Archive for January, 2018

Could the XFL Work This Time?

January 26, 2018

If done humbly, the answer might be yes

by John Furgele (The Alternative 228)

The XFL is back…in 2020.  Vince McMahon made that announcement today, stating that an 8-team league with 40 players per club will debut in late January or February, 2020.  McMahon’s new LLC, Alpha Entertainment will own the eight teams and as of now, no cities have been mentioned as potential candidates.

We all know about the first XFL, but the simple fact was that the league promised more than it could deliver and by the fourth week, the fans deserted.  The league screamed for attention and got it, but when the quality of play suffered, the attention—and the audience–went away.

The irony is by the end of the season, the play had improved, but it was too late; all the animals had left the barn.  McMahon promises that the second edition will be about football and solely football.

McMahon wants to succeed; this is guy who has never failed.  He took the then WWF (now WWE) to unprecedented heights.  Even today, cable ratings for the WWE remain solid and events across the country sell plenty—if not all—of tickets.  When the XFL failed, McMahon took it as a personal failure.  And, unlike most of us, he has the money to try it again.

He believes he can get it right this time and this time, the timing may be right.  I was one of the few that actually liked the original XFL and had the league been more humble, I personally think it could have succeeded.  But, that’s water under the bridge and here’s hoping that a smart plan of action can lure some fans to the fledging soon-to-be league.

The biggest problem that this “new” league faces is that American sports fans are programmed and these alternative leagues are not part of our programming.  Think about the fans’ sports cycle and we’ll use September as the starting point.  In that month, the kids are back in school and fans are thinking football and the end of the baseball season.  In October, it’s baseball and football; in November it’s football with a little bit of basketball and hockey.  At Christmas time, it is football with more attention paid to basketball.  In January, it’s NFL playoff time and once the Super Bowl ends in February, fans need a break; they need to de-program.  There’s a reason why February is the worst sporting month of the year.

In March, it’s March Madness and office brackets and when the national champion is crowned, the baseball season has begun.  In May, it’s the NBA and NHL playoffs along with Triple Crown horse racing and so on and so forth.

What’s the point here?  The point is that even though Americans love to watch both college and pro football, they are programmed to take a break and do other things from February to September.  This is why the USFL failed and this is why Americans have never taken to the CFL.  The CFL is certainly exciting with its wider field, three downs, 12 players on a side and multiple guys in motion.  But, because it is not part of the American program, it gets neglected by the sports fan.

The USFL was a good league with a good product.  Reggie White, Sam Mills, Jim Kelly, Kent Hull, Steve Young, Doug Flutie, Doug Williams, Herschel Walker and Bobby Hebert played in the league and these are guys off the top of my head.  Jim Mora and Marv Levy were coaches in the league, so too, was Steve Spurrier.

We know that the USFL was not as good as the NFL, but its top teams were of NFL caliber and despite that, the fans deserted it.  Before that, there was the WFL (World Football League) that tried and failed and we all know about the World Hockey Association and American Basketball Association.  It’s tough for a fan to think XFL football when they are programmed to watching NCAA basketball in March.  It’s like going to the beach on a sunny day in March; we are just not programmed to do it.

The only alternative league that really succeeded was the old American Football League, but that was 1960 when the league could find big markets that wanted professional sports teams.  New York, Buffalo, Oakland, Miami, Houston, Boston, Kansas City, San Diego, Denver and Cincinnati were all big enough and big-league enough to get involved.  That league did well; well enough to force a merger with the NFL.

Where does the new XFL go?  They will start with eight and logic says that they will go to towns where NFL football does not exist.  Orlando has already expressed an interest and with a refurbished Citrus Bowl (now called Camping World Stadium) and a smaller, more attractive MLS stadium, it seems like an ideal candidate.

Columbus also has a MLS stadium that seats 22,000 which would be much better than trying to secure the 100,000 seat Horseshoe that sits on the campus of Ohio State University.  The Alamo Dome hosted the relocated New Orleans Saints in 2005 when that team needed a home after Hurricane Katrina and has always longed to house a full-time tenant.  San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis have or will have lost NFL teams, so naturally they would be included on McMahon’s wish list, but because of Oakland’s stadium situation, the other city by the bay is likely out.

