On paper, the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills couldn’t be more different. One franchise owns four Lombardi Trophies, as the other is best known for losing four consecutive Super Bowls. Since the Brett Favre era began, the Packers have been a near-perennial playoff team, whereas the Bills’ last playoff game took place last century, when Titans tight end Frank Wycheck (arguably forward) lateraled a ball to Kevin Dyson to enact the “Music City Miracle” in the 1999 wild card round. Lambeau Field is regarded as hallowed ground and, even with the renovations to increase capacity, it’s shrouded in history, while the crumbling façade of Ralph Wilson Stadium seats 8,000 fewer people than it did when it opened in 1980. Green Bay has Bart Starr’s Ice Bowl touchdown, Favre to Freeman in Super Bowl XXXI, and Nick Collins’ Super Bowl pick six. The Bills have Scott Norwood’s wide right kick, the Terrell Owens experiment, and Kevin Everett’s on-field paralysis. The Packers have enough great players dotting the team’s rich history to necessitate its own Hall of Fame, and arguably the franchise’s greatest player is currently ducked under center. Meanwhile, one of the greatest Bills players (O.J. Simpson) will live out his days in prison, and Kyle Orton is the latest semi-functional arm cast in the role of quarterback since Jim Kelly (and, to a lesser extent, Doug Flutie) last brought stability to the position.
While the teams are on opposing ends of the NFL totem pole, the organizations, the cities in which they’re based, and the people who support them actually have a lot in common. Both teams are among the five least desirable places for players. Green Bay and Buffalo are the two smallest, snowiest, and—along with Detroit—most widely-panned NFL cities, which might explain why fans of both teams are especially proud and passionate. With the Packers headed to Buffalo to take on the 7-6 Bills this weekend, Milwaukee Record met up with a pair of western New York transplants, Vanguard co-owner Jim McCann and Crappy Dracula‘s Justin Kern, to talk about the Bills long gone heyday, why their devotion to the team survived relocation, and similarities they see between the preferred teams in former and current cities.
What was it like being in western New York in the late ’80s and early ’90s during the four-Super Bowl run?
Justin Kern: We were both at “The Comeback.” That’s like the quintessential Bills game. That’s like our Super Bowl that we won. Honestly, watching [Aaron] Rodgers play now and watching all the fans cheer on Rodgers…the thought that you go into every game knowing you’re going to win, when I was a kid, that’s how it was. I just knew we were going to beat everybody, especially the Dolphins.
Jim McCann: I look back now, and it’s all really good memories. I moved out of Buffalo in 2001, so I don’t get to see my family as often. Going to the game with my father, those are the memories I have of those teams. They won a ton, they were really good, and they were even good on video games. They were on commercials. They were cool. I look back at all those memories with my family, and I think that’s why I still follow the team now. It’s part of my history. Even though they lost the Super Bowl, they were still amazing. How do you describe a good season? Is it just a Super Bowl win? Looking back at it now and how much fun it was, only one team wins the Super Bowl. They were still so good that whole time. They were successful, and nobody else has gone to four in a row, and nobody probably will.
MR: Yeah, with them all being in a row, it wasn’t a few great seasons mixed in with some okay or bad ones. What are you feelings about Don Bebee going on to finally win a Super Bowl with the Packers? Does it sit well with you knowing he won one, but had to do it with another team?
JK: Absolutely. That was like a footnote to those [Bills Super Bowl] years.
JM: Yeah, he was definitely one of our guys. He earned it.
JK: His play in the Super Bowl ass-kicking by the Cowboys, the Leon Lett play, is the first play they show from that game, and the Bills lost by seven scores. That’s just a Bills play, a bust-ass play to save face, but still lose horribly.
MR: A lot of people who move will assimilate to that city’s team. You had that option, but you still put yourself through this. [Justin] you even have a little fan group? Why is the team still important to you?
JK: To me, I enjoy the camaraderie aspect of sports. There turned out to be a bunch of people who came out of the woodwork and we have no greater connection than living in Rochester or Blasdell, Syracuse or Buffalo. We ended up here and kept watching the Bills.
MR: Is there a parallel between Green Bay—and Wisconsin in general—and Buffalo? Or is that just something I’m inventing?
JM: Yeah. The Packers are actually my second favorite team. They’re both areas that nobody really gives any love to whatsoever. I think that’s the big thing. They’re both cold weather cities and the two smallest markets in the league.
JK: Nobody goes there on vacation. Nobody intends to move there. It’s the only thing from the cities worth putting on national television. The paper mill from Green Bay isn’t going to be on national television unless it’s a bumper during a Packer game. In Buffalo, they’ll show Buffalo wings, Niagara Falls, and a very cropped shot of the very modest downtown. Not be totally John Gurda about it, but it’s the same migration patterns of people. Buffalo is secretly part of the Midwest. People there say their R’s the same way.
MR: What are some misconceptions of Buffalo and western New York?
JK: There are no conceptions [laughs]. Well, that’s it’s a northern suburb of New York City. If anything it’s part of Canada. It’s as far from New York City as possible. It’s much more like here. We always associated with people in Cleveland much more than we would with people in New York City.
JM: I would totally agree. Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Chicago even, was more of our kind of scene. New York City just always kind of seemed like it was bullshit. I think that goes into the similarities. Even though Wisconsin has the Packers and they’ve been very successful for a long time, both regions are looked down at, which gives both an underdog mentality. In general, you’re always going to say, “Fuck the big guy.”
MR: Come Monday, why should Packers fans adopt the Bills as their AFC team?
JM: They’re harmless. As a Packers fan, you’re watching a Lion. A lion doesn’t care about what a beaver does. If you want to watch this beaver play football, fine. If you’re saying a Packers fan or anyone should get emotionally involved in the Bills, absolutely not. If you’re a Bills fan, you need to be one for life. It’s part of your heritage. But unless you’re born into it and you have an emotional attachment, you’re a fucking idiot. Are you a sick maniac? Do you hate yourself? Why would you let yourself do that?
JK: Do you want nearly all of the problems an alcoholic has, where you hurt your family, hurt yourself, you’re in trouble sometimes, then go for it.
MR: What does the future hold for the Bills, both the immediate and the long term?
JK: They beat the Packers, which is an insurmountable win. Then we barely beat the Raiders. Then we go to New England, where we’ve never won at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots rest everyone, and we lose on some play that hasn’t been run since the ’20s. It’s a win-and-you’re-in scenario, and we lose. Then again, Orton could pull out some magical bullshit and win two out of three, and then we eek our way into the playoffs.
JM: I see three losses in a row and then the coach is going to be fired so they can start anew.
JK: I really think the Bills are going to win Sunday. The Packers are breezing into the playoffs, and likely the Super Bowl. The only threat would be that the Bills pull off the ultimate miracle-slash-heartbreak, fight their way into the playoffs, get to the Super Bowl against the Packers…and you know how that ends.
JM: Those are the kind of fantasies that only Bills fans can have. The greatest scenario that’s so preposterous, and at the end, the worst thing still happens. All these stars have to align, and at the end, it’s still a pile of shit.
JK: You know what, I’d fucking take that game.