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The Family Behind the Fourth Wall

I’d like to peel back the fourth wall, a bit, for this week’s article. A few weeks ago, as our family was unwinding following Christmas dinner, and the annual forays into politics and religion had smoldered out, the Avery family turned to discussing the state of The Bills. And whether it was the tryptophan or the Finger Lakes whites speaking, my Uncle blurted out–over talk of Beane’s masterful trade for Douglas, visions of Milano dancing through the flats, and deep concern over our 9 and 6 record–the following:


“I just want them to win one before I’m gone.”


To put this in context, a couple years back he had a very close brush with passing, as he’d gotten a severe case of COVID. Perhaps the wine unleashed a little more honesty than he wanted. In his late 60’s, now, my Uncle had lived through the highs of the late 80’s and early 90’s, and the lows of the drought, and the sub-five-win seasons of the early 80’s. He’d been there for Miami’s decade plus of dominance. So while other family members may have rolled their eyes, or glossed over the outburst, the sentiment struck a chord with me. 


It’s something we’ve all been hoping for, for so long; and whether or not the family gathered there said it so bluntly, it’s an undercurrent we all feel. 


Fast-forward to the week leading up to the Steelers game. As the weather outlook and ticket prices battled for lower lows, my ticket trigger finger started twitching. I very nearly pulled the trigger, just before Hochul pushed back the game to Monday afternoon. Thankful I hadn’t gotten tickets–as I wouldn’t have been able to attend–I finagled my way out of work by 4:15: Just in time to catch the whole game over a bucket of ‘Nawlins Blues wings at the nearest Jeremiah’s. My wife joined me just before the half, after she wrapped up work, and we sat in numbed near-silence as Bills defenders dropped left and right, and the game’s energy slumped from celebration to numbness. 


As if on queue, 17 bowled through a wet-noodle curtain, Shakir shook Fitzpatrick out of his cleats, and Buffalo decided that this run they’re on was not stopping here. Not yet. Not now. This family wanted another swing at the pinata, and they sure earned it: Mahomes, on the road, in the playoffs.Those words have never been uttered. The golden boy of KC has always had every advantage.


Until this week. Until Sunday night at 6:30 PM, in Orchard Park, New York.


As I’d missed out on my chance to catch the Pittsburgh home playoff game, and knowing how epic of a matchup Mahomes and Allen would be, I’d not even considered getting tickets for the KC game. With better weather on the docket, and a rolodex of receipts the Bills need to cash in against Wilfred Walrus and Zebra’s Sons, ticket prices were well out of reach.


That is until this Thursday night: One of the group-texts I’m in–a group who usually catch 5-10 games per year together–lit up with a barrage of notifications: One of our crew had a friend who wasn’t able to make the game. They had season tickets, so they were offering them at cost… actually a tick below cost! As none of us expected tickets to be available, most everyone in the group already had plans set, recipes picked out, and houses power-cleaned. 


This was it: My swing at the Big Pinata. 


Naturally, I texted my Dad and my Uncle first. My Dad wanted to think it over; he said he’d get back to me on Friday. The next morning, he let me know he was fighting a virus, and he didn’t want to get more people sick. My Uncle got back to me a bit later, letting me know he would be traveling, and wouldn’t make it back in time. 


So I reached out to one of my best buds, who lives out in Buffalo. We’ve lived together twice, for two-year stints, a decade apart. I stood up in his wedding, as he did in mine. He and my brother were in bands, together in middle school. We’re basically family. 


He was in! And so we waited, agonizingly, to hear back from my friend, and make sure the tickets hadn’t been sold. When word came through that we had them, I think I just about spit out my coffee: We were going to see Josh Allen face off with Patrick Mahomes, in Orchard Park, for the AFC Divisional Playoff, and we didn’t sell half our stock profiles to do so! 


Not long after the tickets were secured, my Sister texts me the following:



Now, for context, my Sister lives in Western Michigan; a bit of a hike from Orchard Park, New York. I figured that my brother-in-law wanted to join me for the game. I gave her a call to let her know the ticket was already promised. We got talking, and I asked if he had wanted to go.


“Oh, no,” my sister said, “Colson wanted to!”


“Jennica,” I replied, “Colson is nine years old!”


She shot back: “He’s a grown *** man. I’d put him on a plane!”


We both had a good laugh about it, but she wasn’t kidding: There is something about this Buffalo Bills team that is bigger than football. I know there’s an element of cringe from some corners, when we Buffalo fans talk about Bills Mafia. But when you break it down to the core meaning of the word–the real, Italian roots of it–Mafia means one thing: 


Family. 


Whether it’s my Uncle, feeling mortality and just wanting us to win one, to my Sister offering to put my 9-year-old nephew on a plane alone to Buffalo, to text groups fighting to make sure one of “Us” gets tickets, to best buds attending an inconceivably rarified home playoff game against the NFL’s golden boy: It all boils down to family. 


None of us know what tomorrow’s game will bring. We know the road will end for one team, and go on for the other. But underpinning all of that are the interwoven lives, idiosyncrasies, battles, tales, and lives that make moments like these more than just a game. 


And tomorrow night, when I will inevitably lose my voice and make some friends I’ve never met before, you’d better believe I’ll be screaming for my Uncle, my Sister and brother-in-law, my nephews and niece, my Dad, the buds in our Bills text groups, my co-workers and the guy in the Wegman's parking lot who nodded and said “Go Bills”, when he saw my Kincaid jersey.


This one’s for the family.


Go Bills!


–Tim Avery - 1/20/2024

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