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Attending the End of an Era

In what has somehow become something of a tradition, at least in the past couple of years, I've had the good fortune to attend the Orchard Park version of the Bills versus the Patriots. I thought I'd document the trip out and experience, and reflect on both this and last season's matches a bit, through that lens.

The above photograph was taken at an Allen Street tailgate: One of the many we rolled through on our way from our secret parking spot, into the stadium. We joked with the hosts about their Belichick headstone, in a muddled tone of relief and nostalgia. As much as us Bills fans despise Darth Hoodie, there is a modicum of respect for our arch nemesis, even among the more rowdy tailgaters we "Go Bills"-ed, high-fived, and pounded beers with.

It brings me back to the story after the historic, January 2022 playoff drubbing we put on the Pats, where Josh Allen went full-on berserker mode. Following a short speech to his own team, Belichick did the unthinkable: He visited the Bills locker room, reportedly for an extended period of time. I had that scene in the back of my mind, as we trudged through mud, watched a gathering of Bills faithful take shots every time Brian Johnson screamed the word "Thunder", as AC/DC blasted out of a nearby R.V., and posed under the sign of JA17 leaping over Allen street (below):

Last year, I got tickets for my Dad and I to attend the same, late-season matchup against the Pats. This was the game following Damar Hamlin's miraculous recovery, and he was up in the press box, waving at fans as they flashed the two-handed-Hamlin-heart symbol that swept the nation last year. That game started with a bang, as Nyheim Hines scorched the New England coverage team with a kickoff return that set the stadium ablaze with airhorns and Hey-hey Hey-hey's!

This year, the Pats took a page from our script, and returned the favor with a K.O. return for a touchdown to start off this year's reprise. Both games--nearly a year apart--ended up closer than we would have liked, but as the curtain fell, the Bills rose triumphant. My friend, his kid, and I actually had some good football conversation with a Pats fan, sitting behind us. We could tell he was a little dejected by the direction of the team, but unlike the picture we often paint of Pats fan, this guy knew his football and history of the rivalry. He had a vibe of satisfied resignation, regarding Belichick's career arc.

We didn't get into the "best coach of all time", or "did Brady make Belichick, or visa-versa" discussions; we didn't need to. And as much smack I talk about the Pats cheating--because, hey... they did... multiple times--I wasn't about to bring that up. As tongue-in-cheek as that Hoodie Tombstone on Allen Street was, there was a definite gravity in the air at Highmark Stadium, on New Year's Eve. I have to give credit to Bills Mafia: We know the score, and as much as we never want to see Belichick's sleeveless hoodie prowling the sidelines again, there's an understanding that we are witnessing the last stand of a legend.

And... We're on to Miami! Go Bills!

--Tim Avery - 1/6/24

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