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Last January, on the way home from the Bills bar in Santa Monica, I started to cry.

Yes, I was upset about the Bills blowing a 16-0 lead and being eliminated by the Texans. Of course, I was also still a little drunk. But the tears were flowing because of a text I got from my mom.

“As Grandpa always said, ‘We got to watch a little more Bills football. What could be better than that?’”

That hit me like Nate Clements knocking down Tom Brady in 2001.

But after watching them win for a second consecutive weekend, I can honestly say: Nothing is better than getting to watch the Bills play in January.

It has been an appalling year—I’m throwing “unprecedented” through a flaming table—but watching the Bills has been the light inside of me that keeps me going.

First of all, the Buffalo Bills have been an absolute delight to watch.

Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs’ beautiful friendship and razor sharp passes connecting week after week, trouncing New England on Monday Night Football, and the defense coming up with huge takeaways in the biggest moments have brought me such joy as a lifelong fan. Full disclosure, I have watched the Taron Johnson interception probably 500 times.

But it’s not just about the plays. It’s about the people. It’s about family.

For the wildcard game this year, my sister and I drove up to Buffalo to watch outside at my aunt and uncle’s house. We stood in the driveway with our dad, aunts, uncles, and cousins: masked and layered up, and watched the Bills win their first playoff game since 1995.

We danced to the “Shout Song,” perhaps we imbibed a beverage or two. But in spite of considerable obstacles—driving distance, social distance—we found a way to be together for the game this year. And that was what made it next-level special.

We also had a piece of Grandpa’s fireplace in the fire pit, and a case of his favorite beer, Old Vienna lager, “OV,” so he was with us, too.

As a family, we have a “Cousins” groupchat, which has been such a place of community, joy, and shared experience.

While it’s not the same as going to my Grandpa’s for a game, all fighting over the best seats and circling the freshly sliced baguette and Alouette dip, we’ve all been there for each other. And not just through the Bills season, but through the pandemic, the election, the attempted coup, and everything else.

While the world is falling apart around us, the Bills bring us together, week after week, and they’re the impetus for sharing commentary, analysis, stresses, and excitement. We all feel the same way, and it’s comforting to know I can count on the groupchat to bring me a smile, or that I have a space to commiserate with my fellow Bills fans.

For the divisional round, I was home in Pennsylvania with my mom, my sister, my stepdad, my nephew Braden, and all of our dogs—including my sister’s puppy, Allen (named for fellow long-legged creature Josh Allen). I’m not sure how many times I hugged my mom throughout the course of the game, but it was a lot. And it was necessary. The pandemic has made every single aspect of life much, much harder, but I’m so lucky I got to be home to watch this Bills game with my family.

I’ve been doing a lot of existential thinking about the Bills and my fandom throughout this playoff run.

Every week, it could be the Bills last game of the season. And every week, I’ve made peace with that. I’ve reflected on all of the bad years in the playoff drought, the nights I’ve spent listening to “Everybody Hurts” in my room in the dark. I’ve thought about all of the games I’ve been to, and all of the rowdy, cold, perfect, messy tailgates, with friends and family alike. I’ve marveled at my sister, who had Bills season tickets a few years ago while she lived in New York City. How every Bills home game, she’d work all day Saturday and fly to Buffalo Saturday night, go to the game on Sunday, and then immediately go back to New York and start all over again with no sleep, just because she loves the Bills.

I’ve smiled at the memory of the playoff drought ending, channeling that euphoria and the manic energy I felt as I celebrated with my best friend and my sister that night, and when FaceTimed every single one of my relatives. I’ve thought about my dad, and how he’s always made Sundays an event, making Chex party mix and playing catch at halftime and sometimes even moving the TV to a different spot in the house. How he now sends us photos of the Buffalo News’ front page and sports page, and texts us to ask how much time is left until Bills football.

I’ve remembered what it was like to watch Bills football at my grandpa’s house, with him and the rest of my family, surrounded by food and love.

Screaming our heads off or putting our heads in our hands, walking into the kitchen to get a drink and being on a delay or ahead of the living room TV, erupting in a solo scream yourself, and laughing and talking and celebrating the Bills while being together. In the words of Marv Levy, “Where else would you rather be, than right here, right now?”

I’m filled with such warmth and happiness at these memories, and I let them fill me up when I start to get nervous about the next game.

This year, like Grandpa said, we’ll get to watch a little more Bills football. And truly, nothing is better than that.

Erin Vail

Erin is the 2003 West Reading Elementary Geography Bee champion, a TV obsessive, and never not thinking about Buffalo sports.

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