HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL Mayo supporters cheer on their team during last year’s All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
“We don’t even ask happiness,
just a little less pain”
- Charles Bukowski
DEEP in the bowels of Sunday night, as most of us slept our way into another week, the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs served up an NFL playoff game for the ages.
It was a game so thrilling, some learned commentators later opined it climaxed with maybe the greatest two minutes in NFL history.
A short recap of those two minutes might read — genius Bills QB Josh Allen worked his alchemy to find his receiver Gabriel Davis in the end zone. It put his Bills team three points up with thirteen seconds left to play. 13 seconds! The TV cameras cut to Allen’s family in the players box. There was nothing but tears of the purest joy.
For this was going to be no ordinary victory. No victory in January for a Buffalo team ever is. The Bills were about to defeat the last great team left in a weekend of shocks. Their path to another Superbowl decider suddenly a lot less complicated. Thirteen seconds. In any context, it’s not a lot of time. It’s easy hold your breath for 13 seconds. You could probably even hold your hand above a naked flame for that amount of time. So, whichever way you look at it, there was not a lot of time for things to go wrong.
But, go wrong they did. The most critical wrong thing that happened was that Buffalo chose to kick the ball back to Kansas and let them have a free shot, rather than keep the kick in play and trust themselves to see out the chaos for a little over ten seconds.
By doing so they gave the ball to the most dangerous man in football, and dared him to win it all. For those of you who don’t know,, Josh Allen is arguably the second most talented quarter-back in American football. The most talented is a lad called Patrick Mahomes, who, though no relation to Pat MaHomes, is a sportsman from another planet. He throws the ball different. He runs different. He looks different. He had thirteen seconds to march his team up the field and rescue their season. More than that, he had thirteen seconds to go break some Buffalo hearts, and so he went and broke them.
Why am I telling you all of this? What relevance does the heartbreak of an NFL franchise have to you, the good people of Mayo, as our team begins it’s NFL campaign of it’s own against Donegal this weekend?
Well, the relevance is this; Buffalo Bills is not a ‘franchise’ per se, but a birthright.
And part of accepting that birthright is understanding it comes at a cost of huge emotional expense. There will be nights like last Sunday night, many of them, most likely, when the one thing you’ve dreamed of your entire life, from childhood to deathbed, seems possible.
And, in Josh Allen, not only might that possibility be realised by winning a Superbowl, but you are doing it with a hero of Marvel Universe proportions.
Buffalo, you see, is like Mayo. Last season, they won their first play-off game in a quarter of a century, but from 1991 to 1994, the Bills appeared in four straight Super Bowls, losing all of them. This was their Beat generation.
They lost each showdown in different ways; from heartbreaking one point losses to crushing blow-outs. Sound familiar? Nor is this a city of fairweather fans.
The “Bills Mafia” are legendary for their zealousness, and it’s not all done for the cameras, either. This is legacy. This is family. Football matters. A lot.
Because it does, nights like Sunday suck way worse than they will for other cities and other franchises. They take a lot of getting over.
On a personal level, I’m still not over losing to Tyrone last September, and hope the promise of league football will allow me to come unstuck from the funk I find myself in. I am sure, too, that my emotional dysfunction is not in line with the prevailing mood across the county ahead of Donegal.
The bitter taste of last season’s final defeat was like a sudden break-up without closure. There was no valiant heroism to reflect upon and console ourselves with. No referee to blame or hex to rue. Nor was there a realisation that we were out of our depth, and never stood a chance. This was the worst kind of regret, reserved for those who are given thirteen seconds to not ‘eff’ up, but fail to do so. It is, I finally accept, time to move on. To remember why we care in the first place, and remind ourselves what joy the journey can bring, regardless of the tainted destination.
To console myself with the fact that, well, if I ruminate all winter long about it, I’m pretty sure James Horan has too, and given he’s proven himself pretty adept at figuring stuff out, there is reason to be hopeful. Of course there’s reason to be hopeful.
There’s Oisin Mullin and there’s the return of Cillian. There’s championship football against Galway in less than three months.
There’s the possibility of facing one of our most famous sons - Andy Moran - and his underdog Leitrim team. There are players we yet know about to appear and convince us that there is always something to believe in. That this year can be different.
Even as I type, I feel my legs get lighter and my memory shorter.
The realisation that, as soon as the first ball is kicked against Donegal, last year becomes history. The glorious mystery of another year begins.
Suddenly, I would give anything to have thirteen seconds to hang on and win an All-Ireland again. Better to have loved and lost, and so we go again.