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The Heartbreak Kids

A Buffalo Bills tailgate party
File Photo

Thirty-one years after the Buffalo Bills missed a last second field goal that would’ve won Super Bowl XXV, Buffalo sports fans were treated to yet another indignity Sunday night in the Bills overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

In that span of time, fans of Buffalo professional sports franchises the Bills and Sabres have suffered through four consecutive Super Bowl losses, the Music City Miracle playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, the “No Goal” Stanley Cup Finals loss to the Dallas Stars, a Bills playoff drought lasting nearly 20 years, Tom Brady and a current Sabres playoff drought going on its eleventh year.

Despite generations of heartbreak the sports culture throughout Western New York remains rabid and the very recent success of Bills and Josh Allen has put the team in a national spotlight.

Much like the totality of an NFL season, University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine Psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Ruggieri said being a fan of a team has its ups and downs.

“This country loves its sports teams, really gets behind its sports teams,” he said, “and fandom becomes a culture in and of itself.”

With so much doom and gloom with their franchises over the last thirty-one years, how is it that Buffalo sports fans remain so resilient?

“We know that being a sports fan has significant benefits to mental health; increase in self-esteem, decrease in loneliness,” Ruggieri said. “But the flip side of that is that fans can really get to experience the wins and losses of their teams on a personal base so losing, when a team loses, a fan can really feel that loss internally. [It] almost activates the same parts of the brain that feel pain. So winning feels like a high but losing feels like a true loss for the person who roots for that team.”

With wound from Sunday’s loss still healing, Ruggeiri suggests Bills fans take their mind off football for a bit and enjoy life outside of football.

“Dealing with loss is an everyday part of life,” he said. “But sports losses when we feel like we can get so close to our goal and we lose out, that can be even harder than more of a long shot loss. When we’re really feeling low after a loss like we just had the first thing to remember is that it’s just a game and that most of the parts of our life aren’t affected by this even if it might hurt for days. Find something else to do with the time you would’ve spent rooting for that team or watching that sport. Pick up a book, go outside, get some exercise if you can. And if feeling of depression begin to linger longer than a few days then for some folks it might herald something more that needs to be examined by a counselor.”

Hope springs eternal during every opening day kickoff.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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