By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports columnist
This weekend, the Buffalo Bills won the AFC East for the first time since Dec. 17, 1995. The team rolled up to Mile High Stadium and body-slammed the Broncos through a proverbial table.
Quarterback Josh Allen — the newfound savior of Buffalo — threw for 395 yards and two touchdowns. As if having a T-shirt cannon for an arm weren’t enough, he also ran in two TDs.
To put into perspective just how monumental a milestone this is for Buffalo, Allen was born almost exactly six months after Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly led the Bills to their last division title.
“Toy Story” — the first one — came out that year.
Michael Jordan was still in the NBA and in the midst of beginning his second threepeat.
Buffalo has only made the playoffs five times since, and the last time the Bills made it to the Super Bowl? Allen was two and a half years away from being born.
Now, he’s hoping to be the first quarterback to get the Bills back there.
It won’t be easy. The AFC is stacked this year. But if ever a team were on a roll, it’s the Bills. They’re 11-3, and Allen has 4,000 passing yards this season, which makes him the second Bills QB to ever throw for 4,000 yards in a season (Drew Bledsoe was the first in 2002).
He’s 360 passing yards away from breaking Bledsoe’s franchise single-season passing yards record, and he’s only the second Bills QB ever to throw for 30 TDs or more after Kelly in 1991.
Want one more stat? Allen is four passing TDs away from breaking Jim Kelly’s single-season franchise record.
For the past 25 years, Buffalo wore being a bad team well, thanks to its fans.
Bills Mafia fashioned its undying belief into wool hats and puffy coats, with members insulating their bodies against the cold and the sting of defeat, as they continued to show up to games and tailgates.
Their hope became a protective layer that softened the blow of a failed season, and also the impact, as they hurled their bodies through tables in parking lots. Even when the Bills lost, their fanbase held onto a chaotic, frenzied, energy that managed to remain uplifting.
And Saturday night, those fans were rewarded.
The Bills have been steadily improving since coach Sean McDermott got to town in 2017, and one of the goals he preached since taking over was securing a home playoff game.
The Bills have finally done it, and they returned to Buffalo wearing shirts that read “WON NOT DONE.” It was a reminder that while they are on the right track, the train still had a long way to go.
You wouldn’t have known it from the warm welcome on a cold night that the team received at the airport. Thousands of Bills fans met the team’s plane, screaming for their heroes (there wasn’t much social distancing, as the fans crushed up against a chain link fence, but at least they were outside and some masks seemed to be worn).
They chanted “Super Bowl! Super Bowl!” The chords of the song “Shout” could be heard floating over the tarmac, as though the bundled-up fans were celebrating the oddest wedding ever.
“Wild. Is. An understatement,” Allen wrote on his Instagram story afterwards.
There’s a cruel irony to the fact that in the year the Bills have been the best, fans can’t be there.
You could argue that not being able to go to games is the least of Americans’ problems during a pandemic and you wouldn’t be wrong. But what this virus has robbed us of the most is community.
Community is crucial.
And the Bills Mafia is a community that has remained loyal through some very lean years.
Bills Mafia earned this title.
Last year, it started to look like there was a chance that their fans’ emotional investments would pay off — the team went 10-6 and made it to the AFC wild-card game against the Houston Texans.
I accidentally watched that game with a bunch of Bills fans. The Patriots were playing the Titans in the slot after, and I met some friends I knew from Boston at a bar in Manhattan.
We didn’t realize we were at a Bills bar until we sat down, looked around, and noticed we were in a sea of red and blue, but not the kind we were used to.
I was surprised by the friendly razzing and the fact the group sitting next to us sent us a round of beers. I went in without a rooting interest for either team, but I began to want the best for Buffalo after seeing how passionate those people were.
Watching Bills’ fans’ faces fall as the Texans destroyed their playoff dreams was truly one of the most heartbreaking sports things I’ve ever witnessed.
And I was at the 28-3 Super Bowl.
But Buffalo’s run and Allen’s ascendence has been a bright spot in a bad year for that chilly city in New York state.
And regardless of what happens in the playoffs, a loss this year shouldn’t sting the way bad seasons in the 2000s have in the past. Because assuming Allen stays healthy, there’s a lot of runway for these guys.
And, hey, even if Bills fans have to wait to get to a Super Bowl, it hopefully means they’ll get to attend.
I, for one, wouldn’t want the world robbed of seeing how Bills Mafia would show out for a Super Bowl appearance.
There won’t be a single folding table available on the whole internet.
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