Fandemonium: Passing the Generational Torch

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I can’t understate how many times people asked me the following question in the past week: “Chris, did you get tickets to the playoff game?”

For those of you who didn’t go to St. Catherine’s Church when people still went to church, the Carosa family has a certain reputation. Each Sunday – football season or not – one or more of us (usually more of us) stood in line for communion resplendent in official and unofficial Bills attire.

Those were our Sunday clothes. It became such a tradition that, on those rare occasions (usually in the summer) when our garments didn’t sport a Bills logo, people would notice.

This “worship” of the Buffalo Bills began long ago. My father, however, was too young to remember the original Buffalo Bills.

Incidentally, did you know the first version of the Buffalo Bills appeared in the All-America Football Conference. The AAFC began in 1946 with Buffalo among the first franchises (along with Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco). They were originally named the Buffalo Bisons, but in 1947 they changed their name to the Buffalo Bills.

The 1948 Buffalo Bills won their division (beating the Baltimore Colts in a playoff game) but lost to the powerhouse Cleveland Browns (led by Otto Graham and Paul Brown) by the lopsided score of 49-7. In 1949, the Browns again beat the Bills in the playoffs by the more respectable score of 31-21 (this time in the first round) before repeating for the fourth time as champion by defeating the San Francisco 49ers 21-7.

When the AAFC merged with the NFL following the 1949 three AAFC teams moved to the NFL (the AAFC had originally lobbied for four teams). The obvious choices were the Browns and the 49ers. Who would be the third team?

The Buffalo Bills were clearly the better choice in terms of won-loss record, ownership stability, and stadium attendance. More important, Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall feared the Baltimore Colts would eat into his market. (The fears were based on what really happened).

In the end, the NFL questioned the size of the Buffalo market and the weather conditions. Ironically, it was the early Miami Seahawks AAFC franchise that had meteorological problems as two of its home games in its first and only season were postponed due to hurricanes. Miami lost $350,000 and folded; thus, opening a slot for a new Baltimore Colts.

After Marshall accepted a $150,000 territorial rights fee from them, it was these Colts that eventually became the third AAFC team to be accepted into the NFL. Was the Buffalo fan base left spurned?

As we might expect, the Buffalo Bills fans didn’t take “no” for an answer. They petitioned the NFL to reconsider. This would have made sense because the NFL currently had an uneven 13-team schedule. After much deliberation, the owners voted 9-4 to admit the Buffalo Bills.

Unfortunately, the rules required unanimous consent, so that generation of the Buffalo Bills were again denied entry to the NFL.

As you already know, a new generation of the Buffalo Bills was born in 1960 (actually 1959, but they first appeared on the field in 1960). The torch had been passed to a new owner: Ralph C. Wilson.

The torch was passed not only from one generation of owners to another, but also from one generation of fans to another.

My father was one of those fans.

From a very early point, he would go to a game or two every year, mostly with his friends from work. In 1964, my parents made it a couples’ event. They went to a game with my godparents and their spouses. They all met at our house for brunch before going to the game.

Like all those early games, it was held at Civic Stadium, (a.k.a. “War Memorial Stadium”). The “Rockpile” as it was lovingly called, was notorious for its constant state of dilapidation. It was also known for its structural steel posts. These thick I-beams obstructed the view of many seats.

Those were the seats my mother and her girlfriends had. That was OK, because they were more interested in talking with each other than in what was going on at the game. In fact, while my father remembers enjoying the game, my mother remembers enjoying the talk and the laughs – as well as going to a steak house after the game. She doesn’t remember the name of the restaurant, but she does remember the blue cheese.

As soon as his sons were old enough, my father brought us into the fandom fold. Fall Sundays quickly became two things: Church and Football.

Mind you, Church was always first. As soon as we got home, however, it was a ritual of quick victuals (whether it be lunch or donuts), then my father would have us huddle around the radio in the spare bedroom and we’d tune the radio to the Bills’ game.

At first this annoyed my mother as she felt we shouldn’t be wasting our Sundays and instead should be doing “family” things. Then, one Sunday, she pops into the room in the middle of a particularly intense game. She saw her three boys (me, my father, and my brother Kenny) all listening intently, staring at the radio as if we were watching TV, all wearing this same concerned look on our faces.

She suddenly realized, why am I upset about this? From that point on, she treated every game as a family event. She wasn’t exactly excited about football, but she cherished how it brought our family together. She even brought her own expertise to the event: her master’s degree in home economics. She would make pizza or snacks. Sometimes, while it was still open, we would order pizza from my grandfather’s pizzeria (which was just up the street).

I don’t remember that, but that’s what she told me. From an early age, we saw our father proudly trumpet the two-time (1964-65) AFL Champion Buffalo Bills. We never made it to the Rockpile, but he did take us to our first game as soon as Rich Stadium opened. From that moment, we dreamed of season tickets.

But that was a dream beyond our financial reality. As such, we limited ourselves to one game a season, first with our father, then with our friends. Through the ups and downs we remained loyal.

Then, something magical happened. Marv Levy forged a new generation of Buffalo Bills. A team not unlike the champion Bills of the 1960s – they were an unstoppable juggernaut that won four straight AFC Championships (a record never matched). By that time, we could afford to buy playoff tickets – and we did. We went to every home Championship game and then some. Those tickets were hard to come by, but, between our various connections, Kenny and I would be able to scrounge up tickets, even to the very first Championship game against the Raiders. Like many fans of our generation, we built up many unforgettable memories through those games. Sadly, the Superbowl tickets proved too elusive – and expensive – even for our wily ways.

Most notable (and emblematic) of that team was the 1993 Comeback Game led by Frank Reich. While Levy Kelly, Thomas, Reed, Smith, et al might be more known, it is Reich who most exemplifies the team best defined as “resilient.”

Kenny went to that game (really, not like the many people who say they were there but weren’t, and, unlike the many people who say they didn’t leave but did, Kenny, as has always been out tradition, stayed until the very end).

Shortly after we both bought season tickets next to each other. And we have had them ever since, although we were never able to use them to buy playoff tickets.

Until this year.

Well, me, at least. Kenny passed away several years ago.

So, you could understand when friends, family, and classmates from all across the country asked me if I was going to opt into the playoff game tickets.

Of course, I bought the tickets. But there was a twist.

I didn’t go to the game. I gave the tickets to my son Peter and Kenny’s son Sam. Their respective siblings Cesidia, Catarina, Teresa and Pat would have gladly gone if I could have gotten more tickets. I figured I had a lifetime of Bills playoff memories already. It was time for the next generation to begin collecting theirs.

And, as if we needed a better metaphor, Josh Allen’s “persistent” Buffalo Bills grabbed the generational torch by beating Frank Reich’s team.

So, here’s a hardy welcome to the new generation of fandemonium.

This time, let’s get those Superbowl tickets.

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