I made the trip from my hometown in Québec with a bunch of gonzo yahoos in a bus Saturday. No, I was not with the younger Québec yahoos who got tossed out of the Doubletree in the wee hours, but it was indeed our hotel.
I love tailgating in Buffalo. In my limited tailgating experience, it feels a lot like Heinz Field tailgating, minus the spiffy stadium, the beautiful downtown setting...uh, what was my point again?
Oh, yes! Why did it remind me of Heinz? Elementary: the sea of black and gold outside the confines of RW Stadium. Man, I knew instinctively and from anecdotes here how well Steeler Nation travels, but this was ridiculous. My buddies had told me we'd get killed wearing our Steeler garb in Buffalo, but they were only speaking of other teams traveling to the Bills and daring to show their colors. This was waaaaay different. Our bus was parked in the middle of a bunch of PA buses, and boy did we party. I was with the crazy Frenchmen passing around the funnel, homemade cocktails and generally being better ambassadors than the clowns our taxes pay to do so in Washington.
On Sunday, it felt an awful lot like home in Pittsburgh. To the point where I felt bad for the good people of Buffalo. Beyond the clichés of blue-collar kinship, economic disaster, yadayada, there's a lot to be sympathetic about. Their team works hard, but self-destructs a lot more often than ours. They have a proud history, alas denied of any crowning achievement. They love good LB play, as well as scintillating RBs and LB-type QBs.
But what are you to do when even outside your own stadium, kiosks turn out to sell more Steeler paraphernalia than Bills'? Where Terrible Towel surpluses (bought a 2006 one for 5$, still with "authentic" charity tags) are sold out?
I don't know how the sound came out on TV, but Steeler Nation rocked the Ralph yesterday, starting with booing the Bills off the field...in warmups. Real classy, but still got the message across. This was not to be your typical home game. This was barely going to be a home game at all.
Inside, the stadium was a see of black and gold (with the occasional whites, your truly sporting his best Troy Polamalu away jersey). I heard the numbers 32,000 tossed around like a rumour about barbarians in the outskirts of the Roman empire. But aside from a few drunken fans being tossed out (including, in a freedom-of-speech violating moment, rude T-shirt wearing Bill fans), it seemed to generally remain above the civilized line.
Of course, the game helped. None of those frustrating, domination-inspired dead times where the seeds of riot or lynchings are spawned. No, the Cardiac Steelers and the Gritty Bills played out a spirited yet hardly awe-inspiring game in front of fans who could have been enemies, but most often turned out to be bicep-punching cousins with more in common than they knew.
Where was I sitting, you might ask? I was in section 338, sitting near the old, fat and no-shirt wearing French guy who danced blindness-causing lewd routines, and insisted on posing for pictures with every woman under 50 around him. Oh, and he was our tour organizer.
All in all a pleasant experience, in a balmy (for Nov. 28) afternoon in the sun in Buffalo that we had no right to expect. And all of this as the Montreal Alouettes were preparing to accomplish what was to become a historic repeat of winning the CFL's hallowed trophy, the Grey Cup, two years in row (not accomplished since the John Candy-Wayne Gretzky owning Toronto Argonauts with Doug Flutie at the helm in '96-97). And it was a lot colder in Edmonton, where the game was played.
We listened to it on satellite radio, while trying to escape the Thanskgiving Sunday rush out of New York state. After the game, we learned that Alouettes QB Anthony Calvillo (Utah State, and also a tryout invitee of the Steelers in 2001 or 2002) had finished the season while knowing he had to have a throat operation to remove a tumor for the last three months. Quite the inspiration already, the now-three time champion pivot of the Alouettes now enters pro football legend.
How about you? Were you there in Buffalo? Where do you like to travel most?