30 for 30’s “Four Falls of Buffalo” Right On the Mark

December 13, 2015

Anytime a documentary comes out covering a subject that the viewer knows something of or cares about, that viewer hopes that the documentary is true to the facts, and is fair to the subject and the people that took part in it. The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary The Four Falls of Buffalo perfectly captures the mood of the team, the fanbase, and the media surrounding the four consecutive Super Bowl appearances of the Buffalo Bills.

I was in elementary and middle school when the Bills made their unprecedented and unmatched run. I am a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, but I did not grow up in Buffalo or Western New York. Like most kids and many adults, I caught crap every time my team lost a game. Those Super Bowl losses magnified the amount of crap I received with every game lost during the season. It dawned on me one day that the people that were giving me crap for the team that I lived and died with losing a game were all Bears and Colts fans.

The Bears and Colts, for Christ sake. They both were hideously awful during the early nineties. The Bills took the Colts behind the woodshed repeatedly during their Super Bowl runs. The Bills beat the Bears handily during their second Super Bowl run. Who the hell were they to say the Bills suck?

Steve Tasker summed up that feeling perfectly in Four Falls: “If you don’t want us here, THEN BEAT US.”

Not many did during that period. The Bills went 13-3 twice, 11-5, and 12-4 in the four regular seasons of their Super Bowl seasons. They won the AFC East five out of six years (1988-91, 93). They beat four Hall of Fame Quarterbacks in the playoffs (Dan Marino twice, John Elway, Warren Moon, and Joe Montana), and they avenged regular season losses in the playoffs all four years (Miami in 1990, Kansas City in ’91, Houston in ’92, and Kansas City and the LA Raiders in ’93).

One more fun fact for the sake of comparison: The Bills went to four Super Bowls in four years. The 2000’s New England Patriots, as dominant as they have been in the last decade and a half, went to six in fourteen years.

If this team were from any other city than Buffalo but had the same body of work, they wouldn’t have had to deal with the whiny and arrogant Mike Lupica calling them out as losers on national TV. Buffalo is not a glamorous city. What Lupica and others really had a problem with was that Buffalo is a small media market, and their name and image doesn’t sound nearly as good as New York, Boston, Miami, San Francisco or other sexier locales.

All throughout the Bills run, the country was begging Buffalo not to get back to The Show. A ever-present lie that was told throughout by media and fans of other teams in that time was that they would rather their team never had a chance than to keep going to the Super Bowl and losing year after year. That rationale is a batch of crap. Suffer through a decade and a half of 6-10 mediocrity, then we’ll talk. They would be begging for a Super Bowl loss after that kind of run.

The best thing about The Four Falls of Buffalo is their treatment of Scott Norwood. History has, over time, seen Wide Right for what it was: a difficult task under impossible circumstances that no other kicker in the 49 years of the Super Bowl has had to face. As great as Adam Vinatieri was with his two Super Bowl-winning kicks, he never had to face a Scott Norwood-situation. Vinatieri always had the safety net of the score being tied at the time of his kicks, whereas Norwood was given make-it-you-win/miss-it-you-lose circumstances. Forty-seven yards on grass is no chip-shot, and he missed. Only mouth-breathing Neanderthals who can’t talk without drooling all over themselves think of Norwood as a choke-artist or a loser.

I find it ironic that the advertisement for the next 30 for 30 that popped up on the screen throughout the broadcast was for the ’85 Bears. I have always thought of the Bears of the 80’s to be one of the finest ensembles of talent ever assembled, but also as some of the worst underachievers ever in NFL history. The Bills stubbornly muscled their way to playoff wins in the nineties while not accepting the concept of defeat. Those Bears teams welcomed playoff collapse as their roommate.

The Bills had a damn good team in the 90’s, and time and history have given them the legacy they deserve.


Be Reasonable

May 14, 2012

We have entered that post-Draft lull of the off-season where the only actual football news is if a player suffers an injury that will affect their play four months from now when the season actually starts, or if there is a significant off-season arrest.

