No split loyalties for former Bills fan

October 22, 2010 | Paul Hoke

It’s 1984.  I’m eight years old, and my father is crying.  It’s only the second time in my life, that I had seen my father shed a tear. (The first was when his mother, my Mom Mom, had died).  Why was he crying?  Well, it was March of 1984…around here, that’s enough said.

My football team was gone.  Well, my dad’s football team, I was a fan of the horseshoe through him.  I wasn’t around for the glory days of Colts’ football, but my dad, along with my grandfather, had season tickets from 1962 on.  But this post isn’t about the Colts leaving.  It’s about where I went following the Colts departure, as a football fan.  I had to find another team.  I briefly followed the college game, again, thanks to dad.

For those that remember, Baltimore had an entry in the now defunct USFL.  This included a 1985 league championship as the Baltimore Stars defeated the Oakland Invaders 28-24.  But the league also included the 14th pick of the 1983 NFL draft.  That would be former Miami Hurricane, Jim Kelly.  Kelly played two seasons with the Houston Gamblers (1984-1985), after defecting to the USFL because the NFL team who picked him, the Buffalo Bills, was a bad team with poor attendance and a million inches of snow each year.  After the USFL folded, Kelly reported to Buffalo because they still held the NFL rights to him.  And what happened after that, was the best 10 years in Buffalo history.

I hopped aboard the Buffalo bandwagon around the 1988 season, mostly because I hated the teams in our general area.  I hated the Redskins, still do.  I hated the Steelers, still do, and mostly because these were the two team that were shoved down our throats here in Baltimore, while we were actively trying to get another NFL team.  The Eagles also had a spot in that, but they never got the face time here like the Redskins and Steelers did.  And I hate anything Philadelphia, so that made the decision to hate the Eagles that much easier.  Now, for the first time in a long time, the Buffalo Bills had developed into a good team.  Excellent draft picks, and fantastic free agent acquisitions had put the Bills in position to contend in the AFC East, and in 1988, they won the division with a 12-4 record.  The lost in the AFC title game to Cincinnati, but what their season did, was put them on local television broadcasts, where I got to watch them up close.  I was hooked.

From then on, Jim Kelly, who is still one of my favorite players of all time (his #12 jersey still hangs in my closet), and company became my football passion.  Finally, like my dad, I had a team to hang my heart on.  In the age before the internet, I did whatever I had to do to follow the Bills.  I bought the NFL gear, still have my Bills’ Starter jacket, and for those of us who were teenagers in the late 80’s-early 90’s, we know what a big deal those jackets were.  The Bills were my team.  I lived through those 4 Super Bowl losses, each one hurting just a little more.  They should have bookended those games, by the way.  The first one against New York, the Bills won that game everywhere but on the scoreboard.  And that last one against the Cowboys was theirs for the taking, they just didn’t close it out.  I watched the magical comeback against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 playoffs when they erased a 35-3 third quarter deficit without Jim.  I watched as they defeated the Dolphins in Miami to advance to their third Super Bowl.  I watched as the very next year, they defied the odds and beat Joe Montana and the Kansas City Chiefs 30-13, in Buffalo to advance to their record setting fourth straight Super Bowl.

I was also there the following year when they went 7-9 and completely missed the playoffs.  I was a Bills fan, through and through.  They were my team……

Until November of 1995.

As I remember, I was watching a game when I saw a news ticker on the bottom of the screen that said Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell was in talks to move his team to Baltimore.  My Raven fandom was born that day.  I followed the move closely, still keeping an eye on my Bills, but becoming more and more of a Ravens’ fan with each passing day.  Even when they didn’t have any colors, identity, or anything.  My hometown finally had a football team again.  My loyalties to Baltimore won out over my adopted team in Orchard Park.  And when the Ravens kicked off against the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium in September of 1996, the turn was complete…I was a Ravens fan.

That’s not to say that I haven’t followed the Bills in the years since.  I saw Jim Kelly retire at the end of the 1996 season.  Incidentally, the first Ravens’ game I attended at Memorial Stadium, their 31-17 win over Pittsburgh, Jim Kelly was the color analyst for the game.  Irony, I think so.

I watched Doug Flutie, Eric Moulds, and the Music City Miracle that was an absolute sham.  That should have been ruled an illegal forward pass, and Buffalo should have won that game.  I guess, in reality, it can be said that Buffalo is my second favorite team.  My superstar character in Madden 11 was drafted by Buffalo, and I have led them to the Super Bowl against, of all teams, the Washington Redskins.  But I digress….

As a former Buffalo Bills fan, I can honestly say that I harbor NO mixed emotions about the game this weekend.  I hope the Ravens crush Buffalo.  I hope they beat them by the time the halftime whistle sounds.  I hope Joe Flacco throws for 5 TD’s and 400 yards.  No split loyalties here.  A resounding Ravens’ victory is the only way to go into the bye week.

At the expense of the soon to be 0-6 Buffalo Bills.  A team from my past, running into the buzzsaw that is the team of my present.

And I don’t feel a shred of guilt about it.  GO RAVENS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!