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Are we ready to Bill-ieve again?

ORCHARD PARK — Buffalo Bills’ fans, listed as the “12th Man” on the team’s wall of fame, as a whole are among the National Football League’s most enthusiastic.

Lots of other words describe them.

“Loyal” is at or near the top of the list.

Bills’ fans face all sorts of weather. Early-season games can take place during hot summer days. Late-season games can take place during who knows what.

Bills’ fans as a whole stand with the team either way.

Bills’ fans face nail-biting games. You’ve seen them. The ones that come down to whatever needs to happen late in the fourth quarter. Sometimes the Bills prevail. Sometimes they don’t.

Bills’ fans as a whole stand with the team either way.

Bills’ fans have faced all sorts of fortunes. They’ve experienced consecutive seasons of successes and consecutive seasons of disappointments.

Bills’ fans as a whole stand with the team either way.

While teaching at a boarding school in Germany, where NFL standings aren’t in newspapers, this columnist kept a standings tally near his desk. One pupil noticed his teacher’s favorite team had the worst record and unsuccessfully urged him to pick another team.

A Bills’ fan sticking with the team even in the worst of seasons has hardly been alone.

In fact, many Bills’ fans have been in the habit of getting their hopes up every year, believing each year could be the year the Bills turned the corner.

Even when the hopes haven’t materialized, many Bills’ fans – loyal perhaps to a fault – have started all over again the next September.

However, one factor nurturing any team’s fan base is playoff victories.

The Bills – winners of two American Football League championships and four American Football Conference championships since their inception in 1960 – last won a playoff game on Dec. 30, 1995.

In Western New York, when someone refers to “the stadium” – or perhaps better yet “The Stadium” – no one should have to ask which one.

If anyone had polled those at The Stadium, or anywhere else, that day, how many would have seriously entertained even the possibility that more than a quarter century would pass without the Bills’ winning another playoff game, to say nothing about another championship?

Especially after the success of the late 1980s and early 1990s, who would have anticipated that?

Consider this another way: Almost no one born since 1990 can recall a playoff victory, so many prospective fans have come of age without one.

The record-breaking, overtime, wild-card-round comeback win against the Houston Oilers on Jan. 3, 1993, isn’t something they can recall.

They don’t even remember the Houston Oilers.

At long last, though, there’s a sense in Western New York that – after several seasons of false starts – the changes that began at One Bills Drive a few seasons ago mean the team really, really is turning the corner.

Although Bills’ fans can be forgiven for being more cautious than they used to be, maybe – just maybe – this time the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train.

Maybe – just maybe – playoff success is in the offing.

That possibility brings us to this: Late in this year’s season, what may be a particularly important Bills game is on a certain couple’s one-year wedding anniversary.

Yes, you may know where this is going.

The husband suggested to the wife that, if the Bills’ season hasn’t tanked by then, they could do whatever she’d like to do within reason all day long and that at 8:15 p.m. Eastern Time, they’d watch Monday Night Football.

Mrs. Elf, who isn’t from Western New York and has never been to an NFL game, laughed, because she knew her husband wasn’t kidding.

Randy Elf, a Bills’ fan since middle school, is among fans who are more cautious than they used to be.

COPYRIGHT 2020 BY RANDY ELF.

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