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  Long Strange Trip to Buffalo
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Long Strange Trip to Buffalo

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

I've had the opportunity to attend games at Orchard Park's Ralph Wilson Stadium many times.

Bizarre, scary, funny, crazy, ugly, weird - all good adjectives to describe what I experience every time I have ventured into this throwback of a stadium built into the ground of blue collar western New York.

The people there love their Bills. For them, football is more than sport. It is life itself. Legendary are the liquored up loonies who will sit in sub-freezing weather, some bare-chested, just to see their Bills make it happen.

Normally, things get really revved up whenever the Dolphins are in town. Make no mistake about it; Bills fans take things up an extra notch for the "Fish" - even when their team is 0-4.

It starts in the parking lot, where one may encounter anything from verbal abuse to a bonfire of burning pallets, to physical assault.

Many will be liquored up. Some will have paint on their faces, along with some strong language for the visiting team.

Those Dolphin fans brave enough to sit in the stands with a Dan Marino jersey on will get theirs, too. It takes a brave soul to withstand 4+ hours of withering abuse from the locals.

And to think that people actually pay money to experience this treatment!

Me? I just try to stay out of trouble so that I can enjoy the game, no matter the combatants.

Just what will there be to enjoy, you ask?

Good question. Unless you are fan of Defense or a member of the Wes Welker Fan Club, the answer is "not much".

For Dolphins-Bills, this is a first. In the past, it seemed like there was always something on the line.

In the 1970s, it was Miami's reeling off of 20 straight wins that started the rivalry going.

Remember Bryan Cox? He was the match to the gas.

I was there when he gave Bills fans the double middle fingers and when he spit at them. Incensed Bills fans were climbing over me to get to the railing so they could dump beer on the ejected Cox as he stomped into the locker room.

I was there for Don Shula's last game in 1995, a crushing first round playoff defeat that ushered in the Jimmy Johnson era and taught the Dolphins a painful lesson about free agency and the salary cap.

I was there for JJ's first visit as Dolphin coach, just a couple of years removed from his torment of the Bills as Cowboy coach.

JJ sure knew how to beat the Bills.

1996 was more of the same. Remember Craig Erickson standing in for an injured Dan Marino? Remember Terrell Buckley picking off Jim Kelly in the end zone and outracing Andre Reed for a game-clinching touchdown, shattering Buffalo's final dream run in the process?

Glorious stuff.

Unfortunately, this year is different.

There is no battle for the division lead. No playoff berth at stake. Not even a game with meaning, ramification, or true consequence.

The Bills and Dolphins will be playing to avoid being crowned Undisputed Worst Team in the NFL.

This is what the 2004 season has come to. Who'd have thought it?

Not me, that's for sure.

Yet here we are. Two proud franchises, once princes of the NFL now reduced to court jesters, the laughingstocks of the league.

Of course the Bills have been here before, been here many times.

But this is new ground for the Dolphins, in danger of going 0-6 for the first time in franchise history.

Even the 1966 expansion squad got one out of six. This 2004 edition is so damn bad, one sometimes wonders if they will ever win a game.

When all of the shouting is over, will it be Bills fans, bags on heads, looking at their sworn enemies with bags on their heads?


And why not? The Dolphins and Bills stink to high heaven. Really, much of what plagues the Dolphins also ills the Bills.

Buffalo isn't getting much from their QB, Drew Bledsoe. Their offensive line is, well, offensive. Turnovers and penalties are the topics du jour.

Sound familiar?

Ironic that Bills GM Tom Donahoe was once Dave Wannstedt's pick for the job that Rick Spielman eventually got.

Difference here of course is that Donahoe already got his coach, Gregg Williams, fired.

Wannstedt may be next, along with Spielman.

In a way, there is sadness in a Dolphins-Bills game like this; it simply isn't good for the NFL for one of its best rivalries to be reduced to gutter scraping.

No matter the outcome, there is one positive thing both teams can count on.

The season will be one week closer to a welcomed end.

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