Heading North for a Birthday Weekend

By Mark Nagi

Regular readers of this column know just how much I enjoy traveling. Getting the opportunity to see new things, have new experiences, visit new places… it’s good for the soul and makes you appreciate what you have at home.

Well, this time my travel centered around all sorts of places that I’ve been previously. And if you have a few minutes, I’ll tell you all about it.

Recently I celebrated my birthday (at my age “celebrated” is a subjective term of course) back in my home state of New York. My birthday happened to fall on December 17, the same day that my favorite pro football team, the Dallas Cowboys, played in Buffalo. Being from New York, it wasn’t like I could watch Dallas play in person very often. In fact, this would only be the second time I’ve ever actually been able to do so.

Now, before I get the “you are a bandwagon Cowboys fan” comments, let me mention a couple of things. First, I’ve been a Dallas fan since I was a little kid. My Dad was in the Navy and the Cowboys had a Navy guy, as their quarterback. Roger Staubach remains my favorite NFL player to this day.

There was a lot of bad football before the Cowboys went on their title run in the early 1990s and I’ve liked them during the Gary Hogeboom/Steve Peuller days. Also, while Dallas has five Super Bowl wins, you really can’t say that there’s a bandwagon effect at play here. The Cowboys haven’t played in a conference championship game since January 1996. That’s over a quarter century of futility.

If I was a bandwagon fan, I’d be rooting for Kansas City.

My girlfriend and I flew to Rochester and made the less than two-hour drive to Niagara Falls. Passports in hand, we crossed the border into Canada, where the views of the Falls are much prettier. It’s an easy crossing, one that took about 10 minutes.

The next morning, we drove back over to America and drove over to Orchard Park, home of the Bills. For me, this is such a fun time, not only to watch the Cowboys play, but because I have so many college friends that live in the area. We tailgated with some of my old fraternity brothers.  We are all a little grayer with a few extra pounds, but it feels like yesterday when we were at SUNY Geneseo.

We talk about our families, our jobs, our lives… even nearly 30 years later we have that connection. College is a wonderful experience for many, not only for personal and professional growth, but what it gives us decades down the line.

The weather was cloudy, rainy, and cold. Just the way I like it. For real, overcast skies and spitting rain are my favorite. Walking to the game we saw a ton of Cowboys fans. I was expecting fights in the stands… but when your team is getting destroyed you simply accept the reality of the situation.

Buffalo played their best game of the season while Dallas played its worst. The Bills won 31-10 and the game wasn’t even that close.  This game is proof to me that Dallas can’t get to a Super Bowl unless they get a one seed and home field advantage, or at a minimum get to play all their games in dome stadium. They aren’t built to play out in the elements and unfortunately to win in January you often need to be in the Santa Clara cold or the Philadelphia sleet.

The next day we needed to fly back to Knoxville but took a detour to go to America’s greatest college town. Geneseo, New York has less than 11,000 residents. It has a main street filled with your typical college town stores and restaurants, including Mama Mia’s pizzeria. This is a personal favorite and worth the extra hour’s drive. We had lunch with college friends, drove through campus, and then headed back to Rochester, eventually flying home to East Tennessee.

I’m 51 now. I’m healthy, have terrific daughters, a house, a job, the best dog in the world… I’m blessed beyond belief.  And I don’t take any of that for granted.

It was a wonderful birthday weekend.

Even if Dallas got throttled.