By Josh Svetz
It’s been over 17 years since the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs and most people, whether they root for the Bills or not, are happy.
Well, most people.
Just three days after the Bills clinched their first playoff birth since 1999, Rod Watson, a political columnist for the Buffalo News, wrote a controversial column essentially telling fans to “get a life,” specifically to focus on the real issues and stop obsessing about a football team’s accomplishments.
While we can all understand the importance of real issues and taking the time to pay attention to them, that doesn’t need to bleed into simple enjoyment of entertainment.
Carole McNall, an assistant professor at Saint Bonaventure University, said the article fell into the trap of the “either/or mentality.”
“Increasingly today, we set things up as either/or: either you like this thing or that, either you care about this thing or you care about that one,” McNall said. “The excitement I feel over the success of a team I’ve cheered for most of my life doesn’t erase the concern I feel about the issues Watson cites.”
McNall, a diehard Bills fan, brings up an interesting point.
Just because a fan base is excited about an athletic achievement doesn’t mean they’re ignoring the issues 24/7.
In fact, some philanthropic good came from the Bills making the playoffs.
After the Bills beat the Miami Dolphins, they still needed the Baltimore Ravens to lose to the Cincinnati Bengals.
That’s exactly what happened when the Bengals won off a miracle touchdown pass from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd.
Hours after the win, Bills fans thanked Dalton by flooding donations to his and his wife’s foundation, which provides support to seriously-ill and physically challenged children and their families in Cincinnati, Ohio and Fort Worth, Texas.
The output was enough for Dalton and his wife, J.J., to personally thank the fans for the over $315,000 in donations, ironically being published in the Buffalo News.
Yet, Watson failed to mention such in his column, something that bothered St. Bonaventure senior and Bills fanatic, Emmy Kolbe.
“I’m not sure what Watson defines as ‘a little perspective,’ but I’d say that’s a huge, beautiful success.” Kolbe said. “It’s a great snapshot of the good Bills Mafia can do for surrounding communities.”
Good deeds aside, another conversation arises from the idea of escapism.
In our world, where media dominates our lives and we can access news within seconds, sometimes it’s nice to just shut off for awhile and enjoy a beloved sports team achieving a great feat, especially when it ties into the culture of the city itself.
Nate Discavage, a graduate of Saint Bonaventure University, isn’t a Bills fan, but spending part of his life in Western New York has made him aware of the Bills’ cultural significance.
“I understand that not everybody is a sports fan,” Discavage said. “But, the Bills are so ingrained in the local culture that Watson has to be aware of the impact of everything around him.”
For Buffalo native Reid Okoniewski, he thought the column misrepresented the fans.
“The fans of the Bills know what the city [of Buffalo] has to offer, especially what we pride ourselves in,” Okoniewski said. “When he talks about taking pride in the history of Buffalo, he shoves aside a cornerstone of Buffalo pride, the sports.”
But maybe the largest blind spot Watson failed to address was family impact.
Mike Hogan, a freshman at Saint Bonaventure University, wasn’t even alive the last time the Bills made the playoffs.
He doesn’t remember Jim Kelly or Thurman Thomas, he remembers Drew Bledsoe, Trent Edwards and Kyle Orton.
His family are Bills fanatics, especially his dad.
His dad got to live in the time where the Bills went to four Super Bowls, but Mike didn’t.
He watched losing. So much losing that he wondered if he’d ever see winning.
“I can remember most of the drought and asking my dad, ‘are we ever going to get to watch a playoff game together?’ Hogan said. “I’ll finally get to have that experience with my father that I’ve waited to have all of my life, watching a Buffalo Bills playoff game with the man who taught me the ups and downs of being a Bills fan.”
Watson’s column asks the reader to have “a little perspective.”
As a Pittsburgh Steelers fan from Northwest Pennsylvania, who’s in the past been annoyed by Bills’ fans over-hopefulness and over-emphasis on the team, similarly to Watson, here’s my perspective.
It’s brought a city together, raised money for charity, fostered community, made people happy and bonded families.
At the end of the day, there’s no harm in that.