I listen to the ESPN College Football Podcast with Ivan Maisel and Beano Cook every Wednesday.  I always like reading and listening to Maisel because he is smart, understands the history of college football, well-informed, and most of all, he has access to events and people that the average fan doesn’t, but doesn’t flaunt that access.  His podcasts and articles are about college football, and nothing else.  I don’t want to thumb-through a ten-thousand-word article about how he has Nick Saban on his speed-dial or what kind of coffee he drank that morning.

During this week’s podcast, Maisel made mention that the slow news week allowed for reporting of the retirement of Texas A&M’s athletic director.   Segueing from that story, Beano Cook said, “Out of all the alumni in the country, Texas A&M’s have to be the most unrealistic, or at least in the top three”.

This got me thinking: What fan bases are in the top three in the “Unrealistic” category?

Bronze Medal:  The Penn State Nittany Lions

The Jerry Sandusky scandal gave the entire country a front-row seat to how unrealistic the Penn State faithful are.  It’s one thing if a successful coach and university fixture (Joe Paterno) retires and wants to hand-pick his successor.  That’s a realistic scenario (although not many Hall of Fame coaches replace other Hall of Fame coaches).  It’s another thing entirely if a coach is fired under the dark cloud of a sex-abuse scandal involving young boys, and the fan base and alumni are angry that one of Paterno’s disciples wasn’t hired to replace him.  Joe Paterno was the reason why the scandal went as far as it did.  One man had a strangle-hold over the football program, athletic department, administration, and all with the alumni in lock-step behind him.

There would have been incessant complaining if anyone without ties to Penn State was hired as the coach.  Whenever a legendary coach retires, there is talk about “keeping it in the family”, but this was one situation where no rational person would even remotely consider the notion after what was revealed to have happened.  After Paterno’s firing, there was rioting (albeit by a miniscule percentage of the students, but rioting nonetheless), complaining, and lobbying by former players for their voices to be heard about who should carry the torch.  Any answer other than “one of Paterno’s boys” was an unacceptable answer in their minds.

They were irrational in their defense of Paterno following the Grand Jury report.

They were irrational in wanting a say over the hiring of a new coach.

And most of all, they were irrational in wanting to keep an 84-year-old as their head coach in the first place.

The Silver Medal:  The undefeated non-BCS AQ schools

I have to lump a couple of schools into one spot because they’re there for the same reason.  The fans of these schools (Hawaii, Utah [pre-Pac-12], TCU [pre-Big-12], or Boise State) argue that they were undefeated, therefore they should have a shot at the title (mostly Boise State).

Well, only half of that statement is true.  They did defeat every opponent on their schedule, but there is a major difference between running the table on a SEC, Big-10/12, or Pac-10/12 schedule and doing the same thing in the WAC, MWC, or C-USA.  The Big-10 has taken a lot of crap in recent years, mostly due to Ohio State’s inability to win after New Year’s (Dick Clark must have been putting a curse on them), about being a bad conference.  Just because they are not as good as the SEC, that doesn’t make them bad.  The Big-10 in a bad year is still better than the WAC in a good year.  You can’t tell me with a straight face that going up against Air Force, Colorado State, San Diego State, TCU, and Wyoming is equal to playing Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska (now), and Penn State .

Sure, one of these non-BCS AQ teams probably could beat an undefeated #1 opponent in the BCS Championship, but I really don’t think they’ve earned the right to do so.  The football season is a grind for every team, but for the BCS teams, it’s a meat grinder within a pressure cooker.  It’s not just that they’re beating good opponents, they’re doing it every week, and not with a 37-day layoff like they have between the regular season and a bowl game.

The only way that I could see one of these non-BCS AQ teams having a solid argument for a spot in the national championship game (against an undefeated opponent) is if they schedule (and run the table against) at least three of their non-conference games against Top 25 teams, and in hostile environments.  With those small-conference schedules, the biggest road crowd they see all year may only be 25,000 people.  Let’s see how you perform in front of 100,000+, 99% of which are rooting against you.  We know how you play against San Diego State, Colorado State, and Fresno State.  Now, let’s see how you deal with Georgia, Oregon, and Texas.

