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Bills Have Turned A Corner

ORCHARD PARK — As the 2020 National Football League season began, this column observed that maybe, just maybe, after 25 years without a Buffalo Bills playoff victory, playoff success was in the offing.

At long last, we recalled, there was a sense in Western New York that — after several seasons of false starts — the changes that began at One Bills Drive a few seasons ago meant the team really was turning the corner.

Although Bills’ fans can be forgiven for being cautious, maybe this time the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t a train, we thought.

Many times in the past quarter century we’ve wondered whether the season we were experiencing would be analogous to the 1988 season.

In 1988, a rising Bills’ team – as the song goes – really made their fans “want to shout.”

That was when a team with a bright future charged through the regular season, won in the playoffs, and came up short in an American Football Conference championship game against the best team in the AFC.

In 1988, the best AFC team was the Cincinnati Bengals. The road to the AFC championship went through southern Ohio.

In 2020, the best AFC team was the Kansas City Chiefs. The road to the AFC championship went through western Missouri.

Not only because of this parallel, but more importantly because 2020 looks like a major milestone on the road to something even better, 2020 looks like it was 1988 again.

Yes, it took many seasons for 1988 to get here again.

During some, it started to feel like it was almost 1988, but the hopes of Bills’ fans crashed with Bills’ fortunes.

Several seasons ago, one Bills’ fan, whose age was still in the single digits, expressed frustration that many fans felt when he said, in an insightful and amusing way, “I like rooting for the Bills. I just don’t like it when I have to get so upset.”

The unspoken response went something like this: “Oh, I have news for you, kid. This team will break your heart worse than any girl ever will.”

He wasn’t alone.

Hardly any Bills’ fans born since 1990 had any memory of a playoff victory.

That changed in 2020.

And it changed with a team whose coaches and players seem to have a refreshing reluctance, when discussing the team’s success, to utter first-person-singular pronouns.

It’s not “I,” “my,” “me,” “mine,” or “myself.” Instead, it’s “we,” “our,” “us,” “ours,” or “ourselves.” Or it’s “they,” “their,” “them,” “theirs,” or “themselves.”

The plural pronouns include the fans.

These are fans who won’t put away their Bills’ garb just because a season has concluded.

Next time you know people who are flying from Charlotte to Buffalo, ask them to count the passengers wearing something showing their loyalty to the Bills.

They’ll be amused. So will you.

Meanwhile, those disappointed in the result of the 2020 AFC championship game might consider this.

Before the 2020 season, it was likely to be a good season yet not a championship season.

Suppose that before the 2020 season, you had heard that the Bills would go 13-3 on a tough regular-season schedule, have the second best AFC record, win two home playoff games, and come up short on the road in the AFC championship game, all with a bright future ahead.

Would you have taken that result? Or would you have instead put all of those chips back onto the table and spun the wheel?

This is a time to be delighted with how far the Bills have come.

As the team continues to build, it might be good to remember an often-repeated admonition of Marv Levy, the most successful head coach in Bills’ history.

“Run, and stop the run.”

The only sports-fan letter Randy Elf has ever written was to Marv Levy, who wrote back to express his thanks and to say that he liked the enclosed Winston Churchill poster so much that he had it framed and mounted on his office wall at the stadium.

COPYRIGHT ç 2021 BY RANDY ELF

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