Going into this Sunday’s game, the odds of the Buffalo Bills making the playoffs are less than one percent.
As seen in Despite the lifting of the curse, Peterman and the Jill-less Bills drop the ball, like most fans in western New York, this season I forsook the team many games ago.
So it’s that time of the year — like 18 out of the last 19 — when we choose our backup bandwagon favorite.
In my case, the choice is easy. I lived in Rhode Island from 1981 – 1989 and again from 1994 – 2003. Especially during that latter period — as the Bills dynasty was starting to fade — I shifted to supporting the Patriots — as a backup bandwagon favorite — who made the Super Bowl following the 1985, 1996, 2001 and 2003 seasons and have never looked back.Shuffling off this Bills’ mortal coil and journeying back to that old flame — the Pats — conjures memories, romantic or not.
In 1985, I was at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. 1985 was not a good year to be a Buffalo fan as the Bills sleepwalked through a 2 – 14 failed campaign. By contrast, New England stunningly upset Miami in the AFC title game to face the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.
I watched the game with Kate at the now-gone, then-iconic SPATS on Thayer Street on Providence’s East Side. Still mostly socially obtuse, I was not sure if the watching was a date or maybe a prelude to a date. As I recall, the Sunday football soirée was Kate’s idea.
For some reason, I distinctly remember Kate remarking that the initial kickoff — anticipation freshly felt — was the most exciting moment of a game (if not love). And, indeed, after a Chicago fumble, New England broke the record for the quickest lead in Super Bowl history with Tony Franklin’s 36-yard field goal 1:19 into the first quarter. It was all downhill for the Patriots as the Bears won 46 – 10.
Ultimately, I was glad I showed valorous discretion as it became clear that Sunday was strictly platonic. Kate became a prominent, successful attorney and law professor. I was like the Patsies against the Bears: out of my league.
In 1996, the Bills were decent at 10 – 6 but the Pats were better, winning the AFC East and facing the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI to whom they lost and that I watched with Susan at the Twin Willows in South County, Rhode Island.
At the time, I was a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, living in beach house in Narragansett next to the Twin Willows and a short walk away from Bonnet Shores with the Jamestown lighthouse visible across the bay.
Susan, then a successful fashion entrepreneur, is also a former Miss Teen Rhode Island. I tease her about the latter, especially in reference to an episode of Seinfeld, “The Chaperone” (1994), when Jerry meets Karen, Miss Rhode Island who is competing in the Miss America pageant and consequently must be chaperoned on her date with Jerry. In jealousy, Kramer says being Miss Rhode Island is no big deal because it’s such a small state.
We had nice times. Swimming at Bonnet Shores all the way into October. Playing croquet on the lawn with Ian the English physics guy who lived upstairs. At the Twin Willows, we twice had dinners with former Governor Bruce Sundlun and Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci. (Rhode Island is a small state and Sue knew a lot of people.) And nights when the lights from the Jamestown beacon shone into the beach house.
We also proved dating can morph into friendship with no harm done. Close to 20 years later, we reconvened on facebook, talking about meeting up half way between Rochester and Rhode Island at a B & B in Saratoga Springs, though we haven’t yet.
In 1998, after two straight AFC titles, the Patriots placed 4th in the division but made the playoffs. On January 3rd, 1999, New England lost a Wild Card Game to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 25 – 10. I watched the game with Debbie at the Coast Guard House in Narragansett, Rhode Island. At the time, Debbie and I had a long distance relationship between Rhode Island and NY/NJ.
We had nice times. For examples, we looked closely at the magnificent stained glass windows in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Wakefield, RI. At the Coast Guard House where we watched that playoff game, earlier we attended a touring performance of Leonard Nemoy’s one man play, Vincent. At the time, Debbie gave tours at the Metropolitan Museum and found Nemoy’s interpretation of Van Gogh compelling.
In the elevated porch at the beach house, Debbie toiled away on a dissertation about Isamu Noguchi. On New Years Eve, 2000, we were at a party in a rural Connecticut farmhouse waiting for Y2K and the flickering off of the electrical and digital grids.
In the end, long distance was hard to sustain. Nevertheless, Debbie and I parted as friends. I recall how we both “discovered” the internet and email during the 2000 presidential recount in Florida. As the drama reached its climax in the Supreme Court, we followed the story in real time and sent a flurry of our first emails.
Debbie continues to do great things as a curator and art history educator (and mom).
By 2001, being a Patriots fan was getting easy. That year, Buffalo finished at 3-13, last in the AFC East division for the first time since 1985. Meanwhile, the Patriots, led by Tom Brady who replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe, won the AFC East with an 11 – 5 record. After surviving an epic overtime victory over the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional playoffs, the Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams 20 – 17 in Super Bowl XXXVI.
A few years before the 2002 game at The Decatur, I reconnected with Nomi, then studying for a Master’s Degree in Library Science at URI and also working at the library reference desk. About six years earlier, Nomi had been a top student in the Early American Literature course I taught. After receiving her MLS, Nomi would also earn a Master’s Degree in American Studies in Boston.
