When people talk about sports curses, it’s inevitable that the 86-year drought of the Red Sox and the still-standing jinx of the Cubs will be discussed. While the plight of these teams has been very real, there’s little to complain about in the cities themselves, as both Boston and Chicago have been blessed with triumphant franchises in other leagues.
The Bears, Bulls and White Sox have combined to win eight national championships since 1985, while the Celtics are the most storied NBA franchise of all time, amassing 16 championships in their 62-year existence.
Why, then, do members of the sports media find it necessary to cover the desperation of these supposedly
cursed teams when there are entire cities that have yet to feel the glory of a championship? Why do large cities like New York and Chicago get national sympathy when little guys like Buffalo and Cleveland continue to claw their way into big games, only to face the certain agony of defeat without the slightest bit of positive attention?
With all due respect to Cleveland, I’m here to defend Buffalo – a city that has faced the brunt of harassment for over 45 years.
After a disappointing season for the Sabres and talk of the Bills relocating to Toronto, the optimism of Buffalo sports has been sucked dry.
The only hint of a major title that the city has ever tasted came in back-to-back AFL titles in 1964 and 1965, but even those came in a league that folded soon after.
And it’s not like they never came close. The Sabres were the first to get a taste, losing in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1975.
It was during this series that Sabre’s center Jim Lorentz killed a bat with his stick – an omen that may have been behind the team’s Stanley Cup loss in 1999 that hosted the infamous “No Goal” game where Brett Hull’s game-winning goal in triple OT of game six appeared to happen with his skate in the crease.
If the curse of the Sabres has been bad, however, then consider the Bills the unluckiest franchise in sports history. Who can forget the infamous four-peat of Super Bowl losses in the glory days of the early 1990s or the “Music City Miracle” in the 1999 playoffs?
Following the retirement of heralded Buffalo sports figure Jim Kelly in 1996, 11 years of shakiness at the QB position and a revolving door of coaches has left the Bills hopeless, as they have managed to make the playoffs only once in this period.
With this framework of defeat embedded in the DNA of the city, it’s amazing how faithful the fan base has remained. Never has attendance been an issue. Never have the fans, no matter how dire the circumstances, failed to support their city.
Go to a Bills or Sabres game, and you will experience a culture unlike any you have ever seen. Where else do fans start tailgating at 9 a.m. in frigid conditions? Where else will 71,000 people show up to an outdoor hockey game in the dead of winter, as Sabres fans did for the “Winter Classic”?
Curse or no curse, Buffalo fans are the most loyal in the country, and the only reason one might not know this is because there’s no mention of their fanhood outside of Western New York. The only perception that people have of the city is based on the devastating losses of its sports teams and its cold weather.
A national media that prides big-city teams has devoured Buffalo, making it an anomaly in a country that loves the story of the small guy who overcomes adversity to be successful.
That’s just how the fans want it. Having endured four-plus decades of loss and ridicule, it will be that much sweeter when Buffalo sports fans are finally able to rejoice in victory and point and laugh at the same big-market teams whose bottomless salary caps and endless media coverage do nothing to shield their lack of empathy.
But until that day, hope is all that will remain in the hearts of undying Buffalo soldiers.
Milbrand is a member ofthe class of 2008.