Life’s journey through the Bills’ 16 years of disappointment

The Bills' last playoff appearance, on January 8, 2011, ended in horror. Sixteen years of disappointment has followed.

The Bills’ last playoff appearance, ended in horror. Sixteen years of disappointment have followed. (Buffalo Nes photo)

On January 8, 2000 I was a pimple-faced senior in high school and a part-time employee at a Burger King.

I was also a die-hard Bills fan.

I had grown up on Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Marv Levy and plenty of victories. I had witnessed division titles, conference championships and Super Bowl disappointments.

Falls during my formative years meant double-digit victories and playoff appearances.

So on January 8, 2000 the Bills were in familiar territory, playing the Tennessee Titans in an AFC playoff game.

The national media had hyped the matchup as a de facto AFC title game – even though the winner would be required to prevail twice more to reach the Super Bowl. Bills fans, to no surprise, had bought the hype. This was our year to win it all.

Other AFC playoff teams included Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins, Tom Coughlin-led Jacksonville, and the Seattle Seahawks – yes, the Seahawks.

The game was played at Adelphia Coliseum – named after the cable company headquartered in Coudersport, Pa. and owned by John Rigas, who is reportedly on the doorsteps of death this week in a Pennsylvania prison.

The Bills, of course, didn’t win the game – featuring one of the most memorable endings in NFL history – and the Titans, led by quarterback Steve McNair, who was murdered on Independence Day 2009, eventually finished a yard short of winning the Super Bowl.

The play was called “Homerun Throwback”. Frank Wycheck spun his body to throw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who followed a convoy to the winning touchdown.

I vividly remember Paul Maguire, the former Bill who was on the broadcast that day, adamantly blustering immediately after the play that Wycheck’s toss was not a lateral and that replay review would wipe out the touchdown. I remember praying that he was right.

He wasn’t. There wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the play.

As referee Phil Luckett confirmed the touchdown, I gathered my belongings for a 4 p.m. shift at Burger King. The Titans still had to kickoff.

I listened to the game’s final seconds in the car on the way to work. When Van Miller validated the crushing defeat on the radio broadcast, anger and sadness erupted inside me.

I nearly began to cry. Over a football game. Looking back, it all seems silly and immature.

Much has changed since January 8, 2000, the last time the Bills appeared in a postseason game.

With the Bills being officially eliminated from the playoffs for the 16th year, I selfishly thought about the path of my own life since January 8, 2000. Perhaps you have, too.

Sixteen years is a long time.

I quit the job at Burger King and got another painting dorm rooms at St. Bonaventure.

I graduated from high school, started college and earned a degree.

I got drunk for the first time, and threw up because of it.

I drank legally at a bar for the first time.

I basked in glory as my alma mater, St. Bonaventure, earned an al-large berth in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, survived a horrid scandal, and recovered to make the tournament again.

I got my first real job, held it for four years, and accepted another in a town three hours away where I knew no one.

I moved away from home and I moved back. I’ve lived in nine different houses or apartments.

I met my future wife, broke up with her, got back together, broke up again, and got back together again.

I proposed to her, we bought a house together, got married, and we now have plans to have children someday (almost certainly before the Bills reach the playoffs again).

I became an uncle three times over.

I was a best man, godfather and groomsman.

Both my maternal grandparents passed away.

I went back to school to earn a master’s degree.

My career path has changed several times over.

I have started building a retirement fund (maybe I’ll retire before the Bills make the playoffs again).

I had my wisdom teeth removed.

I’ve made many friends, and a lost a few, too.

I bought my first car, and two more after that.

We celebrated our parents’ 50th birthdays and will celebrate their 60th before the Bills’ next playoff game.

Our family dog, Pepper, passed away in 2004, and our “new” dog, Chloe, will join her in pet heaven soon (perhaps, before the Bills’ next playoff game).

I have grown gray hair on top of my head (a few I attribute to the Bills).

But, for better or worse, I am still a Bills fan. I will be regardless of where life takes me.