Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Buffalo fans should take the Cavaliers win to heart

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

I was in downtown Cleveland last night with my son, smack-dab in the middle of tens of thousands of people witnessing history as the hometown Cavaliers broke a 52-year championship drought. We stood between The Quicken Loans Arena and a parking garage watching two large screen TV's without audible sound. The fans were numerous, the fans were young and when Kyrie Irving schooled "Golden Boy" Steph Curry with a three to put the Cavs up by three, the fans went crazy sending a roar that shot to Baltimore, South Florida and Denver, three cities primarily responsible for the agony that has been Cleveland sports.

The Drought was over.

Most of the fans within my view were too young to witness Earnest Byner, "The Drive" and barely old enough to remember the Indians losing Game-7 of the World Series. They never felt the heartache of losing an entire franchise to another city, but they were out there howling as the last second ticked off.

I've been in Cleveland for just about 12 years now, a Western New Yorker who left the area in 1987, returned for a brief stint in 2002 only to arrive here in Northeast Ohio in 2004. Even though I was away from home, the sharp pangs of "Wide Right" and "No Goal" were no-less brutal and are still embedded deep within my psyche. I am a Bills and Sabres fan at heart but from 2004 to present I've lived in Cleveland enduring a double-dose of heartache as both cities' sports teams just couldn't get it right.

Buffalo fans and Cleveland fans are very similar as both are represented by die-hards who live and die with their teams and this Buffalo fan has done a lot of dying amidst the wreckage that has been the Cleveland sports scene. When I visited First Energy stadium over the past couple of years to watch the Bills take on the Browns, win or lose there was no animosity between fans decked out in their opposing regalia, just a mutual respect that comes from fans slogging through the same professional sports sludge, but now Cleveland has beaten Buffalo to the punch.

If you've never witnessed winning a sports championship as a fan, it's perceived as a life-altering event for those of us who've vicariously lived our lives through our sports teams. However, the Cavaliers, especially LeBron James, stressed the importance of family and community after their Finals victory in what's generally a true statement. I was downtown with my son last night, living in the moment, ready to accept whatever the outcome to be, and it just happened to be a pretty good one.

And it's something I hope Buffalo fans will see soon.

A big-time sports championship is not a life-changing event for the average Joe outside of the rush that accompanies the final buzzer with your team on top. We "Joes" still have to work and take care of the home front while doing whatever our lives necessitate no matter the outcome of any single sporting event. Even today as I went in search of a newspaper for a collectors item, the rush of last night has faded and I still need to get things done to keep things rolling in our house.

As sports fans we'll still gather on Sunday's in the fall and watch our favorite teams in every other sport throughout the course of the year. We'll root hard and eat and drink until we become queasy and the following day we'll go back to work. We live and die with out teams during the game, but we tend take the emotions of that moment and stretch it into the following day or days or weeks or even decades. Especially in Cleveland and Buffalo.

But in living and dying with our sports teams we tend to forget what our everyday lives have to offer and that we'll still need to spread whatever love we have amongst our close family and friends to whomever might need it. As we shut out everything around us while focusing all of our energies on a single sporting event that's beyond our control, the voices of those close to us get lost and when defeat hits, not only have we lost in our fantasy sports world, we also lose in our little corner of the world as the voices of our loved ones go unheard.

As I said, I ended up in downtown Cleveland with my son and we spent the evening together being a part of history. The only thing that could've made any better for a father on Father's Day was if my daughter was with us, but she lives out of town. Being well-versed in heartbreak as a Buffalo fan living in Cleveland, when we left the rapid and walked towards where we would spend the next five hours I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but I knew I'd be there with my son making memories.

In the aftermath of the victory, one which I can take to heart as a Clevelander for 12 years, but a victory of which doesn't touch quite as deep as those who've lived the whole "Mistake By the Lake" thing, I was taken by someone on TV today. The person was on ESPN and I didn't catch his name, but he was a born-and-bread Clevelander who gave his perspective on what it meant to the city to finally win a championship. After saying all the usual things he stated ever so graciously that with the victory, no losses will ever feel as sharp as they had in the past. It's something Buffalo fans can take away from this.

The Bills and the Sabres have been trying to get it right since 1965 only to end up as the brunt of jokes for the better part of that time frame. They've endured heartache like their kindred spirits in Cleveland, but as with the Cavaliers win last night, this too shall pass. Whether I see it in my lifetime is another matter but it will eventually come and with the NHL Draft upon us and the Bills training camp starting soon, hope springs eternal once again for us Buffalo fans.

For 51 years our hopes rise then they're shattered but as fans, we're there until the end through good times and bad, wins and losses.

It all starts at the top for our franchises and when Terry Pegula stepped up to purchase the Buffalo Sabres and with his family the Bills, Buffalo fans should take heart in knowing that they are fans who have the wherewithal to do whatever it takes to bring a championship to Buffalo, just like Dan Gilbert did with the Cavaliers. Gilbert swallowed his pride and opened the door to a LeBron return and even though it wasn't for purely redemptive reasons as a LeBron/Cavs reunion brought in a huge cash-flow to the team and the city, he still got it done. Then he allowed his GM to do whatever was necessary to acquire and/or retain the pieces to get them to the Promised Land.

Bills and Sabres fans have the same type of ownership group in the Pegulas in that they will spend whatever's necessary to allow their GM's to build a championship team. Will one or both teams make it? That remains to be seen.

Regardless of that, I'll be all-in with the Sabres and the Bills and when it comes time for them to make it to the Finals or Super Bowl, I hope to be a part of a huge Buffalo roar that signifies an end to their drought. Hopefully I'll be able to spend it with members of my family living in the moment like I was lucky enough to do here in Cleveland.

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