Tuesday night, the Buffalo Sabres did something that Buffalo sports teams have been doing for years. They prolonged the inevitable depressing loss that will manage to ruin my passion for life one more time. I was mentally prepared for the loss. I'd been through the melodrama countless times before. I tried my best not to care. But I went against every grain of common sense in my body and cheered when the Sabres scored the overtime goal. Why do I do this to myself? More importantly, why does Buffalo do this to me?Here's how it works. Every once in a while, the Sabres or Bills show signs of promise. They'll make the playoffs, and then the city will fire up the bandwagon. And I'll be gullible enough to jump on. Why haven't I learned?And then the Sabres or Bills will advance past the first round, and provide me with hope that maybe it will be the year.I'll start to believe even more. Another win, and I'm sure we'll break the self-fulfilling prophecy that a sports organization will do what nobody else could do - bring pride to a downtrodden city.Then the inevitable loss will come that cracks open my chest cavity, stabs my heart and throws it to a pack of rabid wolves.This year I should have known better than to care. But from the first playoff game against the Philadelphia Flyers, I had to watch.
Wasn't it enough that I had to bear witness to four consecutive Super Bowl losses?Little did I know that the 20-19 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV would be a harbinger of devastating losses to come. And the wide-right field goal attempt as time expired would become part of an anthology of horrible highlights authored by Buffalo teams.The next year I thought we had a chance, but the 37-24 beating the Redskins put on the Bills dispelled my fantasy of a world championship. In my foolish youthfulness, I even though there was a chance for the Bills to come back when they recovered an onside kick, trailing 37-17.Then came the 52-17 trouncing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII, which years of self-induced psychotherapy haven't been able to erase from my mind. For those of you who don't remember, the Bills actually did lead at one point, 7-0. I'll cease commentary of the game right there.So when the Bills won the AFC championship the next year, I had my mind prepared for a tumultuous defeat. That was until the Bills carried a 13-6 lead into halftime. "Hey, this could be it, really," I told myself. Yeah, conjuring up faith. That was a great idea.For those Coloradans out there who have seen the Broncos and Avalanche win, here's what it feels like when you start to care again. It's like your ex-girlfriend called a few days after a breakup. You put away the tub of Ben and Jerry's and wipe the tears away because you know that she's calling to get back together. But when you listen to the message, you realized that her new boyfriend is coming over your place to pick up what she forgot to grab when she left.At that moment, you have a vague notion of what it's like to be a Buffalo fan.
In wasn't until the 1999 Stanley Cup finals that I had to witness my first gut-wrenching defeat as an adult Buffalo Sports fan. The Buffalo Sabres entered the Stanley Cup Final as the underdog, but they took the opener in Dallas, giving me that dangerous feeling called hope. I knew I was putting myself in a vulnerable position, but I had a hunch. This was our year.That was until Brett Hull scored what was an illegal goal in overtime of Game 6 to win the Cup (his foot was in the crease, which under the rules at the time, meant the goal couldn't count). Crestfallen, enraged, bewildered and suicidal were just a few of the currents running through my blood for the next week. Oh, but there was next year. And that's when the 2000 Buffalo Bills taught me another lesson in the futility of believing. With 16 seconds remaining in the AFC wild-card playoff game between the Bills and the Titans, the Bills seemingly had things wrapped up with a 16-15 lead. But Tennessee somehow beguiled the Bills with an across-the-field-lateral that is affectionately know as the Music City Miracle, and then cruised down the field for a touchdown. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and in no time, my pillow had reached its saturation point.
So the Sabres took down the Flyers in the first round, then steamrolled through the highly-touted Ottawa Senators in five games. I had my myopic eyes on the finals and figured the Hurricanes would roll over because, gosh darn it, the Sabres and their fans deserve to sip from Lord Stanley's Cup.When the Sabres lost Game 4 of the Carolina series at home, I vowed not to watch Game 5. Yea, the series was tied at two, but I'd been there before. Lo and behold, I watched Game 5. I watched our 3-1 lead vanish before my eyes. I watched the clock whittle away on our overtime power play. Then it was too much to handle. I shut off the TV, and minutes later, we lost.I caught glimpses of Tuesday night's game, and while I said that I wanted to see us lose, deep down I prayed that we would hold the our early 1-0 lead and win. Then the Hurricanes scored late in the third period to tie it up. I don't even remember how I felt during overtime because I just shut down my brain. It was a natural response of an emotionally brow-beaten fan.When Game 7 comes on the TV Thursday at 5:30 p.m., I really don't want to watch. I don't want to relive a childhood filled with heartbreaks. I don't want to care how they do. But no matter how many times I've been disappointed, no matter how many tears I've shed, I'll always care. Call me crazy, or just call me a Buffalo fan.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado