MANHATTAN -- A brown-haired man of about 30, wearing a blue Takeo Spikes jersey and a red Buffalo Bills baseball cap, leaped into the air, pumping both fists and bellowing "YES!!!"
Bartenders on one side of the well-used bar and patrons on the other slapped hands as napkins tossed high above fluttered down like so much ticker tape.
"We just won the freaking Super Bowl!" another early-30-something shouted.
His voice, like the rest of the celebration triggered by Josh Reed's spectacular, if utterly meaningless, 51-yard catch-and-run with 2:14 remaining, oozed sarcasm. On this day, the Bills did not win the Super Bowl, or anything else for that matter. They lost plenty -- a home game to the New England Patriots by a 35-7 score, any even slightly persuasive argument against regime change in the front office and what remained of their shredded dignity.
For the crowd at McFadden's, a tavern at the corner of Second Avenue and a block of 42nd Street dubbed Yitzak Rabin Way, the final score mattered, but only to a degree.
One of the place's owners is from Buffalo, and in 2002, the New York City Buffalo Bills Backers selected it as the group's weekly meeting place during football season. It's gotten so popular that the party has expanded to another joint, Calico Jack's, next door
"It's like a little piece of home every week," said Brendan, a 32-year-old from North Buffalo whose career has taken him to similar gatherings of football-addicted expatriate Western New Yorkers in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Diego, Baltimore, Atlanta and even Singapore.
Not everyone at McFadden's is a transplant, though. Matt, a Yonkers native, co-founded the NYCBBB, as a blue, glass-encased replica jersey on a post separating the bar and dining room dubs the organization.
"When I was a kid, I just didn't like the Jets or Giants, and my brother told me there was one more team that actually played in New York," he explained.
The move from the city to New Jersey's Meadowlands by the Giants in 1976, with the Jets following a few years later, apparently birthed more than a few new Bills fans.
"Our father was a Giants fan until they moved," said Jason, a resident of the Bronx. "He was a New York fireman, and he wasn't going to cheer for a team from New Jersey. He raised us to be Bills fans, too."
It probably didn't hurt that the Bills were making annual trips to the Super Bowls when Jason and his brother, Bill, came of age in the early 1990s, but they've stayed loyal through the hard times, making the trip to McFadden's nearly every week. They bring their father, now retired, at least once a year.
Wearing a fireman's hat and taking full advantage of the beer specials ($20 for a bottomless cup of domestic draft, $30 to upgrade to the likes of Bass, with a chicken-wing buffet included with either), Pops has a great time -- at least until the next morning.
"He always ends up saying, 'Why did I do that,'" Jason said with a laugh, clamping his hands to his head.
Most of the crowd on this day looks to be under 40. Some of the expatriates see each other each week, while newcomers discuss their connections to the Buffalo area and the team. Early in the second half, a group of four cops from Buffalo and their wives arrived.
"Everybody says, 'Where in Buffalo are you from?'" Jason said with only a trace of a Bronx accent. "I tell them, 'A little south of Buffalo.'"
It's as much a social hour as a football game, particularly on days like Sunday, when the competitive portion of the afternoon ended roughly midway through the second quarter, when New England running back Corey Dillon's 12-yard run made it 14-0.
"One couple even met here and wound up getting married," Matt said.
Not that the crowd gave up early, or easily. When Terrence McGee sprinted 63 yards with the kickoff following Dillon's score, a fan wearing a cap emblazoned with the words "Buffalo Bills 1960," commemorating the franchise's birth, yelled, "Turn this season around!"
That was right before the little yellow blotch appeared on the television screen, signifying the penalty that would move the Bills all the way from New England's 34-yard line all the way back to their own 16. From there, a touchdown would have meant gaining 84 yards, or 4 more than Buffalo's offense would net in the game's first 40 minutes.
In conditions for which any team hailing from Western New York should be built to thrive, the Bills looked like interlopers from the tropics. They were unable to run the ball (14 yards on 12 carries), protect the perpetually fleeing J.P. Losman or stop New England from doing as it pleased on offense as the Patriots set a franchise record with 32 first downs.
And to think, if Buffalo could have held onto any part of the 21-point lead it dissipated in Miami a week earlier, this one would have actually meant quite a bit to the Bills. Wins over the Dolphins and Patriots would have put Buffalo a game out of the AFC East lead with three to play, tiebreaker advantages in hand over both.
Instead, the team and its fans face a holiday season free of football-related joy. At least that gives Bills President-for-Now Tom Donahoe plenty of time to come up with a reason to give owner Ralph Wilson as to why, despite the team's blend of mediocrity and putridity on his watch, he should return for a sixth season.
At least the fans at McFadden's didn't surrender as meekly as their favorite team on Sunday. When London Fletcher intercepted a Tom Brady pass early in the third quarter, the high-fives and napkins flew.
At least until the next play, when rather than trying to parlay the momentum shift into the offense's first sustained drive of the day, play-caller extraordinaire Mike Mularkey showed why he might not be around for a third season as head coach by ordering up a deep throw, which New England's Ellis Hobbs predictably intercepted.
"Every time something good happens, something absolutely awful happens," Jason said in as precise an evaluation as you're going to hear of the 2005 Buffalo Bills.
BILLS MVP: Please.
THE OTHER GUYS' MVP: That Brady guy's pretty good, huh?
FOOT-IN-MOUTH AWARD: Bad week to get snotty with the fans, Mr. Donahoe. For those who missed it, he responded to an irate caller on his weekly radio show a day after the humiliation in Miami by saying, "There's another radio station in town you can call if you want to act like a jerk."
Wilson has never tolerated such public-relations blunders (see John Rauch, the former head coach whose tenure ended shortly before training camp after he enraged Wilson by blasting former players Paul Maguire and Ron McDole in 1971), and he's not likely to start now.
WING REPORT: This place takes its wings seriously. Franklin, the head of security, gnawed on a serving of barbecues as we entered. The buffet featured both traditional wings better than the vast majority you find outside WNY and boneless variations that were pretty strong, too. Grade: A-minus.
BS FANS OF THE WEEK: Everybody at McFadden's. Rather than the multitudes fleeing early, as occurred at the stadium and usually does at any establishment closer to home, the place actually got fuller as the game went on. The NYCBBB have a Web site at www.nycbbb.com, as do McFadden's (www.mcfaddens42.com) and Calico Jack's (www.calicojacksnyc.com).
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Dec. 13 2005|