Celebrating and social distancing in Brighton

Celebrating and social distancing in Brighton

Bonnie Brae Avenue in Brighton. Fans aghast that referees ruled the Colts did not fumble on their last drive. [Photo: David Kramer, 1/09/21]

On Saturday, the Bills ended a 25 year playoff win drought. I was happy. I was at the last playoff victory on December 30th, 1995 and did not expect to wait a quarter of a century for the next instalment.¹ Yet, in our era of pandemic football, the thrill felt muted, but for a gathering of die hard Bills fans on Bonnie Brae Ave in Brighton.

1/09/21. The 6,600 fans at Bill Stadium [Photo: David Kramer from the CBS broadcast]

From our televised vantage point, the excitement of the playoffs is interwoven with the vicarious experience we feel with those fans actually in the stadium: the bacchanalia of tailgating, the images of the Bills Mafia sitting shoulder to shoulder, spilling beer on themselves, the sturdy western New Yorkers shirtless despite any polar vortexes, the decibel breaking roar meant to inspire the good guys and unnerve the bad guys. 6,600 appropriately masked and socially distanced fans did their best, but were a pale substitute for an exultant Bill leaping into an adoring mob scene after a touchdown.

Normally, I watch Bills playoff games at Jeremiah’s Tavern on Monroe Avenue. At Jeremiah’s and all of Monroe Avenue — in the orange zone — the best people could do was pre-game takeout. The tvs were blank and the barstools empty.

Jeremiah’s Tavern, Monroe Avenue [Photos: David Kramer, 1/09/21]

Happily, I found a venue that made up for the collective pleasure of sports bar watching. On a driveway on Bonnie Brae, John Yager and his neighbors have created their own season-long version of tailgating.

As explained by John, he designed the tailgate to be covid-safe. First, the event is outside. Second, the chairs are more than six feet apart. And, of course, masks are required at all times, unless having a beer which is done at a distance from others. In the beginning of the season, people did outdoor grilling. However, once the pandemic surged, the outside spread was discontinued.

(left) John Yager # 34 and son Matthew #17; (right) John. [Photos: David Kramer, 1/09/21]

John is originally from Buffalo and attended every home playoff game during the glory days, except, coincidentally, the last time the Bills won, beating Miami 37 – 22 on December 30th, 1995.¹ I asked if Buffalo Buffalo Bills fans are different from Rochester Buffalo Bills fans.

John says almost everyone in Buffalo is a Bills fan; while in Rochester more people are aligned with other teams or have dual allegiance. While John jokes that he may have the purest Bills pedigree at the gathering, he thinks Rochester Bills fans are pretty darn good. John’s faith was justified when the Rochester Mafia booed unmercilessly when the referees unjustifiably — in the eyes of the fans — ruled that the Colts did not fumble on their last drive.

(left) Fan gives thanks that the Colt’s last ditch Hail Mary fell short; (right) the couple with dog was a two person pod, so they were safe. Some of the crew pictured here and above are Brian, Pattie and David, John and Karen, John’s wife Anna and his daughter Ella, Megan, Pete and his father Joe, Keith and another Brian [Photos: David Kramer, 1/09/21]

The game itself was too close for comfort. The fans finally breathed a sigh of relief when Jacoby Brissett’s last play heave fell short of the endzone. Of course, all will be back next Saturday night when the Ravens come to town.

After the game, I met a group of Bills fans at Cobb’s Hill returning from a private party. Note: they should have worn their masks for the photo.

¹POSTSCRIPT

On December 30th, 1995, I and my friend Dean and father Eugene went to Bills-Dolphins Wild Card game. It was my first NFL game and the first for my father since watching the New York Giants play in Yankee Stadium in the 1940s.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, December 31st, 1995. (left caption) Eye of the tiger Thurman Thomas (34) ran roughshod through the Dolphins, totaling 158 of Buffalo’s 341 rushing yards on 25 carries. (right caption) Sweet victory Thurman Thomas’ 158 yards rushing was the second-best postseason performance of his career.

The cause célèbre of the day was the return of the Dolphin’s Bryan Cox to Rich Stadium. Two years, earlier Cox raised his middle finger on both hands, offering a double-barreled salute to Bills fans, as he walked on the field for warm-ups. Cox had another incident on Dec. 17th, 1995, two weeks before our game. Cox and Bills fullback Carwell Gardner were ejected for fighting and nearly came to blows again in the tunnel between the locker-rooms. Cox, booed lustily by fans, responded by spitting on the field in the direction of the fans five times.

According to the Miami Herald, “Cox brought the Dolphins plenty of unwanted attention by raising his middle finger on both hands, offering a double-barrel salute to Bills fans, as he walked on the field for warm-ups before Miami’s 22-13 win early in the 1993 season. Cox was fined $10,000 for that incident, which led to a lawsuit by Cox against the NFL. Cox sued the league and won, saying it did a poor job of creating a healthy work environment because security measures were inadequate.” (DolphinsTalk.com)

Throughout the stadium, fans brought large styrofoam hands with an upraised middle finger, wagged whenever Cox made a play. Signs read “Miami Sucks Cox” that I found juvenile and amusing. 25 years later, I see in the signs some borderline homophobia.

One play remains vivid in my memory. In the fourth quarter, little used running back Tim Tindale burst up the middle for a 44 yard touchdown run, effectively cementing the win for the Bills.

I recall that usually mild mannered Dean rose to his feet and shouted at the top of his lungs: TINDALE! TINDALE! TINDALE! Dean was so impassioned that he sparked a chant from some college students sitting near us in the nosebleed seats. Dean has no such recollection and assures me it never happened.

I also recalled how different the game looks in person versus tv. Television magnifies the violence of the game as cameras zoom in on the point of contact, making collisions look especially vicious. One would think players would be carted off every play. However, from the nosebleed seats where you can see the whole field, the contest looks less like a giant ant war with constantly writhing bodies and more like a dance. On most plays, the majority of players are actually trying to avoid head on collisions. Like ballet dancers, they twist and dart around, shielding their bodies from potentially debilitating impacts.

On the way back to Rochester, we ate at Shore’s

Long a western NY icon, Shore’s Orchard Downs Restaurant was demolished in 2001. [David Kramer’s collection] From Illuminating western and central New York history through Phillumeny

THE BILLS SERIES — WITH SOME JILLS AND PATRIOTS

Vivid memories of the four year Super Bowl run

ESPN’s “Four Falls of Buffalo” and “Vivid memories of the four year Super Bowl run” and still jilted by the Bills

Love has found a way! Buffalo Jills coming to the Otter to sign “Jack the Ball,” Saturday the 23rd, 6-9pm

“Bring back the Jills:” Cheerleaders deserve their stage

No Jills; no playoffs for the Bills

Despite the lifting of the curse, Peterman and the Jill-less Bills drop the ball.

Bills make the playoffs without the Jills; remembering Jacksonville vs. Buffalo in ’96

The Jills ball as talisman thwarted; the curse is back.

Why I am rooting for the Patriots

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, credit Talker

Returning to the fold: better to have loved and lost

Watching the Bills fall short and recalling the most famous “blacked out” game, The Comeback, January 3rd, 1993

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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