I love the underdog as much as anybody, but there is no reasonable and rational argument that you can make to convince me that these non-BCS AQ schools deserve a shot at the belt against a big-conference, undefeated opponent without making some serious changes to their schedule.

The Gold Medal:  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish

I’ve already stated on this blog about how I am biased against Notre Dame, and I also gave my reasons for being as such, but that doesn’t change the facts.  The Notre Dame Alumni demand entirely too much from the coach, the athletic department, the school, and even from the opponents.  You can’t demand that you get the top recruits at every position, have them all be great students that graduate, win every game, say all the right things, and do all those things better than every other team every year.

They want to control the conditions of every game they play, home or away.  There aren’t many teams that Notre Dame has traditional home-and-home series’ with (Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, and USC).  All of those teams have large stadiums, and Notre Dame gets dealt an abnormally large percentage of the tickets by comparison to most away teams.  Oh sure, they’ll play smaller schools away, but they’ll usually request that the opponent’s “home” game gets switched to a larger venue (The Meadowlands, Landover MD, Orlando, Chicago, Yankee Stadium, Ireland etc.).  As a result, Domers get to stack the deck with a larger pro-ND crowd and take the opponent away from home.  That went over well when Notre Dame was in the national spotlight, but now that they’ve been downgraded on the national scale, it’s just not the case.  Notre Dame wanted to play a six-year home-and-home with Rutgers on the condition that Rutgers’ home games would be played at the Meadowlands.  Rutgers justifiably told Notre Dame “no”.  Requesting a “neutral” venue is their way of stacking the deck, and it’s driven by alumni.

More than any other major program in the country, the Notre Dame Alumni put their coach on the hot seat from minute one, but don’t give him any of the leeway that was given to their last successful coach, Lou Holtz.  Under Holtz, academic standards were loosened and they started winning as a result.  People forget that those late-80’s Notre Dame teams were far from being choir boys.  Every coach that comes through South Bend is held up to the Holtz standard without being given Holtz’s ethical legroom.

We are going to be entering the era of the four-team playoff for the national championship very soon.  Notre Dame is going to expect and demand an exception be made for them just like it was in the BCS just because they are Notre Dame.  They should have to win a conference just like everybody else.  Every other team in the country wanting a shot at the title may have to win their conference and play a schedule in which two-thirds of they didn’t choose.  Notre Dame should be held to the same standard.  If they demand that they be held to a different standard because of their name again, that is unreasonable and irrational.

Notre Dame Alumni are under the impression that they are still the only “national” college football team because they have an exclusive contract with NBC.  Cable TV and ESPN 360 have killed that notion.  Thanks to both of those venues, I can watch my beloved New Mexico State Aggies play anytime I want.  Every team in the country can be seen at least eight or nine times a year on TV if you really want to.  Every Catholic kid in the country doesn’t necessarily want to play for Notre Dame anymore.  Why spend four to five years in South Bend, Indiana when you can go to Florida, Southern Cal, ‘Bama, or Texas as be seen just as much and with better weather and a nicer town (I grew up in South Bend, I know of what I speak).  Kids have figured this out, Notre Dame has suffered as a result, but they haven’t acknowledged it.  The fans and alumni are content to think that the Notre Dame name is enough to draw the best, and it’s not.

That’s my list of the top three programs or fan bases in the “unrealistic” and “irrational” categories.  Of course, these are my opinions, and I do admit that I am biased, but I stand by them.

Honorable Mentions:

University of South Carolina:  I am an alumnus, but I think that the fan base holds a higher opinion of themselves than the rest of the country does.  They still can’t crack that Bama/Auburn/LSU/Florida level, but still think they’re on somewhat equal footing.

Texas A&M:  They will always be second place in Texas, but want to be treated like first.  I think they made a miserable choice in moving to the SEC just to spite the Longhorns.  If they can’t win the Big 12, what will they do in a conference that plays defense?

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