In Buffalo, they are preparing for a Sunday coronation, a concelebration of city, citizen, football and hope. The Bills host the Jets in Orchard Park, and the AFC East is there for the taking, and there is a 40 percent chance of snow, with temperatures lurking in the high 30s. The Labatts are on ice. The wings are on order.
“I’d rather have a shot to have them break my heart again,” says a 73-year old Bills fan named Barry Moore, who goes back to the 1964 and ’65 AFL champions and old War Memorial Stadium. “It beats the alternative.”
In Kansas City, there will be 80,000 true believers descending upon Arrowhead Stadium Saturday, even for a meaningless game against the Broncos, mostly to scream themselves into prime January form when they host a playoff game in two weeks. In Green Bay, where important January games have been a standard part of the calendar for decades, they are investing their hearts once more in Aaron Rodgers.
In Las Vegas, of all places, they will host the first honest-to-goodness BIG GAME in the city’s football history, a win-and-you’re-in showdown with the Chargers in prime time. And while that city may be best known for its sports’ fans loyalties to point spreads, Over/Unders and teaser tickets, if you remember what it was like for big UNLV hoops games back in the day you know Vegas understands how to bring its teams home.
In Nashville and Cincinnati, in Dallas and Los Angeles, in Foxborough, Mass., and Phoenix, Ariz., in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, football fans are treating this week as a splendid civic rallying cry. A winning pro football team does that. In years past, this would be the week leading up to the first playoff weekend. This year — new schedule, new calendar — Sunday will be moving day for some, clinching day for some, heartbreak for others.
In New York City, in New Jersey, in that half of Connecticut that doesn’t fall under the Patriots’ umbrella …
Yeah. Here, it will be something else. Here, it will be something different.
Here, it will be a Sunday game at MetLife Stadium, Giants versus the Washington Football Team, two nowhere teams going nowhere, two lost football franchises hoping to find their way sometime in the future. Here, it will be a Jets-Bills game in the frost of Western New York, meaningful only for the home team, and for fans eager to put their hearts back on the line. The Jets will play for pride, for a paycheck, and perhaps to even an old score — like Bills 45, Jets 17 from back in November.
“Redemption is in our hearts,” defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said Monday.
Redemption is nice.
Relevance is better.
And so it will be that Sunday will mark 2,199 days since the Jets played a truly relevant game, another final-week game in Buffalo, that one win-and-get-in for the Jets, that one a crushing 22-17 loss to the Rex Ryan Bills. So it will be that Sunday will mark 1,828 days since the Giants played a truly relevant game, that 38-13 playoff stomping in Green Bay that followed the infamous and ill-fated Florida boat trip.
The NFL marches on. In its silent heart of hearts, the league would surely wish a surge of competence to catch on in East Rutherford or in Florham Park, for its biggest market to play the part once in a while. The sad truth is there has been but one playoff game contested in the 11-season life of MetLife Stadium. The sadder truth is there have been only 17 — 17! — home playoff games played by the Jets and Giants in the 51 years since the merger.
Doesn’t matter to the people of Buffalo, and Green Bay, and Philadelphia, and Kansas City. Doesn’t matter in Tampa and New England, in L.A. and Vegas and everywhere else where important football games will be played this weekend in the snow, in the sun, in dry domes and on sloshy sod.
The Jets shuffle off to Buffalo, and the natives will not be kind. The Giants trundle into MetLife, which will be two-thirds empty, populated mostly by angry fans who want to yell at John Mara’s skybox. The NFL is at the doorstep of its best six weeks of the season. You can find New York’s football seasons out by the front curb, with the rest of the trash.
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