“We think, and many people think, that the town needs to win a major sports championship, to correct the inferiority complex in the psyche in the community.”
-Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, NY
Welcome to Buffalo, New York.
So, the very worst has occurred. The Buffalo Sabres have lost our super star co-captains to free agency. Both Daniel Briere, and my beloved Chris Drury have moved on to new teams. Personally, I took the news surprisingly hard. I’m not going to lie, there were tears at Kate Manor when the news broke that Chris Drury had signed with the Rangers. Actual tears. For a sports star. The loss of a man I have never met, but who I have crowned as my zen-hockey hero, reduced me to tears. As I sat on my couch, absurdly crying, I realized that I wasn’t crying for Chris Drury. I was crying for Buffalo, and for the frustration I feel living here, and the for my honest hope that Buffalo can thrive as a community.
It seems that Chris Drury chose a near identical deal to the one he turned down in Buffalo, to play for the Rangers in NYC. There are a million reasons he might have made this decision. I couldn’t begin to speculate on all of the factors involved with his choice, but the one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that Buffalonians took his choice personally. I took his choice personally. When I realized that Chris Drury was leaving Buffalo, my very first impulse was to blame the town. My hackles went up. How dare he leave us? Why does no one understand the charm of Buffalo? What is wrong with Buffalo?
In conversations online with fellow Buffalo hockey fans, I have come to more fully understand how deeply this community feels it needs to win a championship. Don’t forget, in the early nineties the Buffalo Bills lost FOUR Super Bowls IN A ROW. Four times. In a row. That is a tough pill for any community to swallow, but even tougher for poor, scrappy Buffalo. This is a town aching to be recognized, begging for validation and, and starving for victory.
This town is insane about sports. Nuts. I got completely wrapped up in it this spring. The Buffalo Sabres charmed the hell out of me and I finally start loving Buffalo. The city came alive. I saw the very best of what this city can be: hopeful, bold, joyful, and brave. But, in the aftermath of the underwhelming playoff performance, and now the free agent debacle, I’m seeing the worst of Buffalo: furious, desperate, insecure, and whiny. Now, this is all stuff that I might not have noticed even last year, but this year, I am all over the sports news. I have invested myself in what the city clearly holds most dear, Buffalo sports, and I have to say, it’s freaking me out.
Sadly, I don’t think that it will be the collective fan enthusiasm that we as a community will remember from this year of hockey. I think that all we will think about when we consider the 06-07 hockey season is the heartbreak of watching our captains willingly leave as soon as they had the chance. I have never, ever, ever, ever heard anyone talk about how enthusiastic the town was about the Bills in the early nineties. It’s all about “wide right“. I have NEVER heard anyone talk about the ’99 Sabres, without wailing “No Goal“. No, this town absolutely clings to lost championships. I don’t point fingers of blame. I’m a Buffalonian now, and as such, I carry the burden of our perpetually losing ways, right along side the born and bred. (And if you want proof, may I remind you that actual tears of sorrow were shed at my house yesterday.)
I think that Buffalo needs to surrender the OH MY GOD WE’LL DIE WITHOUT A CHAMPIONSHIP thing. It’s not working for us. At all. The best thing about this town is it’s grass roots, tenacity. No sports championship is ever going to save us. We have to save ourselves, from the bottom up. It’s the only way. Winning the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl is pretty hard to do, and worse, it is something no amount of fan appreciation will ever accomplish. We can’t will our teams to victory with the sheer force of our fandom. We can’t. I’m not saying that a championship wouldn’t be awesome for this community (hell, it would be the greatest parade the world has ever known), but I think we are doing ourselves a true disservice by insisting that we need a championship.
Many Buffaloinians wear the MUST WIN badge with pride, including apparently, our mayor. Many Buffalonians would argue that our hunger for glory is our greatest strength, and I can agree with that to a point, but really, at the end of the day, I believe this “hunger for glory” is just a gigantic chip on Buffalo’s shoulder. For some reason, we think that the Stanley Cup will take our baggage away. It won’t.
Now, I would never, ever want to take even a little away from the passion with which we all cheered this spring, but please, let’s not confuse passion and desperation. It’s a fine line, but it’s incredibly important. Passion is hope and vitality. Desperation is just pure shame. The love of Sabres hockey has swung from passion to desperation pretty damn quickly over the last month. I don’t think this town deserves to treat itself this way. I really don’t. We can do better than this Buffalo. We owe it to ourselves to do better.
And one last thing, I think that Chris Drury was very uneasy with his role as “Savior of Buffalo”. He seems like a pretty shy guy, who, at the end of the day would just like to be another anonymous dude. As much as it hurts to say it, I don’t think he was comfortable with us. Danny loved us for worshiping him, but Chris was wary. Let’s not feel badly about this. He just wasn’t the guy for us. Not only was he not our guy, but worse, it turns out HE WAS A RANGER ALL ALONG! Yesterday’s sorrow has devolved into today’s acceptance. I will desperately miss my sexy, passionate warrior, but sadly, Chris Drury has left me no choice; he is now dead to me.
R.I.P, my beloved.
It seems the learning curve on being a Buffalo sports fan is very sharp indeed.
Part One: The Obsession With Chris Drury Leads to Thoughts on Music