He drove 6.5 hours to every Bills home game. 13 seconds won't stop him from doing it again.
The other day, I passed along some survival tips for getting through the winter. I encouraged people to embrace the indoors (stay inside), embrace their feet (wear alpaca socks) and embrace the south (migrate to warmer climes).
In hindsight, telling readers how to endure sub-zero temperatures and three months of gray skies wasn’t all that hard. Not, at least, compared to advising them how to get over the Buffalo Bills’ heartbreaking 42-36 loss Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs.
My first recommendation would be to never, ever talk about the game.
Don’t even mention how the Bills won the game with 13 seconds remaining, how the players were hugging each other, how I was shouting, how Kelly Heath, a super Bills fan, threw a pillow in joy at his television.
Don’t talk about how the Chiefs used those 13 seconds as if they were 13 hours, how they marched up the field with abandon, how their kicker blasted a field goal with 3 seconds left.
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Don’t recall how the Bills lost a coin flip at the start of overtime and the Chiefs scored a touchdown, and the game was over, how Kelly Heath threw a pillow at the television once again, but not in joy.
Not quite following my own advice, I gave Kelly a call. He’s paid his dues; he’s supported the team through thick and thin, perhaps he knows how to deal with the loss, how to move through the seven – or is it 107? – stages of grief so familiar to western New York.
Kelly, 37, grew up in Geneseo and graduated from Geneseo High in 2002, in the same class as my stepdaughter, Emily. He went on to graduate from SUNY Geneseo and lives in Arlington, Virginia, and is an officer with the Arlington County Police Department.
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He’s been a Bills fan since he was a kid and a season ticketholder since 2017. Actually, he has two tickets, as he likes to bring along a Bills fan who hasn’t had the full stadium experience.
Kelly is a road warrior’s road warrior, as he went to every home game but one this last season, driving the 6 ½ hours to western New York, staying with friends or family and going to the game well before kickoff to tailgate with friends.
Do people in Virginia say he’s nuts to spend all this mileage, all this time, all this energy on a football team?
“Yes,” he said. “But I don’t think they understand what Buffalo is like and who the people are. Sitting around the same people and sharing the same feeling of love for that team. It’s something you can’t get down here.” The love of the team counts a lot to Kelly, and he considers anyone who shares that love to be part of his extended family.
But love for the Bills is not an easy love. “They’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season,” Kelly said before the Chiefs’ game. “It’s been frustrating. You know their capabilities and how talented they are.”
He watched the game alone in Virginia, by choice. “I am too crazy, too anal, to watch with anyone who is not a true fanatic fan,” he said. “Alone, I can yell at the TV. I can scream. I can be myself. I can throw pillows.”
So it was that he threw that last pillow, that he didn’t quite sleep, that he went to work the next day only to be bombarded with abuse by colleagues who are not Bills fans. “I tried hard not to respond,” he said, suggesting he may have responded.
So it was, too, that hope began to appear, that he, like all Bills fans, began to think of next season.
Kelly vowed that he will drive the 6 ½ hours again, that he will tailgate before the games. “My plan is to get a griddle so I can start making breakfast,” he said.
Afterward, when the game starts, Kelly will be right there with a friend in Section 141, Row 32, seats 1 and 2.
“I’m never giving up my tickets,” he said. “The Bills are going to be my team for life.”
He went on to give the only advice worth having in these days of despair:
“Everyone is mourning together,” he said. “Keep your head up and keep believing; it’s nothing we haven’t been through before.”
From his home in Geneseo, Livingston County, retired senior editor Jim Memmott, writes Remarkable Rochester, who we were, who we are. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or write Box 274, Geneseo, NY 14454