For this, we drove 1,000 miles?
It seemed like the 68,174 Buffalo-area residents had it out for Waldo Walt and myself and planned to kill us. They elbowed, punched, kicked and shoved us to and fro.
And the noise. I have never stood at the end of Logan Airport runway to listen to jets taking off, but I suspect that would be a summer lullaby compared to the screeching at Ralph Wilson Stadium last Sunday. I had forgotten about the noise after being away from a pro football stadium for decades. But the offer from Tim and Kelly Galucki Tour Services for a Patriots-Bills football game was too good to turn down, even with a 1,000-mile trip.
I don’t know what I did to deserve it (yes, I do), but whenever and wherever I go to a concert or a game, the gods save the biggest jerk on the East Coast for the seat directly behind me. For my personal benefit on Sunday, they found a 300-pound female Buffalo fan who was giving me permanent brain damage by screeching (not screaming) in my ears. I suspect she worked as a human prison siren when she wasn’t at Bills games.
Naturally, we got seats in front of a 40-foot speaker.
Like my 70-year-old hearing isn’t bad enough. It will be far worse now.
We sat high above the playing field Sunday as “our” Patriots slammed out to a 21-0 lead against the Bills. We looked down condescendingly at all these New York state and Canadian fans dressed in Bills hats and shirts. “We” had beaten them 15 times in a row.
They were quiet then.
Then Patriots hero Tom Brady threw not one, two or even three, but four interceptions, and the Bills came back to tie the mighty New England team with three minutes left.
Trust me, you cannot imagine the noise. I thought I knew rabid fans. These Bills people are a breed apart. We wanted the Patriots to win, of course. But these people needed the Bills to win. Winter was coming. They lived in Buffalo, the unofficial snow capital of the country. What else did they have?
The night before the game we shared a ritual Buffalo meal of 300 Buffalo wings (teriyaki, Sicilian, hot and normal) and a “Beef on Weck” sandwich, part of the Galucki Tour Services itinerary. We slept soundly after the 500-mile trip to awake to Buffalo’s version of Disneyland. Beer Disneyland. Loud Beer Disneyland.
We used the Galucki Tour Service for transpiration to and from the stadium to avoid getting pummeled and trampled. Galucki promised to keep us safe in enemy territory and got us there at 9:30 a.m. for a 1 o’clock kickoff — you had to get there early for a good parking space, he explained.
The parking lot was already filled with grills and campfires, more wings, burgers and hot dogs. What do you want? One guy was drinking cherry liqueur out of a bowling ball. Don’t ask. Another guy was cooking with grills on top of his classic Ford Pinto. Again, don’t ask. If you didn’t have your face painted and weren’t dressed in buffalo horns or robes, well, you were not a real fan. If there were 68,174 fans at the stadium, I would guess that 60,000 wore Bills shirts with their favorite player’s name on the back.
Needless to say, Waldo Walt and I wore no Patriots regalia, in case we wanted to see Monday morning. On this rare occasion, Waldo Walt and I were among the most sober people in the house. It wasn’t hard.
At 9:30 a.m., the Buffalo fans already were deep into their coolers and it was a rare Bills fan with an empty hand. I must admit, I had a vodka and tonic out of Galucki’s cooler at 9:30 a.m., which might have been a first (except for some of those Allagash canoe trips). We thought the parking lot fans were heavy drinkers. Then the buses arrived. These Visigoths had their own rock band, set up kegs and stood upside down to get a better angle for drinking straight from the tap, to get ready for the game.
I brought actual long pants plus foul-weather gear for a football game in Buffalo in late September. Naturally, it was 80 degrees.
As the game wore on, the Patriots and Tom Brady wilted in the Buffalo heat. The Bills tied the game, then kicked the winning field goal with a few seconds left. For the first time in 16 games the Bills actually won, 34-31, going to 3-0 to actually lead the division.
You cannot imagine the noise. I actually stuck my fingers in my ears to protect what little hearing I have left.
The Buffalo fans mocked our beloved Brady and the Patriots. As a final insult, they even sang “Sweet Caroline,” the unofficial theme song of the Boston Red Sox.
Waldo Walt and I looked at each other. What the hell? Sure they had elbowed, punched, kicked and shoved us all afternoon. They didn’t mean to. They were Buffalo Bills fans, they were 1-15 against the Pats and winter was coming across those New York plains.
As we contemplated the 500-mile trip home, we joined them in song and celebration.
“So good. So good. So good.”