It is easy to see two four-team divisions—one in the east, another in the west and speculation has already begun.  Portland, OR, San Diego, St. Louis and San Antonio in the west with Memphis, Columbus, Orlando and maybe Philadelphia (nearby Chester has a MLS team) in the east for the inaugural season.  Hartford, CT could play games where UConn plays them, so why wouldn’t they be a candidate?  The New York Red Bulls have a nice soccer stadium in New Jersey that could be a nice fit as well.  Louisville and Raleigh also come to mind.

McMahon says 10 games in 2020; I’d like to see 12, but that could come in time if the league succeeds.  If McMahon is true to his word and keeps the focus on football, then I believe that the XFL has a chance to make it.  The one thing I didn’t like was all the attention given to those who kneel during the national anthem.  On a day where McMahon was announcing his new endeavor, politics had to come into play.  I certainly don’t want to ignore the issue that this has become, but to bring it up all the time is tiring and really not necessary anymore.  McMahon said the rulebook will state that the players need to stand for the anthem and this already got people angered on social media saying that it is unfair for a league to take away freedom of expression.  These are the same people that claim that they don’t watch the NFL because of kneeling—I kid you not!

These alternative leagues fail because their creators go in thinking they’re going to take down the mighty established league, believing that they can win over players and fans.  We all know Triple A baseball is not as good as Major League Baseball, but Triple A baseball survives because they market it differently.  The USFL thought they were going to take down the NFL and they went bankrupt.  If the new XFL can market itself correctly and take advantage of the country’s love for football, why can’t it succeed?

Vince McMahon is no dummy.  He knows how to market and he knows how to tell a story.  He tried telling us a story in 2001 and we didn’t like it.  My hunch says that he will tell a different one in 2018 and 2019 and by 2020, we will buy in.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Leave the Couch?

January 16, 2018

Divisional Playoffs had something for everybody

by John Furgele (The Couched 228)

That’s the why the games are played and that’s why they are watched. Many call the Divisional Playoffs the most exciting football weekend of the year—two games on Saturday and two more on Sunday.  The four winners get to play in the AFC and NFC Championship Games and that is no small accomplishment. If one game is bad, you have the next one to look forward to.

That said, watching four games over two days is very hard for many to do. Even if you’re single and live in an apartment, there has to be something to do between the hours of 4 pm and 11 pm on Saturday and 1 pm and 8 pm on Sunday. That’s said, if you watched the games—and accepted the time commitment that went with it—you realize why sports consumes many.

The Eagles were not given much of a chance. They were playing their backup quarterback, the master of the dink-and dunk, Nick Foles.   The Falcons were the defending NFC champs and after beating the Rams last Saturday, were everybody’s trendy pick to go back to the Super Bowl and exact revenge for choking away a 28-3 lead in last year’s Big Game.  All things pointed to a Falcon victory and a trip to the NFC Championship Game.

The Eagles won.

Later that day, the Patriots did what the Patriots do in divisional round play; they cruised, beating a flawed Tennessee Titans team 35-14. Tom Brady threw 53 times; this week, the Pats may run 53 times, but the result surprised no one and when the game ended, everybody was looking forward to a Steelers-Pats AFC Championship Game rematch.

Jacksonville was dead on arrival. Even though the Jags buried the Steelers 30-7 earlier in the season, they barely beat Buffalo in the wild card game last weekend. Blake Bortles ran for 89 yards and passed for just 83 in that game, a 10-3 win over a very, very flawed Bills team.  This time, the Jags would get boat-raced in the Steel City.

The Jags are known for defense, so naturally, they gave up 42 points in this game—and still won!   If these games were predictable and followed the script, nobody would watch. The Jags ran for 164 yards and the much-maligned Bortles was beyond solid and had his receivers not dropped five passes, his performance would have been even better.

They saved the best game for last. The Saints and the Vikings met at the new domed stadium in Minneapolis and treated all to a donnybrook of a game. The Vikes jumped out 17-0 and some of those apartment dwellers were thinking that it might be time to do some laundry and go to the grocery store. But, because of procrastination, they probably decided to give the game another 15 minutes, then 30, then 45. Before long, it was 17-14 and it looked like the Saints might come all the way back.  And, for those watching at home it was back to the couch.

