The Buffalo Bills have won the AFC East Division for the first time in 25 years and secured their first home game in almost as long. Thousands of cheering Bills fans waited hours in the cold to greet the team, which arrived at Buffalo Airport at 1:30 a.m. after beating the Denver Broncos Dec. 19 to claim the division title. Death was uneasy after being banned from Bills games all season. Whether Bills Stadium will join the other 13 allowing fans before the playoffs may now depend on the wisdom of Howard Zucker – the state health commissioner, who signed New York’s now infamous March 25 directive preventing nursing homes from rejecting Covid-positive residents.
I grew up in Buffalo in the 1970s and 80s, lean times for Bills fans. When I went to college in 1
Suffering is an integral part of being a buffalo sports fan, and so is loyalty. Possibly with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, I can not think of a team that is more closely intertwined with the city’s identity and wealth than the Bills. In an otherwise hellish year, the team and its faithful – affectionately known as “Bill’s Mafia” – have finally a reason to be hopeful and proud.
The coal in Bill’s socks is the absence of fans in the stadium. The Andrew Cuomo government has sent mixed signals to open Bills Stadium all season. On September 30, he said he would tour the stadium and meet team management to “talk through” the reopening issues. On November 6, he returned and said that Dr. Zucker – whose nursing home order resulted in at least 6,200 people dying – had told him that it would be “ruthless” to allow fans back to the (outdoor) stadium, which has a capacity of more than 71,000.
The governor never toured the stadium, but recently said he “would love nothing more” than attending a Bill’s home playoff game. He insisted that Dr. Zucker’s Department of Health needed a green light for all appointments to open the stadium, including a cautious proposal to admit around 6,700 fans.