Over the course of my 23 years on the Earth, I've traveled across many lands, and sailed much of the seven seas. In these journeys, I've met countless sports fans from cities other than Philadelphia...and I hated almost all of them.
Part of it was the obvious - Philadelphia is the greatest, most passionate sports city in America. No one could compare, from the start. Sometimes, though, it went deeper than that. Many sports fans are misinformed, over-the-top and borderline idiotic. Most of them couldn't tell you one insightful thing about their teams. As someone with a strong passion for sports, it's hard for me to accept anyone who appears to be "less than."
However, in the end, two men (and two cities) stand out. Neither can boast the size or (in my opinion) all-around passion of Philadelphia, and neither have the requisite "four teams" that represent a real, true sports city. But both have suffered, and are known quite well for having felt the painful sting of a harsh loss. I'm talking, of course, of my college roommate Brad and my London drinking buddy Mike, and they, respectively, represent Cleveland and Buffalo.
Their stories are similar: both are experienced drinkers, both can be loud and boastful, and both enjoy community service and helping people (if "helping people" means "dropping them on their head while carrying them around after a night at the bar," Mike).
However, what they really have in common is their cities, and accompanyingly, their sports teams. And their pain. Buffalo has the Brett Hull goal, the Music City Miracle and Scott Norwood; Cleveland has Jordan-over-Ehlo, The Fumble, The Drive and Edgar Renteria.
These two cities have been beaten and battered over and over again, economically and socially as well as physically. Someone once told me that Buffalo is basically "50% liquor stores, 50% bowling alleys" (although how is that a bad thing?), and Cleveland's damn river can actually CATCH ON FIRE. They're places I'd prefer never to go, but they both have the underdog quality that all of us should be rooting for in this modern, tainted time in sports.
And that is the reason I am writing this. I've been to the "Cleveland bar" in Boston and the "Bills bar" in New York City, and I can safely say that their fans are among the best I've met. They are passionate, intelligent, friendly; salt-of-the-earth folk. Ever since my visits to these places, I've felt myself connected to both cities, as sort of a backup fan base to Philadelphia. Not especially in sports beyond football, however; I've no interest in the doings of the Cleveland Indians or the Buffalo Sabres. No one but their beloved Bills and Browns really seem to capture the true hearts and desires of these tortured sister cities.
I haven't given it much thought, of course; it mostly manifested itself in a slight vested interest in two non-Philadelphia games each week. But with the Terrell Owens signing, I feel the need to officially take sides. I hate Terrell Owens; I think he is a cancer that can tear apart locker rooms, and his time in Philadelphia certainly didn't end well. But in a one-year deal, with an opportunity to invigorate a sad, desolate city, I think he can really be something special. And I think the Bills can, too, even with the Dolphins and the Patriots in their way.
Meanwhile, Eric Mangini starts a half-assed rebuilding process in Cleveland, hoping that presumed homosexual Brady Quinn can turn into the franchise QB they've needed since running Bernie Kosar out of town. That's all well and good, but to me, it's more of the same-old, same-old for Browns fans.
So I'm officially throwing my support behind an AFC team. My friend Chris Moore is currently doing some volunteer work in San Francisco, and as a result, he's taken a gig as a part-time member in Raider Nation. I figure that if he can choose a team from the other conference, so can I.
My AFC team is the Buffalo Bills.
Even if they don't have what it takes to make an actual playoff run, there might not be a more interesting NFL team to follow this year. And with the Eagles incorporating an interesting "addition by massive subtraction" strategy, I respect any team willing to take a chance. Good luck, Bills fans; I'm proud to be among you. And if your first season with TO goes anything like ours did, you might actually become what he oddly christened you as: "North America's team."