The Saints then took the 24-23 lead and all they had to do was what Minnesota had to do in the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoffs—defend one more pass. Old-time Viking fans know what I’m referring to. In that ’75 playoff game, Roger Staubach threw the 50 –yard “Hail Mary,” and depending on whom you talk to, Pearson either pushed cornerback Nate Wright down or Wright slipped. But, in the days (thankfully) before replay, it was a touchdown and the Cowboys won, 17-14; a win that would help catapult them to Super Bowl 10.

Like the ’75 game, the Saints couldn’t break up the pass and when Stefon Diggs found himself with the ball and subsequent daylight, the Vikings had pulled off a miraculous win by a score of 29-24.

I watch a lot of sports and am not alone. Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting precious years of my life in doing so. There are so many other things one can do, but the games can suck you in and if you watch the regular season, you can’t bail on the playoffs can you? Even if the Patriots are expected to win it all again?

The final play in the Saints-Vikings will be talked about for generations. It will take its place alongside the “Sea of Hands,” the “Home Run Throwback,” the “Ghost to the Post,” “Wide Right,” and of course “The Immaculate Reception.”

This week we will hear that the Patriots can’t lose at home to the Jaguars and that the Eagles will not be able to overcome the loss of Carson Wentz for a second straight week. You will hear it early and often all week long.  So, get ready for a Jags-Eagles Super Bowl.

Next week, there are only two games on what they call “Championship Sunday.”  The good news is that leaves the apartment dweller and everybody else all day Saturday to get everything in order.  Heck, we can even get up early Sunday and be productive, too, but come 3 pm, we will be locked in until 11 pm.  Some of us will feel guilty for not leaving the couch–again–but if we get what we got this weekend, we’ll get over it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Cute in a Tough-Guy Game

January 9, 2018

by John Furgele (The Puzzled 228)

When I started watching football in 1975, I thought the game was easy. Line up, run or pass and try to score touchdowns. As I aged, I was told that football is a complex game, too complex for common fans to understand. There were formations, disguises and many other intricacies that the common fan could never comprehend.

Forty-two years have passed and I have realized that football is not that complicated after all.   The coaches make it to be for sure, and there are some parts of the game that aren’t easy to understand, but deep, deep down, the game is fairly simple.

The game may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to play, and we all know that the quarterback position has to be the toughest to play in all of professional sports. A great quarterback can put a coach in the Hall of Fame while a bad one gets the coach fired.

Be that as it may, coaches like to make the game harder than it is. We saw that in Super Bowl 49 when Pete Carroll tried to trick the Patriots by throwing a pass from the 1-yard line. Coaches spend 15 hours a day in their offices, devising plans for a game that is played by gladiators, and often, they try to win these games by being sneaky and at times deceitful.

Yesterday’s Buffalo-Jacksonville game was far from a thing of beauty. Unless you were a Bills or Jags fan, you might have struggled to stay with it. The game in Buffalo drew a 51.1 rating and 77 share. Those numbers are obscene, but sadly, those who watched saw the coaching staff out-clever itself when they needed to just keep it simple.

The game was scoreless late in the second quarter and the Bills were preparing to kick a field goal when they received a gift. The Jags jumped offsides and Buffalo now had a 1st and goal at the 1.

Football is a game for only the tough. It is a brutal sport and when you see the collisions in slow motion, there can be a small amount of guilt in watching—and liking—a game that is so violent.

This is the puzzling part for me. Why, in such a tough guy sport, do teams get cute? The Bills have a great running back in Shady McCoy, who was playing on a very bad ankle, yet they threw the ball on first down from the one. The result—a 10-yard penalty to make it 1st and goal from the 11.   If you’re a Bills fan, you knew right there that a field goal was going to be kicked. The kick was made and the Bills took a 3-0 lead, but many fans knew that in a game where scoring would be low, its outcome might have been decided right there and then.

Buffalo had four chances (assuming they go on 4th down) to make one yard and never let McCoy touch the ball. Bills fans are blaming offensive coordinator Rick Dennison for this, but the blame starts and ends with one person and that’s head coach Sean McDermott.

McDermott has to be the guy there. In fact, he should be the guy for all 60 minutes of the game. Let Dennison design the plays, and make sure they are executed properly in practice, but on game day, McDermott has to call run or pass. All coaches should do this, because the last I checked, they don’t assign win-loss records to assistant coaches.

