The Dallas Cowboys, famously dubbed “America’s Team,” have hosted a Thanksgiving Day game in Dallas every year since 1966, but this is the first time that they have hosted the Buffalo Bills.
As Americans all over the country loosen their belt buckles to aid digestion and relax from their feasting in front of the TV – instead of fawning over the Cowboys as is tradition on Turkey Day – they should consider rooting for a team that more accurately represents them: the Buffalo Bills.
Of course, I am aware that many reading this may know nothing more about the Bills than the fact that they famously lost four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s, and I am also aware that in writing for a news organization based out of Dallas, this article may incite some displeasure.
But as a native of Buffalo, New York, allow me to properly introduce the Bills to you.
The Buffalo Bills are the real ‘America’s Team’
A now mostly downtrodden city filled with rundown and (usually) snow-covered factories, the Rust Belt city of Buffalo is in many ways a remnant of a bygone America.
But Buffalo was once a bustling town, the chosen endpoint of the famous Erie Canal opened in 1825 and a center for trade and commerce. In 1900, Buffalo was the eighth most populous city in the country and had more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city.
Buffalo’s shimmer has certainly faded since its heyday.
The Bills have a similar story.
Entering the American Football League in 1960, the Bills won back-to-back championships in 1964 and 1965. But, the success did not last. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Bills have failed to win a single league championship.
As mentioned above, what most sports fans, whether avid or casual, know about the Bills is their tragic four straight Super Bowl losses from 1990-1993.
But, the even more heartbreaking statistic for those growing up after the Super Bowl years (like me) is that since 1999 the Bills managed to reach the playoffs only once. During that span, they set a league record by missing the playoffs in 17 consecutive years.
Yet somehow, despite the Bills’ lack of success and the league moving toward larger markets and broader audiences – Los Angeles recently adopting two teams and games being scheduled in Mexico and the UK – the team managed to remain in small market Buffalo.
In many ways, the Bills feel out of place in the modern NFL. The team – devoid of large contracts or any big-name players, and located in a small, often-forgotten Western New York town – could be considered a remnant of a bygone NFL.
A blue-collar representation of American hope and perseverance
Yet, lately, things have begun to change for the city and for the team.
Just as Buffalo, the city, is now enjoying a revival-of-sorts – rated America’s Favorite City by Traveler + Leisure in 2016 – so is the football team.
In 2017, the Bills broke their 17-year playoff drought, removing the monkey from their back and shedding some of the league-wide ridicule.
Now, as the Bills head into Thanksgiving Day in 2019, they lay hold of the third-best record in the AFC at 8-3 and are poised to enter the postseason once again, led by quarterback Josh Allen, who has been overlooked and derided by NFL elites.
In light of all of this, the Buffalo Bills represent what is true of many Americans, who had nothing given to them but had to work hard and persevere to achieve their goals. The Bills are a blue-collar team in a blue-collar town that has persevered through heartbreak and trial time and time again.
The Bills don’t get near the national recognition constantly heaped on the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, they are the only team scheduled with zero primetime games this year, compared to the Cowboys’ tied-for-league-best 5 scheduled primetime games and traditionally league-topping overall media exposure.
Yet the lack of attention and the years of heartbreak have not defeated the Bills or their fans; they enjoy it.
It’s this hardworking, never-quit, don’t-need-to-be-loved, attitude that endears them to fans and makes them the real “America’s team.”
The greatest fans in the world
And did I mention that Buffalo Bills fans are the greatest in the world? Of course, this is a completely unscientific statement.
But it is true that one would be hard-pressed to find a fanbase that travels better than Bills fans, and it is also true that there is at least one Bills Backer Bar in nearly every major metropolitan area in the country.
“Bills Mafia” as they are called, are known for their wild tailgating practices like getting drunk and jumping on burning tables and their passionate, even puzzling, commitment to the hometown team. Barstool Sports even made a documentary about them.
But that’s just it. The puzzling commitment to the Bills is what’s most impressive. Bills fans remain loyal despite the team rarely giving fans anything to be excited about.
In places like Boston and Dallas, fanhood might be considered somewhat conditional: more winning = more fans. In Buffalo, fanhood is unconditional. There are (quite literally) no fair weather fans and no bandwagon fans, just extremely loyal fans.
This, too, is redolent of many Americans, who are loyal to their country even when it is not especially loyal to them. They are thankful for their country, remembering the joys being an American affords.
Many Americans often demonstrate a resilient and undying hope, always believing the future is bright. Bills fans, in a much smaller way, steadfastly believe this about their football team.
“This is the year,” Bills fans always say as the preseason begins.
Every year. Every heartbreaking year: “This is the year.”
Oh, also, the Bills colors: red, white, and blue.
So, if you’re looking for a team to root for while you watch football and digest this Thursday afternoon, root for the real “America’s Team,” the Buffalo Bills.
Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. ET.