Image and Article: Kevin Heffernan
Sports in this town, am I right? We are admittedly a small city. So the presence of the Bills and the Sabres feels legitimizing. Buffalo can be on the same stage as New York, Chicago, LA on any day of the week. We know our history of being amazing, risk-taking entrepreneurial lovers of art and design and culture 120 years ago, and our post WWII demise as we slowly said goodbye to being a grain port, to manufacturing steel, and to being a unique city dominated by parks and parkways in favor of putting highways throughout our neighborhoods and turning Buffalo into just any other car-dominated city in America.
We’ve squandered almost everything we had in the early 1900s that made this city an amazing, unique place, but it’s in finally recognizing and understanding and seeing that history of being a once-thriving, growing town that has us chasing something new, something great once again. This renaissance, for all its ambition, and all its failures, has been held back by a nagging feeling that we just can’t truly pull it off. Or that a city as decimated as Detroit might get its population back up before Buffalo can figure it out. To take the kind of big swings that people, businesses, and elected leaders in other cities take, you have to have the strongest belief you’ll be successful. And here in Buffalo, we just haven’t had that feeling for a very long time.
We haven’t seen a sports championship in 55 years. The way we lose is something out of a novel. Four straight Super Bowls. The NFL breaking their own rules to allow the Home Run Throwback to stand. The NHL breaking its own rules to allow Brett Hull’s goal to stand even though his foot was in the crease. The Sabres, destined to win the cup in 2005-2006 were suddenly decimated by freak injuries. One year later, healthy with nearly the same roster, the they failed to live up to their potential. The Bills found every way possible to rip defeat from the jaws of victory for seventeen years. When things like that happen over and over and over to teams that we identify as part of our DNA, you can start to believe that you, and we as a collective group are cursed. Standing in the way of every entrepreneur’s dream is doubt. Some people can plow through it, others allow that doubt to shut them down, stay in the job they hate, or do the minimum required of them at their day job because there’s no point in aspiring to something better.
I love this town, and I’ve worked for large organizations in it and now I struggle through entrepreneurship daily. I’m not trying to shit on Buffalo, this is just a perception of what we’ve seen unfold over the decades of layoffs, population loss, sports loss, unsustainable sprawl that raises all our taxes, and business closures. Our politicians are rolling out red carpets out for Amazon warehouses that pay minimum wage while leaving our own small businesses, actual economic drivers, out to die. The internet speed in our town is what other cities had in 2010 and we all just shrug and say, ‘That’s Buffalo. What are we gonna do?’ We haven’t strived for greatness, as a whole, and as individuals for too long.
The success of the Bills this year has been a foreign feeling. This is the first time in my life I’ve drank a beer during the game for fun, not to calm my nerves. The Bills are in control of games. They’re extremely talented. There were years where all of us thought we could coach the team better than what we were seeing, and now, I’m blown away every week by the brilliance of each play we make. It’s incredible and inspiring. When the Bills were the joke of the league, Buffalonians were the joke of the league. We carried those chains for so long, and now we’re finally shedding them, ready to run.
We’ve all seen the “Trust the Process” memes and thought hey that’s a funny thing from our new coach. And now, we see it paying off. The Bills surrounded player areas with “Playoff Calibre” and now “Championship Calibre” signage to remind them all of what they’re working toward and what they’re capable of. And it’s working. They’re having fun, they’re utilizing their talents. They’re working to make each other better, not worrying about themselves and their own roster spots. They’re doing it with focus. They’ve left their egos at the door. They’re a family, united with one goal.
As we ride the wagons into the playoffs, let’s remember why the Bills are successful. They’re committed to excellence. They’re taking big swings. They’re pushing forward with confidence, not doubt.
We can all take that into our personal and professional lives and contribute to our region’s turnaround. Take those chances as an entrepreneur, take that chance at your corporate job by making the big problem-solving pitch to your superiors. Go above and beyond again, and think about how you, your family, your workplace can do something special. Stop worrying about only your own stead, and think about how you can give time to your neighborhood, town or city to make it better for everyone. This town was once the most unique city in the country, a center of innovation.
We can be that again. We don’t have to try and replicate other cities, we don’t have to be what we once were. We can be a new and different one if we stop doubting ourselves or thinking we’re cursed. Spend less time shitting on our town, or on those who would shit on our town, and do something that just makes it better.
After Georgia went blue in the senate races, I put up a post that said “Now we just have to beat Mike Pence’s Colts for the trifecta.” And it was a staunch conservative friend from college who I thought I’d lost all commonality with who reached out and said “We don’t agree on much, but here we are 100% aligned.”
The Bills can bring us all together and by following their lead, we can all do something great once again.
Let’s be better than we ever have been.