Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Buffalo in December---Bills, Jills, Chills, and Thrills
If you happen to be walking near the New England Patriots dressing room, you can almost make out the tune that quarterback Tom Brady is humming before the game: “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”
And snow it did prior to the recent Patriot-Bills game on December 10th in Buffalo. Nippy cold. Zeros degrees in Canada. Thirty on the other side of the Peace Bridge.
That kind of weather doesn’t faze Brady. He has won eighteen straight games in frigid weather. He has yet to lose.
Our party headed from “The County” in blustery conditions. Naturally, the most difficult weather we encountered was from Hillier to the Carrying Place. But on a December morning, the trip was smooth sailing all the way to Buffalo—even the customs stop took less than five minutes.
In less than five hours we were at the gates of Ralph Wilson Stadium---amid the hoopla affectionately known as “tail gating”.
We were certainly not the only Canadians in the park. There are thousands of football fans who cross the border for the games in Buffalo, and in Cleveland. Road trips are booked in the previous spring in anticipation of the fall season. Bubba and Darlene Dale organize a fabulous busload every year to Orchard Park. Bubba coaches one of the Trenton entries in the Belleville Minor Football league, and is always on the lookout for new plays. The crew from Starboard Communications also frequents the park for Bills’ games, then hosts the Monday night Football Game at Crabby Joe’s. They have also lined up a Super Bowl extravaganza at the North Front Street eatery in Belleville.
To my good fortune, I sat with a wonderful man from Maine, who had coached football and baseball at Bowdoin College. . Howard Vandersea now works as the Northeast Region Coordinator of the National College Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The organization finds opportunities for young athletes to attend college. Howard shared some of the nuances of the game with me, thankfully without being condescending---although his position was definitely slanted toward the Patriots! Also employed at Bowdoin is Belleville’s Terry Meagher---a recent inductee into the Belleville Sports Hall of Fame. Meagher began coaching at Bowdoin in 1983, following an impressive collegiate career at Boston University.
At two minutes past one, the Bills kicked off to get things under way. Both teams were ineffective in their first possessions, until Bills’ second year Quarterback J P Losman hit wide receiver Lee Evans for a long strike to the Pats ten yard line. Following two ineffective plays, and two false start penalties---inexcusable at that time---Losman lofted a pass into the end zone in the general direction of Sam Aiken. The Pats Asante Samuel picked it off, and according to a wizened old sage, “That was all she wrote”.
The New Englanders took possession on their own 20 yard line, marched the ball downfield with military precision, and Brady rolled into the Bills’ end zone to chalk up the first six points. The Bills did not get another sniff of success until the Patriots had racked up thirty-five points.
Another local hero who played for the Bills for three years, and Canadian favourite Doug Flutie came into the game for the Patriots mid way through the fourth quarter. He garnered more applause from the Buffalo faithful than did most of the Bills did all day. Flutie threw a couple of balls, ran a little, and scramble once or twice to let us know that there is still magic in those forty-two year old wheels.
I spoke with Flutie after the game as he sat quietly in the locker room. He flashed a smile when I indicated I was from the other side of the border. He is on record as saying that his greatest football days were spent in Toronto---leading the Argonauts to two Grey Cups. He also picked up a ring with Calgary in 1992. He was the MVP in all three Grey Cup games. Always gracious, he added: “It was really nice to be received the way I was when I went into the game”. When asked about Brady’s game, he added: “Tommy just stood out there and threw the ball. He amazes me every week. There’s always some aspect of the game that comes up. Today he managed the game, the conditions, everything.” Flutie previously had spent three seasons with the Bills, and they have struggled to find an acceptable substitute in the interim.
For many Bills’ fans, there will be no rest until they return to the glory days. Callers to the radio talk shows have all kinds of suggestions to help the team. There is talk about bringing back Marv Levy to coach. He will celebrate his 80th birthday next year---perhaps a ten year deal would be wise! Not! Others suggest resurrecting QB Jim Kelly. It has been ten years since he took a snap. Move on, people.
President and General Manager Tom Donahoe and Head Coach Mike Mularkey are the targets of most of the venom from the fans. Tough crowd, tough crowd.
Losman gained a little respect for the Bills when he hit Josh Reed for a TD with less than three minutes remaining in the game. That score averted a zero on the Bills’ stats sheet, silencing the hounds, momentarily. Final score---35-7.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has five Super Bowl rings to his credit. He was most pleased with the way his team played throughout the game. They converted many third down opportunities---the offence rang up 32 first downs. That eclipsed a previous team record of twenty-one. He said that his team played their best game in all three areas: offence, defence, and special teams. But his mind was set on preparation for his next game against Tampa Bay.
And that’s the way it is in the NFL. It’s a “What have you done for me lately?” mind set. And until there is a hint of success in Buffalo, the natives will remain mighty restless.
13 Hurst Lane
Box A-2 R R 1
Wellington ON K0K 3L0
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