Lauding professional athletes for “wanting it” is rarely a rewarding undertaking. For one thing, most people would rather win than lose.
Yet it somehow seems worthwhile in the case of Ryan Fitzpatrick, a guy who fit the Buffalo
sports mold just about as snugly as possible. He wasn’t quite big enough, strong enough or good enough to be a star quarterback. Most would say he didn’t have the attributes to be a starting quarterback. He wasn’t a physical or emotional specimen. Frankly, in terms of football lore, his beard may go down as his standout attribute.
But the reason Bills fans wanted to Fitz to succeed wasn’t just because he was their team’s quarterback, as it was for Trent Edwards, Drew Bledsoe or myriad other passers of the past. He was an honorary Buffalonian, somber as this may be, the sort who should be handed a dinged-up key that fits the lock of the city but takes a crap ton of jiggling to get it to budge.
When he took the reigns as starting quarterback, he was your quintessential beloved backup. In Buffalo, there’s no one as popular as the No. 2; It’s easier to imagine someone could do it better than the No. 1 guy, after all. Otherwise, it’s just a garbage pile from top-to-bottom.
So when this bearded middle-of-the-roader started tossing more touchdowns than interceptions, fans genuinely needed to see him succeed for the good of their collective sanity. He was the restaurant opening downtown in an unsavory spot that keeps operating against the odds, continuing to serve pretty decent food that gets 5-star reviews because, well, it’s open.
I know this isn’t sexy or even complimentary. Part of me thinks about Fitz reading this and getting the wrong impression. Even while I was slamming the book shut on him as Bills quarterback, every single bit of my Buffalo fan-being (or what’s left of it) was taking the brunt of that impact on the ankle. Seriously, how many times did you hear someone say, “If only we could put Fitz’s head on JP’s body” over the past three years? And it made sense. Remember “Buffalo Lives?” Losman wanted to single-handedly bring this city back. He loved it here, too. He just wasn’t good enough.
Here was a tough dude who broke bones but didn’t want to admit it, who had the guts and gusto to make Favre decisions without the Favre arm. He’s the guy who got the extra six yards on 3rd-and-5 by scrambling and getting clobbered… only to throw three dicey incompletions on the way to a punt.
Think about the quarterbacking ideas that have now failed the Bills since Jim Kelly left town:
1) The replacement in waiting
2) The long-serving backup
3) The tiny CFL afterthought
4) The “intriguing 2nd stringer from somewhere else”
5) The former superstar who lost his job
6) Kelly Holcomb
7) The first-round pick
8) The “highly-recommended from a football genius” guy
9) The former potential No. 1 overall pick who stayed in school and dropped.
10) The free agent (See the rest of this article)
That’s what Fitz was… the final straw for Bills fans before hitting the actual bottom. They kept buying tickets and stomaching blows from team, ownership and what surely felt like society at-large in this “NFL first, nothing else second” sports climate run by ESPN. Buffalo wanted to believe that this regular acting, humble guy without most the visible the attributes you look for in a cornerstone QB just had it for some reason.
There’s hope in here, though. Maybe he was the first step up from the bottom, the guy who showed it’s possible to overcome the odds. Maybe Losman was Bass Pro, Edwards was the framework for a casino that just sat there and Fitzpatrick was the Commercial Slip. Maybe the next guy is the Webster Block, or the new bridge or a palatial multi-purpose venue.