Sports run the gamut of emotion, delighting and destroying the human spirit. In honor of the latter—and grief-stricken sports fans everywhere—we present Sad Sports, Volume II: Buffalo.
Join writer George Perry as he takes us on a journey through the eyes of a sad Buffalo sports fan. May another person’s misery bring you joy on this day!
Go ahead and say it. It’s okay, we know. Blizzards and losing. That’s what comes to mind when you think about Buffalo. You don’t even need to say anything about sports. We’re the city that gets all the blizzards and lost, like, what was it . . . four Super Bowls in a row?
Yep, four Super Bowls in a row. And, two (non-consecutive) Stanley Cups, one of which was stolen by the league and handed to Dallas. And, some other sad stories that don’t mean as much to non-Buffalonians.
And yes, the blizzards. Not to be confused with the Buffalo Blizzard—we actually named an indoor soccer team after our most famous recurring weather event.
Like a lot of our non-major league teams, the
But hey, don’t forget one thing: wings. We’ve got the wings, which have consoled generations of fans through every renewal of Buffalo’s sad sports history.
Now, about those sad moments . . .
1. Super Bowl XXV: Wide Right
Super Bowl XXV opened with a landmark of American cultural history: Whitney Houston’s performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It ended with a sadly memorable moment in American sports history: Wide Right.
Even Buffalo Bills fans born after January 27, 1991, know what the words “Wide Right” mean. They know what to do when they hear them, too—sigh, shake their heads dejectedly, say something like: “Man, that’s where it all started.”
Non-Buffalonians know, too. For them, it normally produces a chuckle or a baffled gasp: “How did he miss that?” Followed by: “And, it went even further downhill after that.”
If you’re not a Buffalo fan, before you start laughing and snarking, consider this counter-factual: Scott Norwood’s punt sails through the uprights, and the Bills win. As a result, the Cleveland Browns do not appoint the Giants’ defensive coordinator as their head coach the next season. This delays, hinders, stymies, or otherwise butterfly effects that man’s career trajectory, and Bill Belichick—the Giants’ defensive coordinator at Super Bowl XXV—doesn’t lead the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl titles.
Laugh at Scott Norwood all you want, but Belichick has dashed many more dreams of fans across the NFL than Norwood did. Twenty-five years of football history may have hinged on “Wide Right.”
2. 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 6: No Goal
Video review was next-gen technology one or two gens ago. Everyone knew there’d be hiccups and lessons learned the hard way in implementation, but come on, we were still dialing in at the time.
In retrospect, it’s amazing it worked as well as it did. But, like any tool or tech, it could only be as good as the people who use it and the purposes for which they use it.
People like the NHL administrators, referees, and video judges. And, purposes like the
If parsing apart arcane texts from earlier eras is your thing, have at it. We’re not going to do that here. The thing to know is that the
In the early hours of the day, after the opening face-off in Buffalo’s Marine Midland Arena, the Dallas Stars’ Brett Hull put the puck into the Sabres’ net while he had one skate in the crease.
For maybe the first time all season, there weren’t expectant glances at the referee, wondering if he saw something no none else did; no restrained celebrations, knowing that a review was pending; the referee didn’t dash to the bat phone between the penalty boxes to talk to the guys upstairs. Just the unrestrained celebration of a team that won the Stanley Cup in triple overtime.
The player who had the closest view of the play immediately knew something was amiss, which he confirmed when he got into the locker room and saw the replay for himself.
It’s easy to dismiss that as the venting of a dejected player or sore loser, but it was a real possibility. The skate-in-the-crease rule was so ambiguously written and contentiously applied that the
And, the league knew it was such a failure that
Had Hull’s goal been overturned, the Sabres still would have had to win that game, and then win Game 7 in Dallas. This wasn’t like Super Bowl XXV, where the play in question was a direct matter of win or lose. Or, Buffalo’s first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1975.
Driving around Buffalo over twenty years later, you’ll still see some “No Goal” bumper stickers. Buffalo fans own up to losing. We got over our fear of failure some time ago. But, we didn’t lose in 1999. We were denied that chance.
3. Super Bowl XXVI: Second Chance, Second Loss
Sports don’t give you many second chances. Eighteen Bills’ starters from Super Bowl XXV had theirs the following year.
