(Editor’s Note: Kurt Culbert is a 1995 Graduate of Wellsville High, 1999 Graduate of St. John Fisher College and life-long Bills Fan and Andrew Harris’ college roommate. He is pictured here, on the left, with 1994 Wellsville High graduate Andy Gee, also a life-long Bills fan, enjoying a Bills game in a man cave somewhere near Charlotte, N.C.)
A Column by KURT CULBERT
I’m a terrible host for Bills games. Those 60 minutes of game time drive a transformation into a shell of the normally congenial version of me. Once the Buffalo wings have been stripped to the bones, or Beef on Weck has been devoured, it’s game time and I change into the spectator whose external emotions battle continuous somersaults.
That doesn’t deter the nearly dozen folks, many of whom are 14895 transplants and friends, who accept the invitation to join me in my basement each week during the Bills season. They share in the seemingly weekly emotional roller coaster. When it comes to the rise and fall of decorum and couth by their host, they have witnessed it enough to be numb.
Similarly, you’d think the pattern of pain that continues to haunt Buffalo sports would somehow numb the hurt that is the aftermath of a Bills 42-36 defeat at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The finality of the season came on the heels of one of the most euphoric moments in Bills history, with Josh Allen finding Gabe Davis to put a nail in the Kansas City coffin. How is possible that such gloom could so quickly follow that high?
Yeah, this one hurts.
It was an easy answer, dating the last three decades. Whenever anyone asked my toughest sports memory, the answer was always, “Wide Right.” That answer had never wavered through the multitude of difficult moments in Buffalo sports lore since that time.
Even the infamous “Music City Miracle” came at a moment when there were so many issues on the team (remember Ralph forcing Bum’s kid to play Rob Johnson) that it just couldn’t carry the sting that this Divisional Playoff result did.
Each of those moments leave scars. This game will too. My answer to that question has now changed to this heartbreak in the heartland.
This one hurts, badly.
This was the culmination year. This was the season where The Process paid off. This was the roster that is headed for reckoning and was explicitly designed to make it happen. And shame on me, but I let my heart believe it. I joined the legions of Bills fans who read every tea leaf thrown our way over the last several days to recognize that destiny was waiting for Buffalo in southern California. This was the year that the kid from the northern part of that state, was going to exorcise history and lift the Lombardi for all of Western NY.
We’re going to hear “13 Seconds” and “OT Rules” often for a long, long time – and rightfully so. But as I reflect initially on this season, I’m going to be equally frustrated by the inexplicable November losses to the Jaguars and Patriots. Or that thud of a season opener loss to Pittsburgh.
Wins in just two of those games would have been enough to secure home field advantage in the playoffs. Yes, that didn’t amount to a whole lot for teams during the recent divisional weekend, but I sure do like the Bills chances in the friendly confines in Orchard Park over the raucous crowd in Arrowhead. I can assure you Bills players would have answered “Highmark Stadium” to the popular Bills culture question of “where else would you rather be?” last night.
Or, put differently, I think Patrick Mahomes doesn’t have a similar advantage if he were having to run that offense at One Bills Drive.
Head coach Sean McDermott will rightfully face a chorus of questions about some of his staff’s decisions in Kansas City. He’s a fine coach who has built a solid franchise. But he still has work to do to be a better in-game manager. His use of challenges remains among the worst in the league, and his gut instinct seems to volley somewhere between aggressive and conservative far too often in a game. The game management needs to improve in order for him to rise to elite coaching status and take the Bills to a title.
Thank goodness the quarterback position will not be a question for a long, long time. Josh Allen is spectacular. I’m not sure I’d choose another quarterback in the league to be the ideal starter for Buffalo. He’s a fantastic fit. And he’s good enough to keep the Bills in a strong spot for a long time. The likelihood of him carrying the Bills into meaningful football games well into January looks promising for the next decade. I’m thankful for that with a clear memory of what non-playoff football looked like for many consecutive seasons.
That said, I’m concerned about the roster challenges that will face the front office this off season. Allen will (deservedly) eat a massive portion of the salary cap. There will be impact players on this roster playing in different uniforms next year. I’m hopeful their replacements represent great bargains when analyzing their talent to cost.
Scars from this one ever-present moving forward, I’m sure most will reflect on an overall solid season by the Bills.
Nothing can tame a bad memory like success. Unfortunately, Bills Mafia will need to wait many months to start our own process of eliminating the immediate pain from this playoff game.
We’ll be there in my man cave here in North Carolina when that journey begins, the Wellsville transplants ready to transform into our Bills watching selves.
But for right now, this one hurts.
Wellsville native Kurt Culbert remains a diehard Buffalo sports fan, along with his family, in China Grove, NC.