Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Opponent, Not the Enemy

The Browns play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. It's a big game, and I hope the Browns take it to the Bills. But I'll let you in on a little secret -- Buffalo is a team and a town that I will always like, and I think all Browns fans should feel the same way.

I grew up in Western New York and went to college in Buffalo. It's a great town that's taken the same kind of blows that we have over the past four decades. Back when Cleveland was the sixth largest city in the country, Buffalo was the eighth, so the people of Western New York know all about what it feels like to watch a place that you care about decline.

When I was a kid, there were so many people working at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna that there wasn't enough room in the plant parking lot for them. Cars were double parked all along Route 5 outside the plant. Now that plant's not there anymore. Neither is the Chevy Forge Plant in Tonawanda, or two Trico plants in Buffalo itself.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Through it all, the people of Buffalo have remained fiercely proud of their town, and devoted to their sports teams despite some pretty trying times--including Wide Right, three other Super Bowl losses, the Music City Miracle, and No Goal.

See, they name their sports catastrophes too. Now can you see why I like these people?

Anyway, aside from our shared economic and sports woes, there are a couple of reasons that I think all Browns fans should keep a soft spot in their hearts for the good people of Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills. The first reason is that when the chips were down, they stood by us. The second reason is that it looks like their fans are going to have a pretty bitter pill of their own to swallow in the not too distant future.

As for standing by us when the chips were down, keep in mind that their owner, Ralph Wilson, was one of only a few owners who voted against Modell's efforts to move the team. After the Browns left, the Bills even had a "Cleveland Browns Day" at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Don't think that happened? Well, it did.

Now, sadly, it looks like it may be the Bills franchise that's in jeopardy of leaving its fans behind for a new city. Buffalo is less than 100 miles from Toronto, and rumors that the team might move to the greener economic pastures of The Great White North have been circulating for years. Although Ralph Wilson has said that he'd never move the team, he's 89 years old, and the team will be sold when he dies.

The team has a large Canadian fan base, and has recently announced a plan to try to attract even more support north of the border by holding one game per year in Toronto. The team says that economic conditions make this imperative, but let's face it, that's a pretty ominous sign when it comes to the team's future.

You can see what's coming like a freight train, can't you? Bills fans see it too, and yet they keep packing one of the league's largest stadiums, despite economic woes and their status as the smallest market in the AFC. Over the long term, the future doesn't look bright for Buffalo as an NFL city, and that's a shame, because nobody deserves to keep their team more than Buffalo does.

So, I hope the Browns stick it to the Bills on Sunday, but don't ask me to feel about Buffalo the way that I do about some of the other teams that come into town. It just isn't going to happen. I wish them well. Just not this week.

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