In the fifth grade I had been diagnosed with a bone infection. It came on suddenly and within days I was unable to walk. I spent 6 weeks in the hospital and another 6 weeks at home as I recovered from this near-death infection. My hospital stay started in December of 1983. As I entered the hospital in constant pain and fighting for my life my mother was by my side. She was though a single parent with another child at home. Once I was out of danger and recovering, she had to go back to work and take care of my brother. For a young man spending this much time alone in a hospital I looked for something, anything to latch onto. And I found the Washington Redskins.
I was just starting to get into football as a sport but had not yet picked a team. My father was not a New York Native, so I had not been indoctrinated into a local team. One Sunday the Washington Redskins were playing the Detroit Lions in a playoff game. I tuned in thinking maybe I would root for Detroit as my father was from Michigan. During the absolute shellacking, the Lions were taking I decided that I would root for Washington the rest of the playoffs. It did not hurt that there was a prominent player on the team named Dave Butz and my 11-year-old self-found that funny as hell.
As I continued to get healthy, Washington continued to win. They went on to win the Superbowl that year and I was a fan for life after that. Or so I thought.
For the next almost 40 years I stuck with Washington through thick and thin. And yes, there was a good deal of thin. I organized my life around games. When I moved back to Syracuse in 1995, I started watching games at Tully’s on Erie Blvd every week. I met a group of friends there, also Washington fans, and looked forward to each Sunday. I met other friends online at various forums throughout the web. I even for two years wrote a weekly blog about my beloved football team.
My wife arranged for me to go to my first live game, ironically, in Buffalo before we were married and suffered through a game on our honeymoon in 2004. Almost every year we made a pilgrimage down to Fed Ex stadium. My one and only trip to the Football Hall of Fame was when Art Monk was finally inducted. I cheered when Joe Gibbs came back as Head Coach and had my heart break when he could not regain his former glory. I looked on in despair as my favorite college player Donovan McNabb could not achieve greatness in the Burgundy and Gold. I instructed my children to learn the fight song proudly and would make them sing it after touchdowns. I loved being a fan of this team for an exceptionally long time.
In 2018 tings really started to change for me. The weight of the Snyder era had fallen heavy on my heart. It was not just about the lack of football success or coaching carousel, though that was a part of it. It was about the way a once proud franchise turned from a fan driven entity to a profit at all costs machines. Then the cheerleader scandal was brought to light where young women were taken advantage of and abused under the direction of this corrupt ownership. Sexual harassment allegations against Snyder have still not been settled and he is still allowed to be an owner in this league. The name change, something I came to accept as an inevitably, was managed almost as a cover up for other scandals instead of the serious decision it should have been. I no longer enjoyed watching this team and was ashamed to wear their merchandise. Even through all of that I tried to hang on as a fan and hope for better days.
Like most things though, Donald Trump and the election of 2016 factored in. The fan group that I had been a part of for nearly 20 years started to splinter and fight. Before this we had survived every major election even though our ideologies were as diverse as America. Late in 2017 we stopped getting together to watch games. There was never any big argument, we just…stopped. We could not separate politics and football and it was easier to go our separate ways. I was not really interested in watching the team anymore and in 2019 I stopped reserving time in my schedule to watch the games. When they announced the bland new name of the Commandeers, I felt nothing but shame for a once proud franchise.
Finally, this summer came the final straw. The team allowing their defensive coordinator to make light of the insurrection, which took place in their supposed home of DC, was a bridge too far for me. The response, as often was the case with the Dan Snyder scandals, came too late and it was too light for me to pretend any longer. I was no longer a fan of the Washington football team and could no longer hope that I could be. They had taken the joy out of a sport I loved from the time I was 11 years old in a hospital bed fighting for my life. So, I renounced my fandom.
I was not sure whether or not I would try to even be a football fan anymore. Over the last few years another longtime fandom took prevalence in my little idle time, the Boston Celtics and NBA basketball (that is a story for another day). I did not want to just jump to a new team right away and to be honest the sport of football and the injuries it caused weighed on parts of my conscious, and still do.
But today I have decided. I want football to be back in my life. I want to try and enjoy this game again. For me that means rooting on a team, one team, and being part of the community. So, as I thought about which team I wanted to root for, I decided I should root for a local team for once. A New York team that I could go to games again if the opportunity arose. I wanted a team that I could perhaps find community of sport in again with local fans that I could cheer with and commiserate with. I know no team and no ownership will be perfect. But I needed a fresh start if I were to love this game again. And for a fresh start, I needed a new team.
I decided that I could only support the Buffalo Bills. They are the only team that actually plays in New York. It is the closest team to my current location. I also figured that as a New York Taxpayer I am funding their stadium so that makes me a part owner. I might as well get dividends out of it. I know that some will believe that I am only joining them on their upswing, but I hope my history of sticking through the difficulties of the Washington football team will show I am not a fair-weather fan. I will be with you Bills Mafia through thick and thin.
Here is to a new beginning and loving football again. Go Bills.