One of my favorite films of all time is ‘Slap Shot’, a movie that tells the story of a struggling hockey team in a run down mill town and their story of finding inspiration to become a viable program and are eventually sold. Throughout the course of the movie the players find themselves worrying about ownership woes, the team potentially folding and trying to figure out what is going on with their city now that the economy has been crushed, all the while they are battling a losing streak on the ice and their low attendance in the crowd.
If you have never seen this glorious film and that plot doesn’t sound eerily similar to you, then you’re not a fan of the Buffalo Bills. The struggles that the Bills have faced over the past 14 seasons have come to a head this past off-season with the passing of founder and owner Ralph Wilson Jr. The economy in the city of Buffalo seems to be an endless struggle, our attendance will forever be an issue due to the cold of winter, yet the losing seasons are only attributing to the lack of people coming out to the stadium. We have had one winning season in the past 14 years and we have missed the playoffs in all of those 14 years and naturally we as fans continue to wonder if this team will inevitably end up in Toronto or Los Angeles.
So what happens in Slap Shot? The player/coach Reggie Dulop uses the ownership question to fire up the players. Now in the movie he lights a spark in the players by telling them if they play well they will get bought by a team in Florida, so let’s forget about that part of the movie. They aquire three players, the Hanson brothers, who they think are nobody that wind up helping him shape the team into what they become. He makes the team mean. He makes the team tough. He makes the team so mean and tough that every other team is scared to play them and they go on an insane winning streak. The winning streak brings fans who like the new rough style of play and the winning. Through a struggling economy the fans of Charlestown are brought together and shaped by the vigor and intensity of the hockey team that represents them. As the movie comes to a close the Chiefs actually beat Syracuse for the championship (Sorry Syracuse Bills fans, you almost had that one).
So what happens in Buffalo in 2014? Doug Marrone will use the ownership question to fire up the players. This team will be playing this entire season for Ralph Wilson Jr and if you want to think that things like that don’t make players perform better then just look at what Chuck Pagano’s illness did for the Colts. Unity. We also went out and got a mean and nasty linebacker named Brandon Spikes who will set the tone for this defense and start to bring some intensity to a group of talented guys who are looking for a spark. We have a slew of new receivers and a new offensive line that will make this offense exciting, which will spark the interest of fans all over Buffalo when they see how electric it is and the intensity of the football team that represents their city. What happens at the end of the season has yet to be seen, but the fans here in Buffalo know what this team is capable of.
We have all the broken pieces to one of the greatest sports stories ever told lying at our feet and we are now placing those pieces into the hands of the players and coaches of the Buffalo Bills to put them all together, just as Reggie Dunlop had his players do for the city of Charlestown. The people of Buffalo and the fans of this franchise haven’t had much to put their faith into over the past decade. Neither did those fine mill workers in Charlestown. From time to time you have to take a step back from what has happened and look a bit into the future to see what can happen. This season will surely open a lot of eyes to that.