In the city, we took long walks across Providence’s gothic East Side, sometimes ending at the Hot Club for a Sam Addams on the deck. In the country, we took long walks on the Narragansett Bay’s shoreline from Bonnet Shores to URI’s Bay Campus, one time chancing across — and being invited to — a feast of fresh corn and freshly caught lobster cooked in pits of charcoal.
At the beach house, Nomi did her library school homework and also read the first draft of my dissertation chapter on Stephen Crane juxtaposed with a curious late 19th century economic phenomenon, the bucketshops. Nomi said the draft was clever but superficial. She was right. Despite the mutual attraction, our time together was star-crossed, marked by mutual vacillation and indecision.
A couple of years after we lost touch, I went to The Decatur to watch the Patriots vs. Raiders playoff game. By chance, Nomi was there. At the time, we both lived in Providence’s Armory District. She invited me to join her.
As snow fell in Foxboro, MA just as the snow was filling the streets in Providence, RI, the game was nerve wrenching. With 1:50 left, the Patriots were trailing the Rams 13 – 10. In what seemed to be at first a fumble, a muffed attempted throw by Tom Brady was instead ruled an incomplete pass.
According to the officials — and later backed by the league office — Brady had tucked the ball — rather than fumbling — as he attempted a forward pass. In the sprawling storm, Adam Vinatieri made a 45-yard field goal to send the 2001 AFC divisional game into overtime. Vinitieri would then win the game in overtime with a 23-yard field goal.
As Nomi and I talked between dramatic plays — and felt the warmth of Sam Addams — lingering regrets on either side softened. We laughed at our foibles and gossiped about a teacher we’d had in common, Arthur R., the disgraced Hawthorne scholar who once infatuated Nomi and was now banished to lowly Salem State University.
After the Patriots won in overtime, we walked together in the snow as far as to Dexter Park, and then went our separate ways.
NOTE: In 2015, I sent Nomi some poems about Rhode Island I had written. She responded:
I got both poems. The first one definitely evokes a strong sense of place-providence in the 80s? Reminds me of the Marriage Plot a little. I’m not sure what to make of the second one…hopefully you are the mystic… but the writing is good. Good luck with them. Much of my time spent in providence feels blurry now but I do remember going to see the bell! Take care, Nomi
Actually, Nomi misremembered “the bell” as the organ in the upper alcove of Brown’s Sayles Hall that we had once tried to find and now plays a role in the below aforementioned poem:
A Thirty Year Old Prophesy
Caressing the still visible pinkish line with its sixteen stitches,
For thirty years he imagined telling the story to great effect over wine at tables for two.
Slyly he recounted how he had taken a Brown girl inside Sayles Hall. Coaxing her upward,
Climbing a ladder to a musty, nearly dark alcove, sweater breached and bra unhinged.
Suggesting the math classrooms downstairs would be more amenable to their purposes.
The fall, the nail, the glass, the blood. The air cast, the sixteen stitches.
No doubt the gay organist who used the alcove placed a curse.
Because later he would take a RISD girl to the scene of the crime.
This time the organist was booming fugues from the Phantom of the Opera.
Chastened, he offered she go down first.
The fall, the nail, the glass, the blood. The air cast, the seventeen stitches.
Needless to say, the wound was fatal to our budding romance.
He always ended, squinting, that one Campus Dance he planned to take a woman
Back to the second floor of Sayles Hall when on the steps below the window at midnight
The Jabberwocks sang Ever True to Brown.
There and then he would propose.
Who knows, it might be a stranger he had just met. An old love back for Reunion Weekend.
It might be you. Curses don’t last forever.
* * * *
In the afternoon before the Dance, those not wanting to overpay for their liquor
Tape bottles of Tanqueray and Old Bombay underneath their assigned tables.
By 10:30, the bottles are empty and the revelers are back in line paying double prices.
The clear skies above Providence keeping its celestial promise for an evening.
Ever the same twelve thousand people Under the Elms.
Rows of Japanese lanterns making the Green look like a colonial outpost.
The Big Band announcing that happy days are here again.
Dancers dancing as if it were 1955 or 1965 or 1975 or 1985.
Kisses melting time.
* * * *
Said to be comfortable in his bachelorhood, they had met at the University track one June day.
She was young. Improbably young. Only 28.
They had made love in a Narragansett beach house as the Beavertail Lighthouse
Sent continual beacons of light through the window whose rhythm matched their own.
Somehow he sweet talked her into the Reunion and Dance.
She found his old story clichéd and obvious.
And she was from Manhattan and to her it was just another crowded affair.
And it might rain. And they would have to stay in dorms.
Fifteen minutes before the Jabberwocks were to begin, he went into Sayles alone.
Seeing her in the crowd, tipsily flirting with a circle
Of Class of ‘65ers, he beckoned.
Smiling, laughing, waving back, she returned to the conversation
With a man wearing a hat shaped like the head of a Brown bear
That made him look like a fool.
Later back in the Wriston Quad dorm she admitted
She had more fun than expected. The old guys were a hoot when drunk.
Was that him waving? It was dark and hard to see.
Too bad her train left so soon and she couldn’t stay the whole weekend.
See also A Phone Call to Manhattan