Thursday, January 01, 2009

When I was young, my father used to say to me, "nobody circles the wagon like the Buffalo Bills". Those, of course, were the days of the K-Gun offense, when the Bills won four straight AFC championships and when there were still jobs left in western New York state. On Sunday, I found out that the reality is that the Buffalo Bills mostly run around in circles with the express aim of avoiding victory or the very pursuit of victory, at all costs.

The gold standard of football is a cold, snowy day, but failing that, a cold day with inclement weather will do. As it just happened, I chose a day with 100-kilometre-per-hour winds, which are magnified by Ralph Wilson Stadium's positioning next to the lake and all-round shoddy construction. The place, in short, has all the atmosphere of a refugee camp, and is populated on Sundays by beer-swilling white trash of the most authentic sort. It's like winding up in the real America of Sarah Palin's dreams.

The stadium consists of an open-air concourse exposed fully to whatever weather might come strolling across Lake Erie, and a bowl-like playing field with excellent views. The seats in the end zone are metal bleachers so it makes sense that everyone stands on a cold day, which was the first thing I liked about the place. The second thing I had to admit to liking was that the wind blew all the food away. My brother's popcorn flew right out of his bag and into people standing 5, 10, 20 feet away. My chili fries flew away, and a few children standing in the area almost flew away as well.

If you go to Ralph Wilson Stadium to watch a football game, it's hard not to like the place, even in the face of icy, hurricane-force winds. Fans beat the metal bleachers on third downs, creating a din. Seventy thousand people show up, regardless of the weather and, more importantly, regardless of the feeble, toothless team, which plays mostly to keep the score respectable. They may not know much, in fact, they know next to nothing, but they know their football. The result is that even a two-touchdown loss by a hapless team to a despised opponent in some of the worst weather imaginable, three hours after the last time you felt your toes, comes across as fun in the end.

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