JIM SHULTZ: The real super powers of the Buffalo Bills

Jim Shultz

Maybe it is the sweet revenge of the Bills clobbering the Kansas City Chiefs on their home field the week before last. Or Josh Allen vaulting over a Chief’s defensive man like he was just a low fence in the way of a first down. Or the Bills defense introducing the Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, to a pair of things called “getting sacked” and “getting intercepted.”

Perhaps it is one of the great recent off-the-field Bills moments, like last week when Allen told a young interviewer on Nickelodeon that he could easily beat Tom Brady a in chicken wing eating contest. “I think that I could eat at least 50 wings.” Or when Allen wandered into the Bills locker room wearing his old California high school hoodie, and it turned into 2,500 Firebaugh Eagles hoodies getting made and sold to Bills fans, raising $100,000 for Allen’s old school.

Despite Monday night’s last-minute loss in Tennessee (you can’t win every week), the current super powers of the Buffalo Bills are undeniable, and it not just about the team.

Bills fans like to boast that they are the best fans anywhere. I can’t verify that for sure, but I can tell you this. I lived in San Francisco during the great 49ers dynasty of the 1980s and 1990s — Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, five Super Bowl wins. The fandom there was strong, but nothing compared to what has been going on in these parts these past few years, and now especially.

A few weeks ago my son-in-law Michael and his best friend since childhood, Marcus, both serious tailgate veterans, skipped work to take their toddler daughters together to a Bills practice. They believe that a serious Bills education must begin early. My granddaughter is 4 years old and can name more Bills players than I can. And she would never be caught on game day not wearing her tiny #17 jersey. Red, white and blue flags with Bills logos on them seem to hang everywhere. The Allen-Diggs signs displayed in people’s yards outnumber those of any politician.

Some of this magic has to do with the real prospect of the Bills going to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly three decades. Some of this has to do with the quiet charms of Allen, who offers up a master class in how to seduce half a state. Two years ago a New York City reporter asked him if was disappointed that he wasn’t playing for a New York team. He famously replied that he already played for the only NFL team actually in New York state. That may have cemented the deal with Bills fans more than any touchdown.

But the deeper super powers of the Bills hit me last week when I had a brief conversation with an elderly fellow named Bob, as he sat on a bench one afternoon outside Steamworks Coffee (which, by the way, sells Bills cookies). As we talked about the blowout against the Chiefs the night before, he said, “It’s great, it gives everyone something to look forward to.”

Think about that word for a minute: “everyone.”

Our country is living in a difficult moment in which we have become obsessed by our divisions — over politics and race, over masks and vaccinations, over urban versus rural. Right now here in Western New York we share something that cuts through all that — a team on a field and the fans who cheer it on every week, in basements, bars and living rooms.

When Bills fans talk with one another about their team, no one cares if the other fan voted for Biden or Trump. They don’t care if they carry a vaccination card in their pocket or an NRA membership.

It reminds me of a piece of Buddhist philosophy I stumbled across in a book recently. You can call this the secret Buddhism of the Buffalo Bills, if you like. Most people, towns and even nations have some sort of "bad seeds" growing within them — like anger or resentment — which just grow and become more and more corrosive over time. The real antidote to all that is to find and nurture what is good in us and others, like kindness, friendship and generosity.

The enthusiasm for the Bills that now sweeps across a whole region of New York reminds us what it feels like to be unified. It reminds us of the value and the joy of celebrating with one another when we win, and of sharing a common disappointment together when we do not.

Our country and world have a lot of serious problems to solve these days, problems not on a football field. One thing that is certain is that no problem, anywhere, ever gets solved when all we do is fight with one another. What we actually have to do is function as a team. That is true in Lockport, in Western New York, in the nation, and in the world. Maybe we not only need to cheer for the Bills right now; maybe we also need to learn how to be more like them as well. Go Bills!

Jim Shultz is the founder and executive director of the Democracy Center and a father and grandfather in Lockport. He can be reached by email at: JimShultz@democracyctr.org.

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