By: Jason Sarney
Believe it or not, I once called Western New York home. Four years of college after 17 years of living in the Green and White littered area of Nassau County by way of Queens, New York. It was 1999 and the beginning of the end of the career for hero, legend and GOAT, Dan Marino.
While I opened up my collegiate career with the standard classes and stories, I was about to entire a live lesson of a class. My first live football game.
After starting the 1999 season 7-1, the Dolphins had a rival road game as I was about to wrap up my first semester as a Freshman at the University at Buffalo.
Saturday night, November 7th was the red-letter date. A friend from neighboring Rochester, NY was a Dolphins fan and Bills season ticket holder. The plan was laid out at a late-night watering hole, not being in 100% total faculties and a few hours later, headed to a tailgate.
Being simply a quick trip to Orchard Park away from seeing my idol #13, play live for the first time in my life, and likely only time, I had to accept the invite.
This, all prior to instant Twitter injury updates as there was a “questionable” tag next to Marino’s name that week as he was dealing with a minor injury.
Prior to entering what was then Ralph Wilson Stadium, my friend and I experienced a Bills Tailgate, spread across the front and back yards of the Orchard Park residents. Some even industrious enough to offer their lawn as parking spots while providing food and beverage included in their make-shift game-day fee. (Genius, and a money maker for those with large plots of land and no care for their lawn 8 weekends a season).
A welcoming group of people as shocked as I was, Fin fans and Bills fans enjoyed reminiscing on the Jim Kelly and Marino stories of yore. I was 17, loving live, freezing my rear-end off, and ready to see my idol roughly 20 yards away from my eyeballs.
With the clock moving towards game time, it was time to finish the contents of the red solo cup and literally head over a river and through the woods to the Bills football house we went.
Soon, the glimmer of their cathedral in The Ralph broke through sight lines through the wilderness, as dozens of fans navigated the terrain from their yards to the parking lot of their place of worship. It was around this time that the saints of Buffalo became sinners and turned into the fans we all see and know today during their pre-game rituals.
Fin fans beware, as once you enter that airspace of Ralph Wilson Stadium, even the very lovely lady who took my $10 and gave me a parking space on her lawn and pretzels in my hand some 60 minutes prior, called my friend and I a derogatory word with Dolphin in the phrase and we never saw that nice lady again. She vanished upon entry, as I was about to learn that there is no fan base quite like the Bills Mafia.
Now mind you, this was the late 1990’s where the Bills and Fins rivalry was ending a fever pitch of a decade where Buffalo dominated Miami and even saw four Super Bowls. The Bills beat Miami twice along the way in post-seasons in 1990’s Divisional round and 1992’s AFC Championship Game. Take my word for it – every single season, a Mini-Super Bowl in Buffalo is when Miami comes to town.
With minutes before game time two things hit me very quick at my corner endzone seats.
1- Marino was not wearing pads nor a jersey, so it was an immediate let down not getting a chance to witness greatness live. I was crushed.
2- It was going to be a long day, as the condiments started to fly our way.
Yes – if you wear opposing colors to a Bills game, bring a Tide Pen or better yet, another outfit.
So, with an epic battle of Doug Flutie versus Damon Huard I was treated to a 23-3 loss, and was officially introduced to relish. Never a condiment of choice, I just happened to notice that by the 4th quarter I was wearing it as an accessory.
Worse yet, was after every and any point, even PATs, a crowd chorus of “Let’s go Buffa-lo-o” range to a tune that you usually hear at weddings.
Made me sick.
Walking out of a Bills game a losing fan, is something I would never like to see happen again in my life. The very same gentlemen and women who were welcoming us in the woods on the way to the game were pelting us with anything they could find leaving it.
It wasn’t an exit as much as it was an escape. We made it through the woods and over the river again back to my buddy’s hand-me-down Honda from high school, which was not an ideal car for a November in Buffalo.
Nevertheless, a few hours later I returned to my Dorm, with just enough time for NFL Primetime on ESPN to help me re-live the nightmare that was my first ever NFL game.
Oh, if you thought this was going to be a piece praising Buffalo and their fans…no…it’s not.