More than 25,000 cheering fans showed up at a downtown rally in stiff winds and subfreezing temperatures yesterday to welcome their team home from Tampa.
Despite the team's 20-19 defeat, Buffalo residents are hoping some of the luster of its first Super Bowl appearance will rub off zTC on the city, which hasn't had much to cheer about in recent years.
There was a special outpouring of emotion for Scott Norwood, whose missed 47-yard field-goal attempt in the closing seconds cost the Bills their victory.
Just before the official program got under way, insistent chants of "We Want Scott! We Want Scott!" rose from the crowd at Niagara Square until rally organizers motioned the place-kicker toward the microphone. The reception as Norwood made his way from the back of the platform could not have been warmer had he made that final kick. And the noise did not abate until Scott, fighting back tears, thanked the fans for their support.
"I've never felt more loved than right now," he told the crowd.
Not every city's fans are so affectionate in defeat. But local residents say they've always had class -- it's just that the rest of the nation didn't pay much attention until they began huddling around their no-huddle team.
"The main thing is that we got to the Super Bowl," said Sadie Hedgeman, who moved to Buffalo from the South the same year the NFL started placing Roman numerals after the name of its most significant event.
"The team unified our town. People who normally wouldn't speak to you started speaking; there was this sense of family."
In recent years, Buffalo residents have also known a sense of shame. Outsiders joke about the midwinter blizzards that blanket Buffalo and call it the armpit of the nation.
Jerry Butler, a former star wide receiver for the Bills and now head of his own construction company, said the team and the city have both been seriously underrated.
They're like a "Rocky" movie, he explained: "You take a lot of punches, you're down on your knees and people are looking down their noses at you. You have to either accept that or come out fighting."
At the rally, it was time for Buffalo to take a few swipes at the Giants, a team that abandoned New York for New Jersey.
The Super Bowl champs were referred to as "the East Rutherford Giants," and Gov. Mario Cuomo -- who was born in New York City -- declared there was only "one New York State home team, and that's the Bills."