Tonight is one of the last home games of the season against a talented Chicago Blackhawks squad. The Sabres have found themselves in a true David and Goliath story, but, in this case, David is a pacifist. Despite this, First Niagara Center is a sellout. Fans are decked out in full Sabres attire, and the arena smells like a popcorn factory. After a long day of school, nothing is more relaxing than this seat—I’d take this over a lawn chair in the Bahamas any day.
To fill you in on the Sabres’ current situation, I will give you a very informative and meticulously thought-out explanation. They’re awful. They are actually, genuinely competing for last place. This is because last place gets the best chance of winning the first pick of the draft, and the product of this draft pick is a unanimously-credited, once-in-a-generation forward named Connor McDavid. Buffalo fans want this guy so badly, that they are willing to cheer for the opposing team to win. But why still come to the games and support the team? Maybe their failure is something people collectively take pride in claiming: that they are loyal even when the team isn’t doing well. If this is the case, then Buffalo fans are the most loyal in the world. They literally sell out and fill up the stadium every game despite never standing a chance.
It has occurred to me that there is an interesting phenomenon here in Buffalo. Regardless of performance, no one ever seems to lose faith in their beloved hockey team. Even when the Bills win more games in a season than the Sabres, turnout is always at a maximum. But why is that? Why stay attached? It’s like gambling. You entrust your faith in something, like a lottery ticket, with the hopes that there will be some sort of emotional payoff. If I had to describe a Sabres fan in three words or less, I wouldn’t. I would avoid words like rabid or psychotic. I would say passionate, loyal and patient. Probably Polish or Irish. Loving, caring and intelligent would be important traits as well.
As I look at the thousands of Buffalonians wearing Sabres jerseys, I wonder how people can be so faithful. To be clear, I’m not questioning it because I follow the Sabres devoutly as well. Rather, I’m trying to draw a conclusion as to why people care so much. It’s possible that, throughout evolution, natural selection has shaped the species of humans in Buffalo to innately cheer on their home team. However, with this logic, you would think that genetics would have shaped them to sweat rock salt, have more insulated skin or even have shovels for arms. But because I’m typing this without a problem, we know this to not be the case.
Could it be that there is nothing else to do in Buffalo? I don’t think so, because the city has loads to offer. Staying at home and enjoying free time with company is nice, but there are only so many snowmen you can make in your backyard. While there are plentiful activities to enjoy on a night out in Buffalo, no other event can bring such a massive amount of people into the city at once. And this is great. It’s good for restaurants, local businesses and the occasional traffic jam.
The Blackhawks score the first goal. The crowd is going nuts. The game started just a minute ago. I don’t even think the puck dropped, and the Sabres are already losing. And yet, the crowd is cheering the goal as if the Sabres just successfully took a shot on net. Why is this? It’s a win-win. If we win, then we get to witness it, and if they lose, then we can win later by winning this draft pick. People are rooting for their home team, and paradoxically don’t have a problem if they lose either. It’s a contradiction that could best be compared to someone rooting for both Brutus to stab and kill Caesar, while also cheering on Caesar to hold on just a little bit longer.
The Blackhawks score again. The Sabres’ performance in nauseating. So nauseating, the five-year-old kid next to me with a Blackhawks shirt starts vomiting profusely, clearing out an entire row of people. If the fat lady isn’t singing yet, she’s definitely starting to take out the sheet music.
But the Sabres will never cause their fans to lose total faith. Very few Buffalonians will genuinely despise the Sabres without having at least some compassion for the organization. Unless we found out that the Sabres organization was filled with a bunch of die-hard Maple Leafs fanatics. That would be a terrible case of misplaced loyalty, like finding out the Easter Bunny was the one who egged your house every other night for the past decade.
Sabres score two goals in a row. At this point the game is tied again. After scoring their first goal, the crowd vehemently responds with tens of claps. The second goal brings even more excitement to the crowd because the possibility of the Sabres winning a game is something to go home and tell your friends, who were also watching the game.
Sabres are up by one goal. The crowd begins to chant “Let’s go Blackhawks,” but then something quite telling occurs. Part of the crowd starts booing the chant, revealing that Buffalo fans are willing to sarcastically cheer the success of the opposing team after the damage has occurred, but not to encourage the team’s success beforehand. This is an important distinction. Fans are cheering the result of the outcome since it happened, rather than wishfully anticipating its occurrence. Granted, in my opinion, if the Sabres are going to have a bad season, then they might as well finish in last place, because that’s the best chance for success in the future.
Blackhawks tie it up, then net a devastating goal to take the lead. Sabres fans are high-fiving Blackhawks fans as the Sabres fatefully blow this lead. Befriending the enemy? That’s like if a chicken willingly sat down and had dinner with you at Duff’s Famous Wings. At this point, it’s over for the Sabres. I am in disbelief that Buffalo lost this one; my hopes were so high. Imagine if you woke up one day and read that the Republicans had endorsed Obama. That is the feeling of disbelief I am experiencing. And yet, in reflection, I am still rooting for the Sabres to win their next game. I’ve spent a large portion of my life consciously rooting for the Sabres to win the Stanley Cup, and I’m willing to wait patiently for a title. If anything, I stay loyal (maybe this could be a Sabres-themed hashtag #IStayLoyal) because I anticipate the satisfaction gained from the Sabres having success in the future.
Buffalo is a fantastic city, despite a currently not-so fantastic hockey team. But there is hope, and even if there wasn’t any, Sabres fans would provide enough for there to actually be hope. People identify their fanhood as if it were a nationality, sparking loyalty and patriotism to the Buffalo Sabres. Western New Yorkers have maintained a faithfulness in the face of very little success. While one of the few things rarer in Buffalo than a bad chicken wing remains to be a Sabres victory, there is one thing even more rare; a Buffalonian who doesn’t support their hometown hockey team.
Horgan is a member of
the class of 2017.