Yes, that really happened.
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota- Game day. I’m in bed staring at the ceiling, a little apprehensive. I know that when I sit up I will feel the damage from the night before. I tried to plan for being ready to go the next morning — I left my last two beers sitting on tables and ended the night at a place that only sold water.
My worry was not without reason. The last two Bills away games that I went to I drank too much the night before and had to drag myself to the tailgate with headache and nausea in tact. I planned to take it easy in Minneapolis, but when you’re taking over the party district of a city with thousands and thousands of people from your hometown wearing your colors those plans fade fast.
I looked down at Rory in the bed. He wasn’t so good. But he valiently fought his headache and wobbly knees and got out of bed, slid on some jeans, pulled over a Tyrod jersey, and announced that he needed some water.
The Bills Backers had arranged a pregame breakfast at Lynn’s Pub, where we all initially met up the night before.
We looked over what could only be called the hangover menu — eggs and French toast and sausage served with hashbrowns complete with, yes, a bloody Mary bar in the back.
We got our cups of vodka and ice and went to work stuffing it with pickles, olives, meat sticks, celery, cheese, and tomato juice.
It was perfect. It was the absolutely perfect breakfast after a night of Billsing.
Bills fans continued stumbling in. The place filled with blue and red. The excitement rose as the bloody Marie’s emptied and hangovers faded away. The Shout song was rising up out of various corners of the room, with the entire place picking up the refrains.
“If it wasn’t for football we’d have no reason to be here,” I said to Rory, who was looking a little less corpse-like. “We’d all be sitting around at home scrolling Facebook or something stupid like that.”
We all know that football is stupid. But that doesn’t really matter: the game is a catalyst — a reason, an excuse — to go out and have fun with family and friends. I looked at my ex-brother-in-law sitting across from me. This guy was a part of my family for a decade, I’ve known him since middle school, but we’d never have any reason to meet up in some city for a weekend if it wasn’t for football. Cultures often evolve rites and celebrations that could be described as stupid to drive deeper social connections and bonds that are anything but.
One Bills fan at the breakfast had a story that wasn’t like the others. Most of us were born into this. We’re from Western NY and our love for this football team was injected into us at birth. Throughout our first planes of development we’d hear about the Bills, ingest the iconography, and feel how crazy everyone becomes on game days. It’s just a part of who we become, and there isn’t much that we can do about it. But the guy standing next to me got into this a different way.
This guy traveled up from Mexico City for this game.
He was from Mexico — from down near Mexico City, not a Tex-Mex border town. He became a Bills fan on a whim: it was the Super Bowl and he figured he had two choices: the Cowboys or the Bills. He picked the Bills. They lost but something about the team resonated with him — so much so that he traveled all the way to Minneapolis to watch them play.
“So you flew all the way from Mexico city just to go to this game?”
“Yes,” he responded simply, as though doing something like that wasn’t extreme in the least. In the present social context, it really wasn’t.
A couple hundred Bills fans soon gathered in front of the bar and began matching together to the stadium. When we got close things started getting weird. Thousands of people were making their way to the game but the streets were silent. Nobody was shouting, nobody was chanting, nobody was letting loose. They were just walking quietly and orderly to the gates. It was sort of surreal, like watching a movie on mute — the polar opposite of what happens at Orchard Park on game days.
U.S. Bank Stadium is probably the standard of what the NFL wants out of its stadiums and game day experience. It is new, architecturally impressive, and stocked with vendors who pay a cut to the league for each sale made. The place is like a giant shopping mall and has the feel of an airport: you go in, buy stuff, and leave. I don’t want to say it was completely without character but there was a distinct lack of what could be called culture. It was sterile, uptight, corporate 21st Century American made flesh in the form of a stadium.
I will say this again: it was the polar opposite of Orchard Park, which is full of private entrepreneurial actors making money off of sales that don’t go to the NFL. It’s a beautiful free for all out there, an unusual display of grassroots, independent culture … and partially for this reason the NFL has been doing whatever it can to shut us down. They don’t like the tailgating, they don’t like the private lots, they don’t like the independent vendors, they don’t like the lack of control … They want a new stadium in downtown Buffalo and for us to act like good little shoppers going to a mall with our families on Sunday.
It was almost creepy to walk into that stadium in Minneapolis — like a glimpse of a dystopian, whitewashed, high-tech future via a quasi-meaningless sporting event.
The building was impressive though …
In the stadium I saw a guy that I recognized from the flight over from Rochester — the Bills hat gave him away. I asked him where he was from. He grew up around the corner from my parents. I could walk to his house. My parents live in the countryside. There are not that many people out there. To meet one of their neighbors in Minneapolis seemed absurd … but when we put our WNY psychosis into the mix it ends up being pretty normal. Ten thousand people in that stadium were ostensibly my parent’s neighbors.
The game started. The Bills dismantled them. Our QB jumped over one of their linebackers. Everybody was stunned. Bills fans singing the Shout song could be heard on national television broadcast — one of our primary KPI. I’m note sure why watching other people win a football game feels really good, but it does.
Sitting in the very last row.
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