BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's not the end of the world, of course, but for a collective community with so much hope it was devastating to see.
It was heartbreaking that the Buffalo Bills lost to Kansas City in the NFL Divisional round playoffs, and with it the chance to host the AFC Championship where they would have been heavily favored.
But perhaps even more gut wrenching, was the fashion in which they the managed to lose a game that appeared to be won that was exhilarating, but oh so frustrating.
And, make no mistake, the feelings many Bills fans have are nothing short of grief according to a local mental health professional, who says it's not a stretch to classify it as such.
"No, not at all," said Wendy Weinstein, M.D. a psychiatrist with BryLin Behavioral Health Systems. "This is a loss not only for the team, but for the community as a whole."
The Seven Stages of Grief
The fans who are disappointed by the Bills loss may be also be experiencing some of the seven emotional stages of grief, including shock or disbelief.
Those were reactions which many no doubt felt, as the Bills seemingly had the game salted away with 13 seconds left in regulation before the Chiefs miraculously got themselves in position to tie the game in before going on to win it in overtime.
"It's more how they lost the game, exactly," said Dr. Weinstein. "Because you thought they had won."
The other stages of grief include denial (as in — that couldn't have just happened...could it have?) and eventually ...anger.
Indeed, after the initial shock and disbelief, it may have started to sink in for many fans that the Bills highly vaunted defense gave up 42 points— and couldn't make play in the final 13 seconds of regulation to save the win...or in overtime where the game was lost.
They were angry about this, and the current NFL overtime rules that awarded the victory to Kansas City once it scored a touchdown, without allowing the Bills offense another chance to try and tie the game, or win it with a touchdown of their own and a 2 point conversion.
"A lot of people are still in that moment," said Dr. Weinstein, when discussing the anger phase.
But not long after the heartbreaking loss an increasing number of messages on social media turned more toward appreciation for the player's efforts and optimism for the team's future. And many fans- perhaps unknowingly, began reaching the last stage of grief.
That one being— acceptance.
"That's my favorite part because it makes us realize there's hope," Dr. Weinstein said.
Try Not To Dwell On It
This brings about the important distinction between this loss involving your favorite football team, which you may be grieving, and a real, life altering catastrophe.
Unlike, for example a terminal health diagnosis, there is a tomorrow to look forward to.
And, unlike the loss of a loved one, where the stages of grief may be the same but where it may take you years to work through them, this will not last long at all.
For most, perhaps a day or two, if they haven't worked through them already.
Buffalo: The Sisyphus of Sports Cities
No doubt fueling the frustration, was the sinking feeling that this game will go down as another on a list of heartbreaking disappointments involving Buffalo's professional sports franchises.
What's now being widely referred to as "13 seconds" is already drawing comparisons to "Wide Right," "No Goal," and "The Music City Miracle," because the feelings being experienced are similar to those felt after other ignominious defeats suffered by the NFL Bills and the NHL Sabres, the city's two major league sports franchises.
"You'd have to put this right near the top," said John Boutet, curator of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, when asked where 13 seconds may rank among the other heartbreaks. "To be so close and come up empty, it has to be right near the top."
"I always refer to Buffalo as the Sisyphus of sports cities," Boutet said, calling to mind the figure from Greek Mythology who was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity.
"We get that boulder right up to the top of the mountain and instead of going over the other side, it starts to roll back on top of us again," he said.
However, despite a perception among Buffalo sports fans that their teams have been especially snake bitten in big games, Boutet said, "Not really. When you look at the grand scheme and history of sports in Buffalo we have an amazing past of division titles, conference championships.... I got to thinking about other comparable cities to Buffalo and I look at many other cities that have only one or perhaps no championships at all."
Noting that the Bills won the AFL Championship during the 1960s, Boutet said, "we're not that far off. We're really right where we should be...and it's just going to make it sweeter when they finally do win a big one."