Vol. 1, No. 3: Slobberknockers & Buttonhooks photo

Mafia DaughterCaelyn Cobb

I’m only home for thirty-four minutes when I learn the Bills have a new hype song. My mom plays it for me on the way home from the airport; she follows the team on Instagram. Let’s go! Buf-fa-lo! Mafia! I never could get the energy to figure out exactly where that nickname came from, but I suppose I get it. Whenever I meet someone from the area who says their favorite team is the Patriots or the Broncos, I want to grab them by the back of the neck and tell them they broke my heart, and I don’t even like football.

That weekend we all stay up until almost one in the morning to see our team play. It’s not enough for the Bills to just beat Kansas City; we all root for them to absolutely crush them, as repayment for knocking them out in the final playoff game last year, the team’s first since I was five years old. “It’ll give them so much confidence,” my mom says. Everyone nods in agreement. Aside from six points for a touchdown and one for the kick after, I know pretty much nothing about football, but I watch the whole game. It’s just the done thing. Bills games were my background for homework marathons, for hangovers, for my mom’s chili bubbling on the stove, waiting to be stirred occasionally. At the neurologist, I learn, they asked my grandfather to name his opportunities for joy. The first thing he said was the Buffalo Bills.

“Your family is like something out of Buffalo ‘66,” my Bronx-born boyfriend tells me, with the clinical skepticism of someone whose local sports team has been globally recognized for winning his entire life. He doesn’t understand that we’re duty-bound to support them, through all the near misses and bad seasons and glorious, giddy, unexpected wins. We’re all they’ve got. You’re born into a Bills family and that’s it, for life: you’re a fan.

In college, my professor made us all watch the Superbowl as part of an assignment to understand collective effervescence. All over the country, people just like us had their TVs on, cheering or yelling or basking in the frenzy from all the cheering and yelling. Ever since, I’ve made a point to watch it if I can, for those very reasons--it’s nice to be a part of something, even if I have no idea what’s going on. But in 2020, well. I watched to wish humiliating defeat on the Kansas City Chiefs. My friend Deedi, fellow upstate transplant, Mafia wife, posted a photo of her living room letterboard. Superbowl LIV: Who Knows vs. Who Cares. We cared, though. In the final few minutes, with Tom Brady handing the Chiefs their ass with his last half-braincell, I sent her a text: it’s the karma they deserve for what they did. A whole year later, my mother can describe in great detail the looks on the Bills players’ faces as the stadium filled with confetti celebrating Kansas City going to the championship game. 

It’s probably for the best that they didn’t go all the way that year. I remember breathlessly watching the Cubs in the final game of the 2016 World Series, cheers echoing from all the units around mine, everyone coming together to will them to that long-awaited W. They showed everyone outside Wrigley Field losing it when they announced the win; I felt myself tearing up and I only lived in Chicago for a couple of years a decade ago. One week later, Trump won the presidential election. I wondered if maybe we all threw the universe’s victory vibes into the wrong direction. If the collective blood-deep Bills energy got revved up, what rough beast would we accidentally unleash? We might end up with the Democrats’ climate agenda permanently scuttled, or a battle in the Taiwan Strait.

“I’m going to send you a Bills shirt,” my mom jokes after the Bills finally beat Kansas City, as we’re taking off our makeup to get ready for bed. Every Sunday, I see the shirts on all my feeds: on friends, on family, on babies, on dogs. All of ‘em ready to hit the mattresses. If she follows through, and one shows up on my doorstep, though, I’ll wear it. For a split second, I’ll think: I’ll probably be dead before the sea levels get too high, anyway, so. I’ll send my yearning out into the world and cheer along. I’m nothing if not a good Mafia daughter.