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On Heartbreak and the Sabres

January 24, 2022, 6:31 PM ET [879 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Say what you will about the Sabres, there’s no way they could rip the heart out of your chest the way the Buffalo Bills did last night.

That’s because a team has to be good and relevant for there to be the possibility of heartbreak. Yes, the kind of stomach-churning, teeth-gnashing letdown felt all across the greater Western New York area (as well as parts of Wyoming and California, I’m sure) was yet another excruciating loss in a city well-versed in that sort of thing. I won’t rub it in by naming all the famous losses, although it must be said that “13 seconds” is this generation’s “wide right,” and we’re all going to have to think about that epic choke job for the next year, at least.

But there is some good news for you: the Sabres have it figured out. If they’re never good, they can’t break your heart.

Sabres fans have stared into the abyss and had the inky blackness stare back for over a decade, and after a while, you just sort of become numb to it in the same way that you can leave your gloves off outside in the winter and your fingers eventually stop being cold because they are now dead.

See, isn’t that better?

No, of course it isn’t.

Having strong feelings for a team – whether euphoric or miserable – is part of the contract of being a sports fan, and sticking through that ride is what makes the payoff worthwhile. The Sabres currently occupy a fate worse than death, as it were: utter oblivion. I’m reminded of a passage from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five:

“How’s the patient?” asked Derby.
“Dead to the world.”
“But not actually dead.”
“How nice - to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.”

That’s the kind of purgatory state that a large contingent of Sabres fans find themselves in these days after so many years of irrelevance. That’s why I’m here to advocate for the Sabres to break my heart – but – and this is a large qualification: they actually have to be good to do it.

Don’t get me wrong: it would be terrific if the Sabres were awesome and easily won the Stanley Cup without breaking a sweat. They are very much welcome to win it in 16 games, but I’ll settle for them being good enough to elicit any type of emotion at this point, even if that means being good and then losing an incredible game.

That’s right. I dare them to be good enough to lose an important game. Wouldn’t that be something? Try to think about the last time the Sabres lost something important and then think of how long ago that was. It’s a long damn time, and the most recent example probably isn’t even a game that they lost, but a draft lottery that they lost when Connor McDavid went to Edmonton.

Before that, it might be game six of the 2011 playoffs when the Sabres had a chance to end the series 4-2 but instead let it slip, along with game seven. And that’s a first round series! You have to go back 15 years to the most recent glory days to find anything comparable to last night.

That Bills game was perhaps the most incredible ending to any football game I’ve ever watched. It very well might be the best NFL playoff game ever (with the exception of the impact of the overtime format which I expect the NFL to fix in the coming offseason). While the ending was undoubtedly brutal, the entirety of the ride was incredible, and at the end, you just have to give credit to both sides for the performance. Did it hurt? Sure, but that’s just because the game mattered.

So this is a call to the Buffalo Sabres get it together enough to fall apart.

Go ahead and lose a playoff game lose in a spectacular, unheard of, unthinkable, incredible way if you can manage to get it together enough to get to an important game to lose. Make a run at greatness and the fans can forgive you for falling short. Hell, that’s the entire history of professional sports in Buffalo. But if you somehow manage to squeak into the playoffs on a year you shouldn’t, and then you lose the opening round in four games, there will be fans at the airport to greet you for trying.

And that’s where we’re at. Just achieve some measure of success rather than floundering in obscurity. The bar for this team is incredibly low. I get it, and in time, there will heightened expectations the way that there are for the Bills after making the playoffs three years in a row.

Until then, I’ll settle for watching a game that matters, even if it’s a loss.
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