The bedroom door at the end of the hall was closed. It the night of Sunday, Jan. 30, 1994, and behind that door was Bob L’Heureux, alone and trying to shake off the full-body sting of another Super Bowl loss by the Buffalo Bills. I shared the room with Bob, but sat in the living room of 21 Samantha Smith House at the University of Maine. We knew Bob would come out eventually.

The Bills led the Dallas Cowboys by a touchdown at halfitme, but the second half was a disaster and Dallas took a 30-13 win. Another Super Bowl loss, like the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that.

This is why I’ll happily cheer for the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game Sunday night. For 29 years, I’ve seen one of my closest friends suffer with this team. It has been a joy to watch him, and now his sons, enjoy football again this season. My team, the New England Patriots, enjoyed insane success for most of the time I’ve known Bob. The Patriots crammed a long lifetime of success into the last 20 years. For most of that time, the Bills have been mediocre on their best day and bad on all the others.

It makes me happy to see friends happy. I have so many joyous memories of Super Bowl wins by the Patriots, of big playoff wins. Bob deserves those memories, too.

I’ve been to numerous games in Buffalo over the last two decades. We were there on Dec. 17, 2000, when the Patriots beat the Bills, 13-10, in a snowstorm in overtime. We were there in 2011, when Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bills to a 34-31 comeback win over the Patriots. I remember watching Bob high-five strangers as they celebrated the moment. The Bills were 3-0 with that win. They finished the season 6-10.

That’s the way it’s been. My team shakes off tough losses and gets back to the business of playing for championships. Bob’s team celebrates a September win like it’s the Super Bowl, because reasons to celebrate were uncommon. They were finding a copy of Action Comics No. 1 at a garage sale. They were a royal flush.

For Bob, September optimism devolved into December resignation, every season for two decades. The phone call I received moments after the Music City Miracle, Buffalo’s last-second loss to the Tennessee Titans in Jan., 2000, was brutal.

In 2003, the Bills opened the season with a 31-0 win over New England. The Patriots went on to beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. Buffalo went 6-10. In 2004, Buffalo ripped off six wins in a row in the second half of the season to get into playoff contention. The Bills only had to beat a Pittsburgh Steelers team that had clinched the top seed and was playing the NFL equivalent of JVs. Let me reiterate, the Steelers did not put their best players on the field to try to win the game.

Pittsburgh still won, 29-24. The Bills season ended. Bob stewed.

Monday night, Sept. 14, 2009. The Patriots hosted the Bills in the season opener. Both teams wore throwback uniforms to honor their AFL origins, and for much of the game Buffalo played like the team that had been one of the AFL’s powerhouses. Buffalo had an 11-point lead with under three minutes to go. I was at the game. Bob was in North Carolina on a business trip. With so many people crammed into Gillette Stadium, text messages sometimes take a little time to reach your phone. My phone blew up with incoming messages after the game, all from Bob, running from joyous to crestfallen as the game got away from the Bills and the Pats took a 25-24 win.

That’s the way it’s gone. I celebrate, and Bob looks to the draft. Not anymore.

The change began on New Year’s Eve, 2017, when the Cincinnati Bengals upset the Baltimore Ravens to clinch the Bills a playoff spot. I watch as Bob watched the game, on the phone with his sons who were visiting relatives, as Cincy scored to send Buffalo to the playoffs. Patriots fans, remember that unbridled joy you felt when Adam Vinatieri’s field goal beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI? Try to remember the feeling of unexpected success.

That’s what I was watching Bob share with his family. We went out to a friend’s restaurant to ring in the new year, and Bob was the star of the night, grinning at the thought of playoff success to come. It didn’t come that season, of course. Buffalo lost a wild card game to the Jacksonville Jaguars. It didn’t come last season, either, when the Bills blew a 16-0 lead and lost at Houston in overtime.

But it came this season, with wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Ravens to get to this point. There’s no question I’m cheering for the Bills against the Chiefs. I’ve experienced the joy that comes with these moment so many times. It’s about time my friend and his little Maine Bills Mafia did, too.

 

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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