By Mark Nagi
Back when my daughters were little and I used to read to them, one of my personal favorites was “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
This was the final book published in Dr. Seuss’s lifetime. It came out 31 years ago and there’s still a message there for people 1 to 100.
Get out there. Life isn’t meant to take place on your couch.
A few weeks ago, I regaled you the good reader with a colorful account of my recent trip to Wyoming. I picked up 7 new states, leaving only 5 left to go to complete all 50. (I’ll be trying to hit the territories next. Looking at you, Guam.)
A chance to see the Wyoming/Colorado State game gave me all the motivation I needed, and I would use sports again to push me to make the necessary plans for another journey.
This time, it wasn’t unfamiliar terrain. I took a trip to my home state of New York. For years, I’ve wanted to get back and go to a Buffalo Bills game. I went to a couple during my college days at SUNY Geneseo (only an hour from Orchard Park) and loved every minute of those experiences. So, I worked on plans as soon as the NFL schedule came out back in the Spring.
A couple of my old fraternity brothers have season tickets so that would gain me entry to Highmark Stadium. I had some frequent flyer miles ready to burn. The Bills would be playing the hated New England Patriots, so the atmosphere was guaranteed to be tons of fun.
There was no excuse. I was off to western New York.
The problem with getting older is that the things you were so easily able to accomplish in your younger days are tougher to do when long in the tooth. My 6:40 a.m. flight felt like a good idea at the time.
(Editor’s note: It was not a good idea.)
For two days me and my fraternity brothers watched football (Alabama winning again. Shocking.) and told stories from our college days. Yes, the mornings were a struggle, but it was all worth the credit card bill and morning headaches.
On Monday afternoon it was time to go to Orchard Park. The weather didn’t look great so layering was key. Thermals. T-shirt. Long sleeve t-shirt. Sweatshirt. Coat. Hat to cover ears. Hand warmers.
Look, attending a game in December in western New York was a good idea at the time. But let me tell you. It was cold. Being in the south the past 20 years certainly has made the freezing days tougher.
This was different.
At our tailgate, fans started fires in an effort to keep warm, but that was a fool’s errand.
Oh, and it was windy. Really windy. Reportedly up to 30 miles per hour during the game with wind gusts of 40-50 miles per hour. One of the flags was ripped off the top of the goalpost. ESPN had to remove their skycam.
Still, 69,694 fans braved the elements, 97% of the stadium’s capacity.
I’ve made parallels between Buffalo Bills fans and Tennessee Volunteers fans over the years and for good reason. Fans are incredibly loyal, showing up no matter the team’s record nor the poor weather. I specifically remember the 2017 LSU game. UT had just fired Butch Jones, and it was basically a monsoon. Still, 80,000 fans had their tickets scanned at Neyland Stadium.
Someday, when the SEC expands to add NFL franchises, they need to look at the Buffalo Bills.
As for the game I attended, the Patriots threw only 3 passes yet beat the Bills 14-10. Buffalo fans were devastated. The demise of the Patriots has been overblown and the Bills have work to do if they are going to make a deep run in the playoffs.
The struggle was real to make my 6 a.m. flight. Was this ideal? No, it wasn’t, but it was the only way I’d get back in time for my youngest daughter’s chorus concert.
I got home, took a well needed nap, and was back to my East Tennessee reality.
In the NBC show “Friday Night Lights,” running back Tim Riggins would often say “Making Memories.” That’s what these travels have been all about. I’d have kicked myself for a long time if I didn’t make this trip. I’m already looking forward to the next one… whenever that happens.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go.