When people ask, I don’t really have the answer. I usually explain, in as few words as possible, that sometime around age 4 or 5, I really don’t remember, I took a liking to Miami quarterback Dan Marino. He became something of an idol of mine. At recess, I threw as hard as I could, like Marino. I licked my pointer and middle fingers before snaps, like Marino (Might try this at work tomorrow before I hand out new library cards). I had all the collectables of boyish infatuation and still do: Posters, trading cards, t-shirts and commemorative plates. And I’ve followed the Dolphins ever since. This is why I’m a Dolphins fan from Western New York.
It was different growing up in Bills country. Being chastised as an adolescence for my resolute Dolphin allegiance made hating Buffalo fans that much more obligatory. Hey, three brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends: Screw the Bills. You know what, Mom? Take your four straight Super Bowl loses and get bent, said my 5 year-old self (I wonder now if this early exposure to borderline hateful heckling contributed at all to my raging case of Small Man’s Complex. Yea, probably.). That defensive attitude would remain the same through my teenage years and into my early 20s. I changed, interests changed, but my love for the Phins and my enmity toward the Bills and their miscreant fans (That includes you too, Ms. Malpeddi*) never waned.
That all changed with my move down South, to Charlotte. Here, the Buffalo Bills logo is no longer a red and blue skidmark indicative of inept offenses and pumpkin-head coaches (I’m talking about Wade Phillips here, folks). To me, it’s now Western New York’s coat of arms, and this changes everything. That blue buffalo with the red slash, I see it on bumper stickers, vanity license plates, baseball caps, hooded sweatshirts, and I am elated. “You from Western New York? Me too. Where at?” Something about meeting familiar people in unfamiliar places magnifies this whole exchange. “Small world.” And they ask. They ask me if I saw the Bills on Sunday and I always say ‘yes’. And I mention specific players and team concerns so as not to raise any doubt because if they ask me if I’m a Bills fan, I’ll have to say ‘no’ and go into an explanation similar to the one you just read at the beginning of this post. They will pretend that it’s OK, but they’ll go back to their cars or wherever and ask themselves how a Buffalo guy, an Olean guy, can root for those queer Dolphins with their gay-ass colors. They will judge me. Those fucking dickhead Bills fans will judge me for opening up a dialogue.
But most see through it. When I go to Charlotte’s Buffalo bar to watch the games with my Bills-loving brother and my equally fanatic friends, they understand. They think I’m gay for liking the Dolphins, yes, but they understand. They say, sure, Marino was great and all when he wasn’t having sex with men and snorting coke. They call me a bitch and all, but smile afterwards so this is probably just a joke, right?
I watch those games, in that bar, and everyone cheers madly and slugs Labatt Blue Light through smiles and I shake hands with them when Buffalo scores. Hand shakes are more professional, I feel. More business. I’m thinking, “The Bills kinda suck, but Buffalo is sweet. Let’s celebrate our mutual appreciation for this great Northeast city. Congrats on the touchdown. I’m happy for you. Sincerely, Dolphins fan.” And I feel kinda sorta part of it all because the jarring truth is this team, the Buffalo Bills, represents our small corner of the world. How can I not root for them, just a little?
So I go with friends and family to the Panther/Bills game in Charlotte, and I put on the foam chicken wing hat and hi-five, heckle a few Panthers fans because it’s just too hard to resist and even half-heartedly mutter some of the “Shout” song. My inner Marino is fine with this. He understands that home comes first, that I am morally obligated to respect the division rival. And so I do.
(My actions of late will be rewarded today, when my friend Dave and Rich, both Bills fans, will don Dolphins jerseys while joining me at the Fins/Panthers game in Charlotte. You see how love conquers all?)
In conclusion, let me, a Dolphin fan, say this with the utmost sincerity: I don’t want to see the Bills do badly. For the sake of Western New York, I hope they do well.
Thank you for reading.
* Short aside here. I don’t want to verify dates so I’m winging the specifics. Back in fifth grade, I came to school on a Tuesday morning completely devastated. This was 1992, I believe. The night before, the Dolphins were 6-0, facing the Colts. With the chance to win the game on a final drive, Marino was intercepted by Steve Emtman, who returned it for an 80-yard touchdown. I cried a lot that night, but I brushed it off and put on my Dolphins shirt Tuesday morning. After all, the Fins were 6-1. Walking by the main office that morning, I saw Ms. Malpeddi look at me pass by in my Miami digs and go into a Marino-bashing rant to the secretary. She said terrible, awful things: “You should have seen his (Marino) face, walking off that field. I loved it!!” I have never forgotten that, Ms. Malpeddi.