All McDermott had to do was walk down to Dennison and say, “run.” Pete Carroll should have done that in Super Bowl 49 because if he had, his Seahawks might have won back-to-back Super Bowls.

McCoy had 19 carries for 75 yards and caught six passes for 44 more. He was underutilized. The head coach has to call run or pass based on how the game is going. The Bills threw 40 passes in the game—40. And, remember they ranked 31st of 32 teams in passing, but there they were passing on first down and getting themselves in long yardage situations.

This is what football coaches do; they get cute in a tough-guy game. If McCoy runs for 15 yards, I’d run him again and again until I had to pass. Instead, they call for a pass on the next play. I’d pick up the tempo and put the defense on their heels and when I have 1st and goal at the one, I run it three times, maybe four. If the defense stops me, I seek them out afterwards and pat them on the back with congratulations.

Jacksonville ran three times from the Buffalo one and Buffalo was up to the task. They passed for it on fourth down and were successful, scoring the game’s only touchdown. Even though the call worked, I was against it. I would have run again because the League of National Football is a tough-guy game. If I can’t make one or two yards, then frankly, I don’t deserve to win the game–or any game.

But, some teams just aren’t tough enough.

For Bills Fans, It’s Been a Fun Week But Now, the Fun is Over

January 6, 2018

by John Furgele (The Excited 228)

It is time for the Buffalo Bills and their fans to put Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals in the rear-view mirror.  For Buffalo fans it has been a great week, one flooded with emotions and memories.  If you’re old enough to remember the Bills “salad days” of the 1990s, gearing up for a playoff game was not that big of a deal.  In the 1980s, the Bills had some good years.  They won the AFC East in 1980 with an 11-5 record, losing a heartbreaker in the AFC Divisional Playoffs to the then San Diego Chargers.  In 1981, they secured the Wild Card before bowing at Cincinnati 28-21 in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, a hard fought loss to a team that ended up losing in the Super Bowl to Joe Montana and the 49ers.

The run of runs began in 1988.  Again, if you’re old enough, you recall when the Bills beat the Jets to secure the AFC East.  You recall public address announcer and morning radio host Stan Roberts imploring fans not to tear down the goal posts, saying, “We’re going to need those for playoff action.”  That team made the AFC Championship Game, losing 21-10 to the Cincinnati Bengals, but Bills fans were not deterred as the team was full of young stars.

The 1989 team became known as the “Bickering Bills,” but by season’s end had discovered themselves.  In the AFC Divisional Playoffs, they lost 34-30 to the Cleveland Browns, but in doing so discovered what would carry them to four straight AFC titles and subsequent Super Bowl appearances—the no-huddle, K-Gun offense.

For Bills fans, going to the playoffs and home playoff games became automatic, a rite of passage.  In the 1990s, the Bills qualified in 1990-1993, 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999, an amazing eight times in a decade.

We all know about the drought.  We all know about the miracle which saw Cincinnati hit paydirt on a 4th and 12 to beat Baltimore.  Since that game, the nation has been kind to Buffalo and its Bills.  Why wouldn’t they?  This is a feel-good story about a team, a time and its city.  It’s funny to have America back on our side.  By 1994, America was tired of the Bills.  They had lost three straight Super Bowls and the point deferential was increasing each time. After losing the one-point heartbreaker to the New York Giants in Super Bowl 25, they were routed by Washington, humiliated by Dallas and were about to be thrashed by Dallas again.

This is how the American sports fan works.  In 2001, most were rooting for the underdog Patriots when they played the Rams, a team that had won a Super Bowl two years earlier.  That Patriots were quarterbacked by an unheralded Tom Brady and a coach who was trying to prove himself in Bill Belichick.  Now, most of America despises the Patriots.

The Bills have made it and it will be interesting to see what happens in their Wild Card game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Jags are favored, expected to win and are at home.  But, this Jags team is far from a juggernaut.  It would not be a shock if Buffalo wins, nor would it be if they lost by a couple of touchdowns.  This is not a vintage Bills team, but at that same time, not a bad one either.

