Best New Year’s Eve ever for Bills fans

Lou Reuter, Enterprise senior staff writer (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

I’ve always enjoyed New Year’s Eve celebrations. I’ve certainly seen my share. But for me, it’s not about partying until the wee hours of the morning. It’s more about being in a good mood and reflecting, as well as looking ahead, during a night on the town with my friends.

In fact, only one New Year’s Eve has really stood out over the years, and those memories are fuzzy, although it wasn’t due to alcohol. That’s because that particular evening took place a long time ago when I was back home in Western New York on semester break from SUNY Albany. That December, I was sick with mono, and on the last day of that month, I summoned up enough energy to join in celebration with all my high school buddies. I’m pretty sure I was just drinking ginger ales that evening, and basically, I was just happy to be reunited with my friends.

Fast-forward many, many years to this past New Year’s Eve. It turned out to be the best celebration ever. Last Sunday will be a day I’ll never forget, and hopefully, it’s just a sign of many good things to come. Generally, the countdown to midnight is what New Year’s Eve is all about, but my countdown had already ended hours earlier in the day. The moment of climax had occurred shortly before 8 p.m. I didn’t care what happened later that night. I was already ecstatic. I was already over the moon. That’s because the Buffalo Bills were in the playoffs.

Like many New Year’s Eves, I was with my friends. But this time around, we were decked out in the red, white and blue colors of our favorite football team and watching the Bills take on the Miami Dolphins on the final day of the NFL’s regular season. For Bills fans in Saranac Lake, the place to be on Sundays is at Grizle T’s, the local Bills-friendly bar where I met a lot of Western New Yorkers enjoying the games over the past few months.

I didn’t head to the bar that day with high hopes that the Bills would get into the playoffs. After all, their chances looked very much diminished after a loss to the evil empire (the New England Patriots) the week before. The stars had to really align, and any Bills fan has been conditioned to realize there’s a fat chance of that happening. On Sunday, I would have just been happy watching our boys finish off their schedule on a high note with a winning record and the future looking bright.

But wow, what a day it turned out to be. After surging out to a 19-3 lead, Buffalo barely hung on before defeating the Dolphins 22-16. OK. Game over. The Bills finished their schedule with a 9-7 record — a respectable showing for a team in a rebuilding mode under first-year head coach Sean McDermott and a whole lot of new faces.

As it turned out, the outcome of a game about 600 miles south of Saranac Lake made my day, and sent Bills fans everywhere into a frenzy.

As the clock ticked down on the Bills and Miami, more and more patrons of Grizle T’s turned their attention to the television airing the Cincinnati-Baltimore game. Earlier in the contest, the Bengals had surged out to a 14-point advantage. A Bengals victory, coupled with Buffalo’s triumph in Florida, would land the long-shot Bills in the playoffs. But with their own opportunity to reach the postseason and knock the Bills out of contention, the Ravens stormed back on home turf to take a 27-24 lead late in the fourth quarter. At that point, for a Bills fan, it looked like it was time to optimistically turn toward the 2018 season. But an unbelievable 47-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-12 from quarterback Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds left on the clock gave the Bengals a comeback victory while turning the football world upside down.

Grizle T’s erupted. A miserable 17-year absence from the NFL playoffs had ended for the Buffalo Bills and their fans. The curse of the Music City Miracle — a devastating last second-loss to Tennessee in the Bills last postseason appearance in 1999 — had been lifted.

I’m sure it’s tough if you’re not a Bills fan to realize how significant last Sunday’s events were. As a Bills fan from birth (it’s genetic for a true Western New Yorker), this past Sunday vaulted to the top of the list as my absolute favorite New Year’s Eve celebration ever. Hopefully, I can revel again with my fellow friends and fans in red, white and blue this Sunday at Grizle T’s following Buffalo’s upset win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll still be satisfied.

This season, the Bills never quit. They persevered through ups and downs. Win or lose, it’s been a fun ride with the only NFL team that plays its home games in New York state. This weekend, and maybe even in upcoming weeks, the Bills are New York’s team!

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