In 1988 my father bought season tickets to the Buffalo Bills.
And ten years after that, the Buffalo Bills are making their first playoff bid in my adult life.
It’s 2018. It’s time to BILLieve again.
The following week I submitted an essay on my belief system. I scripted my way through that first weekend in October spent far far away from campus.
My dad had been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia after attending a Buffalo Bills game. We sat in the 27th row in front of the 30 yard line, and he had walked up the same flight of stairs he had every other game of the 19 years of his reign there – but for the first time, he felt winded.
He had left the game, scheduled an appointment with his general physician, and waited. His physician told him he was the epitome of health. His weight was down. His cholesterol was better. His BP great for a 51 year old man. He didn’t see the problem.
But my father remembered the exhaustion he had felt climbing those stairs and demanded further testing. And a surgeon himself, he wrote up his own bloodwork. Twelve hours later I received the worst phone call of my life.
My dad had cancer.
And so I travelled to Pittsburgh, Pa to be by his side, and I wrote.
I didn’t know what to believe. I wasn’t my father, and my faith in God wasn’t strong. I wasn’t my sister, who was finishing up her medical school to become a surgeon like my father, and my faith in medicine was weak. I didn’t have much to cling on to.
The internet told me that my father had a 27% chance at life. The doctors told us it was maybe a tiny bit higher due to his age and health. So maybe a 35% chance, or 40%.
The odds were stacked against him. The chances were not good.
And I sat down in front of the television that Sunday night thinking terrible thoughts. My father was going to die. My family was going to shatter.
And then I turned on the TV and began to cheer for my Buffalo Bills.
They played the Cowboys that night, and I knew their chances were terrible. The Buffalo Bills had lost their street cred considerably since the time my father began cheering for them.
He had gone to all 4 Super Bowls. He had seen them in all of their glory. But, in 2007 that glory was gone. They were pretty terrible.
And yet every season, every game, I cheered again. I adorned myself in the Kelly, and then the Flutie, and then the McGahee jersey. I drove to Buffalo from wherever I was living at the time. And I screamed.
I screamed in hope. I screamed in exasperation. I screamed in elatement. And I screamed in anger.
But I kept screaming.
Because I BILLieved.
I believed in a team that repeatedly was 6-10, or 7-9. A team that never had the odds in their favor but showed up to play every weekend, year in and year out. A team whose fans never gave up hope—even if we were playing the Pats or the Steelers. A team who never tired, even if they were jumping snow drifts into the end zone.
He might only have a 30% chance at beating that disease, but I was a Bills fan. I had rooted for worse. I had seen greater upsets. I knew it was possible.
And for 11 months, I held that firmly in my mind.
My father ended up losing that battle, but not without trying to make that 55 yard field goal kick at the very end. Just like my team.
He was cremated in his jersey, and we demanded the opening game of 2008 be played at his calling hours.
For three hours, as people attempted to say their goodbyes to a great man and sympathesize with his family, our eyes were trained to the televisions that we demanded the funeral home have. And we watched as OUR team stomped on Seattle that day. We knew it was for our dad. We knew it was for the Bills greatest fan. We knew he was smiling in heaven.
It’s been 10 years now since the Bills true Twelth man left us. Ten years where we’ve kept those season tickets, and kept the faith.
My father created a strong family. A family who doesn’t give up. A family who roots for the underdog, who doesn’t care when the odds are stacked against them.
My little brother thinks my dad was holding up that ball that Dalton passed. My sister thinks he was smiling on the sidelines. My mother cried, and I screamed. We were all in different states and different worlds, but we were together on that field.
We were going to Jacksonville.
We were going to that game.
We didn’t care how much the tickets, or the flights, or the hotels would cost.
We were going to reunite on the side of that field, and we were going to scream.
This belief system has gotten us through so much. It has gotten us through decades of grief and pain, the good and the bad. It has gotten us through devastation and regret. Losing our #1 fan.
It has gotten us through life.
So on Sunday, I BILLieve.
On Sunday, I’ll throw my faith behind a team who’s odds are stacked against them. Who’s chances are small. I’ll scream for the team my father learned to love in the 80’s and for the team his children have learned to love since.
I’ll be surrounded by the biggest Bills fans I know to exist, and missing the biggest Bills fan that used to.
He’ll be watching.
He’ll be BILLieving.
I hope you will too.