The fans have already prepped themselves.  Most have adopted the “I don’t care if they lose, I’m just glad they finally made it attitude.”  In sports vernacular that’s called playing with house money.  The fan rationalizes; admitting that perhaps its team was lucky to make it and rather than stress, they will enjoy the ride and playoff football for the first time since January, 2000.

Bills nation has further endeared itself to America by thanking Andy Dalton and his Bengals by donating to his charity.  At last count, Bills fans have donated over $300,000 to a fund that helps sick children.  When wide receiver Tyler Boyd—he the recipient of the Dalton throw—mentioned his charity, Bills fans started donating to his as well.  Now, sick children and youth football players in Western Pennsylvania have been the benefactors of a grateful Buffalo Bills Nation. What human wouldn’t like this story?

All this has been great, but now, it’s time to get nasty; to get the game face on.  No matter what Bills fans have been thinking and saying all week, once that game begins, everybody is all in and locked in.  If Tyrod Taylor overthrows a wide open Charles Clay, nobody in Western New York is going to say, “I’m just glad we made the playoffs.”  Instead, they will say, “How could he miss that throw?”

When Sean McDermott opts for a field goal on 4th and 1 from the Jacksonville 5, no Bills fan will say, “I’m just glad they scored some points in a playoff game.”  Instead, they will say, “What is doing, he should be aggressive and go for it.”

The Bills fan is excited and rightly so as it has been a long time between drinks for them.  If and when they lose, Bills fans will get over it and upon reflection will realize that magic that got them into the playoffs.  That said, if they lose a heartbreaker, the fans will huff and puff and show that anger because…..that’s what fans do.

The fans have enjoyed the week and they will do their best to enjoy and appreciate a playoff game for the first time since January 8, 2000.  But, once that game starts, everything changes.

And that’s the way it should be.

 

 

On College Football: Let The Cartel Do Their Thing And The Others Do Theirs.

January 4, 2018

by John Furgele (The Visionary 228)

Danny White has made his declaration that the Central Florida Knights are college football champions for 2017.  Notice I omitted the word national from his statement because I still don’t believe that college football truly crowns a national champion.  Until 1998, the writers (Associated Press) and coaches (UPI, USA Today, ESPN, et al) voted for the champions of college football.  It has never been an exact science, but it has made for good theater.

Who can forget 1977 when Notre Dame went into the bowls ranked fifth, but beat the number one ranked Texas Longhorns and then saw number 2 lose, number three beat a weak team with number 4 losing as well.  This resulted in the Irish being voted number one by the AP and UPI.

Miami did the same thing in 1983, vaulting from fifth to first by beating the unbeatable Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl.  The next year (1984) BYU went 13-0, beat Michigan in the lower-tiered Holiday Bowl and then had to sweat it out.  In the end, they were voted college football champions.

In 1998, the BCS tried to pit the best two teams in the BCS Championship Game.  Most of the time, this worked, but in the 2004 season, Oklahoma, USC and Auburn finished their seasons 12-0, but you can’t fit three into two and Auburn was left out.  USC crushed Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl to win the BCS title.  Auburn decided to claim a championship as well and who we were to stop them?

What’s the point?  White says that UCF beat Auburn, the same Auburn that beat both Alabama and Georgia.  White says he will get a championship banner for Spectrum Stadium and will give his coaches bonuses for winning a championship.  That’s how serious he is.

He makes a valid point.  As I have said before, the College Football Playoff is a playoff of exclusion run by the” Power 5 Cartel”, or if you want to get specific, the “SEC Cartel.”  SEC and Power 5 schools have to play their way out of the CFP, while Group 5 schools and non-blueblood schools have to try to play their way in.  Most of the time, they get shafted.  Last year, Washington had to practically apologize for going 12-1 because they played a relatively weak nonconference schedule.  Alabama, the blueblood of bluebloods was not knocked one iota for battling FCS Chattanooga in late November.

This year, Wisconsin won its first 12 games, but it wasn’t until they won that 12th game that they cracked the top four in the CFP standings.  If you’re not a blueblood, you really have an uphill fight to make the CFP.  And, if you’re a Group 5 school—-forget it.  UCF went undefeated and was 12th coming into the bowls.

Who are the bluebloods; the teams that will get every opportunity to make the CFP.  There’s USC from the Pac 12; Ohio State and Michigan from the Big Ten; Clemson and Florida State from the ACC; Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 and Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Florida from the SEC and of course, Notre Dame from the Notre Dame conference.  Can other Power 5 schools make it?  Yes, but you better be 13-0 to make sure you get the number four seed.

