team has a chance to win actual games,” Connors said. “I think that means making progress, which is a realistic expectation. If we could go somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-8, 9-7, I think with the nucleus of this team, that’s possible.
“To me, that’s a step in the right direction. I’m not naive enough to think we’re going to rebound and go 12-4. But I really like EJ Manuel,” though Connors wasn’t initially happy the Bills used their first pick on a quarterback in the draft.
“I just thought there were enough other positions that the Bills could have addressed. You hear Manuel talk and you watch him play and he seems exactly like what this team needs. I was really impressed with the defense on Sunday, too.
“What do they say, hope is a dangerous word? But I think we’ve got hope.”