T.O. Mania is in full force in Western New York and you got a good taste of what’s to come in Buffalo this year. However, I’d like to warn you that what we saw on local TV is showing the rest of the world a side of the region that would be better off being swept under the rug ... or over Niagara Falls.
Since you’ve landed in Buffalo, you’ve been greeted by hundreds of Bills fans, the Buffalo Jills and you’ve been given the key to the city. It made me wonder if this was a major league city or Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. Or worse yet, Hooterville from “Green Acres.”
I mean, no disrespect to you, but you have a one-year contract with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in nine years and needs more than a wide receiver to take them to the promised land. You hadn’t even stepped on the practice field and you were treated like you’re a five-time Super Bowl winner when in fact you’ve never even played in the big game.
The national attention for the Bills is great. But, the reception has been overdone. Jim Kelly wasn’t given the key to the city when he finally arrived after his detour to the USFL. Neither did Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith or Andre Reed. Heck, Drew Bledsoe — who is a Super Bowl winner — didn’t get the key to the city when he arrived.
Personally, I believe Mayor Brown’s key to the city presentation was a stunt to get some face time on VH-1, courtesy of your television show. When he was in college, the mayor worked at the Buffalo State College radio station, the same station that VH-1’s president worked at. That whole scene wasn’t about the bling; it was a collaboration to use your show to give the mayor some air time.
You’ve made more news with your behavior than with your ability to play the game. To many your showboating is great theater. Yet I believe it caters to the Sportscenter faithful who believe that petty individualism is more important than self-respect, let alone respect for others.
You’ve had a remarkable career; 14,000 yards, nearly 140 touchdowns and 951 receptions in 185 games. Your ability to turn a small play into a game-breaker is unquestioned.
But that reputation could rub off the wrong way, and exponentially on Bills fans.
Take a look at the zanies who came out to greet you at the airport. One of them was dressed like a popcorn bag, for crying out loud. Many of them are probably good people. But if they get too caught up in T.O. Mania, they’ll turn into the type of people for which this area is not known: Jerks.
They will likely be the ones we’ll see being ejected from Ralph Wilson Stadium for fighting during September’s home opener, if they’re not puking their guts out in the stadium parking lot. There’s already enough of them, but it’s been Buffalo’s dirty little secret; we’re better known as the city that gets kicked when it’s down.
You made the right move at the key to the city press conference, noting you hadn’t done anything yet when a reporter asked what makes you deserving of the key. And you thrilled any Bills fan with a pulse, proclaiming that you’ll easily score 10 touchdowns this season.
That’s the real key to this area.
Like you, I am not from Buffalo. But I’ve lived here long enough and am a native “Upstater,” so I understand the folks who live here.
People here are starving for a winner. The Bills are 0-for-43 since the Super Bowl was introduced, although they did win the last two AFL titles before the big game was created. The Sabres are 0-for-39. Sports fans here feel like the red-headed step-sister to big bad New York City. They are still — correctly — mad about a no-goal that occurred 10 years ago. They cheer for the city, not the team: “Let’s go Buffalo.” It helps that it rhymes, but it’s the city that counts.
We are not the cosmopolitan, sipping mojitos in the night club when we’re not mixing Red Bull with our drink of the day-type, although you will find those wanna-be’s on Chippewa Street. Free summer concerts are a staple. So is the family barbecue. Sun block, not sun tan. For most folks, “bling” is a sound they hear at the casino.
We are blue collar. We check in at 9 and punch out at 5. We like our beer cold, especially if it’s from Canada, not St. Louis. We’re pizza and wings from the local take-out place, not reservations at 7 at the trendiest restaurant. This is GM and Ford country. People who drive Mercedes and BMW live in Clarence, which is about as far from Buffalo as you can get and still be in Erie County. Most people here don’t like New York City, but since 9/11 have great respect for the NYPD and NYFD.
Hard work and guts are something to cheer. In fact there used to be a hard-hat section at Sabres games in the old Aud.
If you’re looking for a change of pace from San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas, you’ve found it. Embrace the people here, and they in turn will embrace you. If you have a knockout season and give fans hope, then leave for the next cosmopolitan city, you will be public enemy number one. You’ll have picked us up only for the opportunity to knock us down.
Despite the reaction of some around here, we are major league. But your “rep” precedes you and it’s already rubbing off. That, in turn, will rub others the wrong way. The television cameras following you around will be a magnet for people to act boorishly. Then your show will look like one from MTV instead of VH-1: “Jackass.”
Oh, and that key to the city? After you see how local politics operate, you just may want to give that back.
John Hopkins is the night city editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.