Temple could beat Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and let’s say, Bowling Green in their nonconference slate, but once they begin American Athletic Conference play, they will be penalized.  They will actually earn demerits for beating Connecticut, East Carolina, Tulane and Navy. When the first CFP poll comes out they will be ranked 8th or 9th and the committee chair will say that their conference schedule is just not strong enough.

I never understood the conference schedule thing.  Teams have no choice; they have to play the teams that are in their conference.  It is not Temple’s fault that they’re not in a better conference. The Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC don’t want them, so they joined the American.  This shouldn’t hurt college football teams, but it does.

If Temple finishes 13-0 with the American title, they will still have to sweat it out because the CFP is really a glorified beauty pageant.  If Texas, Michigan, Alabama and USC are all 12-1, they will get the nod over the number 5 ranked Temple Owls.  The committee will say things like, “Temple was so close and so deserving, but we felt that they were just a wee bit short.”

What can we do?  Well, expanding to eight teams is not the answer because all that does is allow “The Cartel,” to make more money.  If you think “The Cartel,” is going to give the G 5 an automatic bid, you might as well make that down payment on an oceanfront condo in Kansas.

The best thing to do is a breakaway.  Let the Power 5 schools form the CFA—the College Football Alliance—and let them continue on with their four-team blueblood playoffs.  That’s what they’re doing now, so let them continue.

The Group 5 schools and FCS schools should join together and keep the NCAA moniker.  Now, you’ll have two levels of college football—the CFA and the NCAA.  Currently, there are three levels.  It’s disguised, but it really is three levels—1-A for the Power 5; 1-AA for the Group 5 and 1-AAA for the FCS schools.  By combining 1-AA and 1-AAA you actually streamline and improve the product.

As mentioned, the CFA would have a four-team playoff while the NCAA could have an eight-team playoff.  With 12 teams in the playoffs, you could keep the bowl games intact.  And, in these bowl games, CFA and NCAA teams could play one another, just like they would during the regular season.  Temple can open at Bowling Green, travel to Indiana State and then go to the “Big House,” to face the Michigan Wolverines.  If Temple finishes 8-4, they can play 8-4 Missouri in the Independence Bowl.  Now, Chattanooga can play at Alabama with no judgement.

With two levels of playoffs, there would be two champions, the CFA champs and the NCAA champs and you could have 30 bowl games.  That’s 72 teams playing extra games, so everything is preserved.  The CFA winner will print a banner that says, “Alabama Crimson Tide: CFA National Champions,” and the NCAA winner will make a banner that says, “Central Florida Knights:  NCAA National Champions.”

I would suggest removing the word national and I will never refer to these winners as national champions, not because I’m a snob, but because I have never done that.

God bless Danny White and full kudos to him.  White has always been an outside-the-box thinker and this is just another example.  We need guys like White; not to make declarations like he did, but to institute change in college football.  He needs to push for this separation and creation of the CFA and NCAA.

This Saturday, an FCS champion will be crowned when North Dakota State faces James Madison in the FCS Championship Game.  On Monday night, the CFP champion will be crowned when SEC rivals Alabama and Georgia face off in that title game.  Which schools are getting left out?  The Group 5 schools like—-Central Florida.  That’s why White did what he did.  He had to advocate for the G5.

Now, he needs to go the extra step and get college football to crown two football champions.

 

The Queen Cities Get Together and Make it Happen.

January 1, 2018

For the first time since January, 2000, there will be playoff action for the Buffalo Bills

by John Furgele (The Buffalo 228)

One Queen City needed to win and then, they needed the other Queen City to win.  The odds of that happening were slim.  Queen City 1–the Buffalo Bills–had to beat the Miami Dolphins in Miami and then had to have Queen City 2–the Cincinnati Bengals–beat the 9-6 Baltimore Ravens, a team that needed to just win at home to clinch a playoff berth.

Queen City 1 got off to a good start.  They took advantage of a Miami team that had nothing to play for; a team that was going for it on fourth downs, a team that was playing its third-string quarterback.  As usual, Queen City 1 had an apparent touchdown overruled and before you could blink it was 22-16 and after Miami recovered an onside kick, it looked like Queen City 1 was going to blow it and surrender any chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.  But, an interception sealed the game and Queen City 1 headed to the locker room with the win and a 9-7 overall record.