The previous year’s loss, the core of the team remaining essentially unchanged, the team once again having the best record in the AFC (13-3 both years)—everything pointed to hope that if last year’s team was a Team of Destiny Denied, this year’s team was a Team of Destiny No Really For Real This Time.
Even that delay, plus the Giants’ ensuing possession, wasn’t enough time for Bills’ starting running back Thurman Thomas to find his helmet, so he missed the first drive. Really.
The Bills managed a few lucky breaks later in the first quarter, but after trading turnovers with the Redskins (neither team had any turnovers in the previous Super Bowl), the Bills’ luck ran out. Destiny quit, and fate took over.
Washington scored seventeen points in the second quarter to Buffalo’s zero, and it was all the Bills could do to cover up the damage and make the final score a respectable seven-point loss.
This was more “crush” than “stun” for the fans and the city. Unlike the up-or-down, live-or-die moment of Super Bowl XXV, this was a straight-up old-school loss. And, it happened on the second chance, which is pretty much the final chance.
Unless, somehow, it wouldn’t be.
4. How to Win a Title, Step 1: Request a Trade Out of Buffalo
Buffalo sports fans have watched many of their favorite players lift the Vince Lombardi trophy or Lord Stanley’s Cup in victory. They just had to wait until those players were on a different team.
Even a non-exhaustive list would be pretty exhausting—emotionally for me and time-wise for you. I’ll just choose one that particularly stands out.
Dominik Hasek was a Buffalo Sabre for nine seasons, during which time he won a cabinet full of trophies, including the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP. He was the first goalie to win the Hart in thirty-four years. Then, he won it again the following season, something no goalie—but a handful of guys with names like Gretzky, Howe, and Orr—had ever done.
Wanting to complete his collection, Hasek took a trade to the Detroit Red Wings, where he promptly—literally, in his first season there—led them to a Stanley Cup.
Six years later, he did it again.
No one ever thought less of him for wanting to leave, nor resented his quick success in Detroit.
“Siri, what is sangfroid?”
5. June 17, 1994: Buffalo’s Place in Sport’s Most Improbable Day
A Stanley Cup victory parade and Game 5 of the NBA Finals in New York City. The opening ceremony of the World Cup in Chicago. A golf and sporting legend playing his last round at the US Open. Ken Griffey, Jr. tying one of Babe Ruth’s records.
Had they happened on separate days, they each would have been the headline the next morning. But, they
Every headline in the United States the next morning—front page and sports—was about the one thing not on the schedule for “
Fourteen years earlier, Simpson became the first player on the Buffalo Bills’ Wall of Honor, commemorating his rushing titles, records, and all-around beloved stature in the city stemming from his eight seasons with the Bills.
And to think the most recent batch of headlines confirming Buffalo’s and the Bills’ status as the ultimate sad sports town and team had just started to fade, barely five months after . . .
6. Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII: Setting the Record No Team Wants
Karl Marx only saw the cycle of history through its first two go-arounds—tragedy and then farce. Franz Kafka would be best-suited to pick up the thread for #’s 3 and 4. Or, he’d just give up and despair that he could never imagine the absurdity that would be Buffalo sports in the 1990s.
The Bills followed up the rarity of a second chance with an even rarer third chance, and then the unprecedented and still unmatched fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers never did it. Jimmy Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys never did it. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the New England Patriots never did it. But those teams all won at least one of however many they strung together.
Johnson and the Cowboys, as it turns out, won two straight Super Bowls over the Bills—the first by thirty-five points and the second by seventeen points. Many years, many points, and many hopes beyond that wide right squeaker against the Giants.
At this point, what is there left to say? The Bills achieved one of the most incredible feats in sports—four straight Super Bowl appearances. They also hold one of the most mind-bending records in sports—four straight Super Bowl losses.
Is losing in Buffalo’s DNA? No. But, as with blizzards, we’ve certainly adapted and evolved to deal with it.
What will we do if (dare I say “when?”) we follow the Boston Red Sox and
Or, what if we somehow land a Major League Baseball franchise (another dashed hope of the 1990s) and win the World Series, or an NBA team (we had an ABA team—they’re now the LA Clippers!) and win the NBA?
Same thing we do when we lose—go crazy for our teams and eat a pile of wings.
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