Bills Nation (and then some) savors the night
CANTON, Ohio – Matt Bindig checked an item off his bucket list Saturday night.
The 38-year-old East Aurora resident knew from the moment Andre Reed was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame that he wanted to be inside Fawcett Stadium.
“This feels like the end of an era in some ways,” Bindig said. “I think realistically Andre is probably the last guy going in from those teams, so I wanted to be a part of it.”
Even better, Bindig was able to bring his two sons, 8-year-old Henry and 5-year-old Max, along for the ride. The Bindig boys, of course, are far too young to have any memory of the glory years of the Buffalo Bills.
But their father has done his best to explain how great those teams were.
“We were talking today about those two great Marv Levy quotes – ‘Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?’ That’s a great philosophy just in life. Live in the moment. This is the moment – let it be the best one you can make it,” Bindig said. “And then, ‘When it’s too tough for them, it’s just right for us.’
“I feel like those two quotes by Levy sort of embody what that team was all about, whether it be Andre Reed or Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas or Jim Kelly – obviously Kelly – any of those guys. That’s what I’ve taken away from those teams as a parent. My sons didn’t get to see them play, but they know who these guys are because we talk about it all the time.”
Like the thousands of other Bills fans in attendance Saturday, Bindig had more on his mind than just celebrating Reed’s induction. With the long-term future of the franchise unknown after the passing of Hall of Fame owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. in March, a thick air of uncertainty hangs over the head of fans.
“Absolutely I worry about it,” Bindig said. “I feel like it’s a part of the fiber of Western New York. Even if they just go to Toronto, it would be devastating. Growing up so close to the stadium, it’s been a part of my Sundays and I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Right at that moment, Bindig excused himself to say hello to Cornelius Bennett.
“That was one of the best linebackers in Bills history,” Bindig told his sons.
Just like that, another Bills memory was made – just like Reed did for so many of those in attendance.
“We’ve watched The Comeback Game about 50 times,” said former Buffalo resident Ed Brandt, who came from Philadelphia with his father, Roger, and 19-year-old son, also Roger. “Fourth-and-5 from the 18, sliding across the middle of the end zone, pulling them within four points of the Oilers. I’ll never forget that moment.”
Brandt called rooting for the Bills a “generational kind of thing.”
“I grew up watching them in War Memorial Stadium. He was born in Connecticut, but he didn’t have a choice but to be a Bills fan,” he said, motioning toward his son. “The sad thing is he’s yet to remember them making the playoffs, but he’s a Bills fan. He’s staying true blue and not giving up.”
“It just felt right to go with my dad on something,” Roger Brandt explained.
Even though they live out of town, the Brandts make it to Ralph Wilson Stadium at least once a year for a game. They, too, couldn’t help but think about the franchise’s future.
“I love Terry Pegula. My faith has got to be there,” Ed Brandt said, referring to the Sabres owner who has made an initial bid to buy the team. “I thank Ralph Wilson for the lease that he did. I have to believe there is just too much passion in Buffalo. The NFL needs a city like Buffalo, but I try not to think about it too much, to be honest, because it worries me.”
Brandt agreed with Bindig about Reed’s induction being the end of an era. “As much as we think some of the other guys are deserving, it probably is,” he said. “Bill Polian perhaps, but that’s about it.”
Clarence resident Rance Roberts has attended every induction ceremony for ’90s-era Bills Hall of Famers. He said while the weekend marked the end of one era, “it’s also the start of a new era – big Sammy,” he said, pointing to a friend’s new Sammy Watkins jersey.
“As long as it’s not in Toronto,” Roberts said.
Told potential owner Jon Bon Jovi is here for the weekend, Roberts was asked if he had a message for him.
“We can quote Andre on that,” he said, referring to Reed’s explicit message to the rocker last week.
That was a sentiment seemingly shared by all of “Bills Nation” Saturday, including one helmet-wearing, face-painted fan who sported a white “No Bon Jovi” T-shirt and sign.
The “Bills Nation” nickname actually didn’t suffice Saturday. Charles Dowds and his daughter, Laura, came from Wales.
“I never expected to see so many people from Buffalo. It’s like a home game, really,” Charles Dowds said. “We’re lucky that we’re here.”
Laura Dowds’ first football memory came from watching Reed.
“He’s still my favorite player,” she said.
Even though they’re an ocean away, the Dowdses feel the connection Western New Yorkers have to the Bills.
“This shows the love for the team – what it means to the area. We’re not from there, but we feel it,” he said. “We can’t believe the possibility they would ever leave Buffalo.”
Charles Dowds, 60, said he’d love to see the NFL expand to London some day – but not at the expense of the Bills.
“They need to stay exactly where they are,” he said. “Tradition is important.”