Now, they had to wait to see if Queen City 2 could pull the upset.  For most of the game, they were the better team.  They jumped on the Ravens but saw a 24-10 lead evaporate.  The Ravens started moving the ball with ease and before you knew it, led 27-24. There’s a reason why Queen City 2 was 6-9 coming into this game.  Many times, they blew leads, many times they couldn’t finish games and as a result, you’re three games under .500 and your coach is about to be shown the door.

It’s never a good thing for a team to have to rely on others to make the playoffs.  Queen City 1 was 9-7 and one of those losses in 2017 was to Queen City 2.  Now, weeks later, QC 1 was rooting—hard—for QC 2.

The season came down to one play.  It was 4th and 12 for Queen City 2, the ball on their own 49-yard line.  One last gasp.  The players in the Queen City 1 lockerroom were watching, but they were hoping and praying for a miracle.  What were the chances of Queen City 2 making a big play in a season devoid of them?

Then, the miracle happened.  Queen City 2 quarterback Andy Dalton found the seam and hit Tyler Boyd.  It wasn’t a perfect pass, but it was good enough to keep the drive alive.  In fact, after Boyd made a quick spin it was a better than a first down catch, it was a 51-yard touchdown reception with just 44 seconds left.  Back in Miami, the Queen City 1 lockerroom erupted.  Was it really happening?  Was the 17 year playoff drought—the longest current one in North American sports—really going to end?

The answer came in a few agonizing minutes.  The Ravens turned the ball over on downs and just like that, Queen City 2 had done it.  They had knocked the Ravens and bumped the Bills—Queen City 1—into the NFL playoffs.  Next week, Queen City 1 travels to Jacksonville to take on the Jags in an AFC Wild Card Game.

Week 17 (Game 16) is always hard to figure.  For teams like the Cincinnati Bengals, you wonder what the motivation will be?  Football is a brutal game and when you’re on a 6-9 team, the number one goal in Game 16 is to get out of the game with your health intact.  If things go badly early on, the game can get ugly and before you know it, it’s 27-3 with five minutes remaining in the first half.

The other scenario is the old give it a quarter and see what happens one.  If the team that has nothing to play for gets off to a good start, they’ll keep playing and because professional athletes are a competitive bunch, the adrenaline and the will to win kicks in.

That’s what happened to the Bengals.  They had the 17-3 lead and they were into it.  They wanted to win, perhaps for their coach, but more importantly, for themselves.  They eventually reverted back to what they were (a mediocre football team) and lost the lead, but they were too far in to just roll up the tent.  This was game that they led most of the way and they were determined to go down fighting.  For Baltimore fans, there would be no second-half coronation.

They got the ball back and they kept trying.  Queen City 1 was watching in Miami and were appreciative of their efforts.  Win or lose, Queen City 2 did not “run for the bus,” as many teams in the final week of season do.  They kept playing and in the end, one Queen City helped another end a drought that had lasted 17 years.

Seventeen years is a long time.  In 1999, I was 31 with no kids and had never owned a house.  Since then, I have moved several times, owned a few houses, been married, divorced and now have four kids.  Lots of changes, but there was one constant—no playoff berths for the Buffalo Bills.

If you’re from the Buffalo area, you live through the sports teams, the Bills and the NHL Sabres.  Yes, most fans in most cities root hard for their teams, but there is a civic pride that comes with Buffalonians and Western New Yorkers and the Bills.  It’s hard to explain, just like Buffalo is hard to explain to outsiders.  The outsiders see an old rust-belt city and snow and wonder why people would ever live there.  But, there is tremendous civic pride by those who still live there and those who are from there and have moved away.  A Bills win brightens the week.

I once knew a guy who was promoted and transferred to Buffalo.  When he told his wife they were moving to the Queen City, she cried.  Who wants to move to Buffalo?  Eight years later, he was promoted again and they left Buffalo.  The wife cried again.  This time, she didn’t want to go.

That’s the best explanation of Buffalo and WNY that I have and that is why Bills fans around the world are really happy this New Year’s Day.