A Letter to Bills Mafia, Pt. II
Dear Mafia aka #Mafia aka MAFIA aka Bills Mafia aka #BillsMafia aka 2020 AFC East Kings and Queens aka Best Fans in the Whole Damn World,
Big Boy SZN is approaching, which means it’s time for my second annual Players’ Tribune letter to y’all — and I’ve got a lot on my mind.
Actually, let me count ’em up…... I’ve got nine main things I want to say in here. Nine main things I need to get off my chest before we head for these playoffs. So buckle up, put on whatever music you like to listen to while reading the finest of banger articles, and follow me on this journey if you will.
We’re about to settle all family business.
(1) First thing’s first: This is bigger than football.
If it’s okay with y’all, I don’t even want to talk about football for a second.
I don’t feel like writing one of these articles about how, you know — RAH RAH, it’s the NFL, nothing else matters.
Because a lot else matters.
And especially right now, a lot else matters more than football.
People are hurting. People are sick….. their loved ones are sick…... they’re losing their jobs, their homes.…. they’re struggling to put food on the table. They’re trying to stay alive.
And Buffalo’s been down and out as bad as anyone.
And I guess what I just want to say here, more than anything…. it’s that we play for this city — but we belong to this community. And we’re going to keep on doing our part for it, y’all can bet on that. We’ve got y’all’s backs like y’all have had ours.
We’re going to keep on taking care of each other.
(2) We told them.
Mafia, we told them!! We told them this bandwagon wasn’t open for business. We told them this THING we’ve been building, it’s more than just a team, it’s more than just some roster of guys.... it’s a movement. We told them — we told them — it wasn’t going to be these same old, same deal as always, your mama’s and your daddy’s Buffalo Bills.
We told them……. only they didn’t hear us.
Don’t worry, though.
I have a feeling they hear us now.
(3) Best place to start, as far as talking about this season?? I think it has to be Diggs.
Let me give you the full breakdown:
Heard about the trade on social media, just like everyone else. Bills send 2020 1st to Vikings for Stefon Diggs. And it’s interesting, man……. I mean, I’ll keep it real with you guys here: I think a lot of our team had a complicated reaction to that trade. A lot of our team.
On one hand, the front office making a trade like that, it’s one of those moves where it’s a move — but also it’s a message. It’s Brandon and those guys saying to us, you know: Y’all ready. Like, no more of this era of being the Promising Young Team. Those years of us being a “sleeper” are over. You don’t trade your 1st-round pick for Stefon Diggs and then get slept on by anyone, you know what I mean?? So it’s like that trade was a trade, but it was also this start of a new level of expectations for us. It was graduation day.
And we all loved that.
But I think we all had a follow-up reaction, too — especially after seeing the price tag.
It was: Damn…… he better be worth it.
So then later on during the offseason, our receivers and quarterbacks, they all got together in Golden Beach, Florida, to run through some workouts and drills. I was in the area at the time, like a five-minute drive from where this was happening — and once I heard that Diggs was going to be there, I thought, man…... I have to swing by. Gotta meet this dude. See if he’s who they say he is. So I came through, said my hellos real quick. Then I posted up on a bench to watch them work. And I’m not going to say I was skeptical. But I was definitely in the mood of, like, Alright, new guy. What you got.
No, literally. SMH.
I’m literally shaking my head, writing this, thinking back to that day.
Stefon, man….. dude put on a SHOW.
It’s funny, but like — I don’t think I’d ever really understood what a “superstar” is before. It always just seemed like one of those words that football people will kind of toss around, without anyone even understanding how to define it.
I understand how to define it now.
The definition of a superstar is: You know it when you see it.
And if y’all believe only one thing I say here, in this entire article, believe this: You know it when you see Stefon Diggs.
I think what I’ve realized with Stefon is that, being a superstar…... it’s not about having a higher ceiling. It’s about having NO ceiling. That actually might be the best way to explain it. It’s like — every breath that dude takes is about finding a whole new level.
And so when people ask me if Diggs has come in and impressed us this season, I’m like: nah. Because I don’t really think “impressed” is the right word.
I think it’s more like “shocked.”
Not because we had low expectations or anything. But it was more like….. alright, y’all are going to laugh at this, but I’m still going to say it: I think there were players on this team who — before they saw Stefon?? Legit had no idea people could be this good at football.
Dead serious, man.
In other words, Stefon has redefined what good football means for our squad.
That’s the kind of impact he’s had.
(4) Let’s talk about Stefon’s rep, though.
Me-first guy. Not a team player. Diva. Cancer. Ball hog. Selfish.
We all heard the same sh*t. We knew what was out there.
But we also knew we had a culture in place where it wouldn’t be a problem. For us, it was like — if he’s a diva?? Well, then, he’s about to be all alone on Diva Island. And if he’s cool? Then, cool, he’ll fit right in.
Turns out……. Stefon is more than cool.
He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.
I was trying to think of how I can summarize Stefon for this article — and I think the best I could come up with is: Dude is obsessed with making the people around him better.
You know what I mean? Like, whether it’s staying after practice with Gabe and working him through a ball cart of reps. Or it’s speaking up in a meeting and making sure him and Cole have their timing on a crossing pattern down to the split second. Or it’s just doing whatever is needed to lead his group like a true unit. (I call them the Skinny Boy Unit.) Or it’s making the type of play where the entire sideline is left speechless, and is just like, Oh, word? We’re setting the bar at “Hall of Famer” today? Whether it’s any of those things, man. Stefon has been there for it.
And I respect the hell out of him for that.
By the way, if this even needs to be said: I don’t carry water for anybody. I don’t give out free PR. If Stefon had the season he’s having, and was being a mediocre teammate?? I’d already be on to the next topic. But I just feel like the world has to know what he’s been up to this year. Because, for real: It’s like he’s had a chip on his shoulder..….. but about being nice. It’s like he’s been in a high stakes GOOD DUDE CONTEST. Like, honestly, if Stefon secretly IS an asshole, and this is all just one big scam?? Man — I don’t even care. Great scam!!
Keep on scamming me, Stefon!!
P.S. I expect all those rumor sites that ran their stories about how Stefon Diggs is a jerk or a cancer or me-first or whatever to run all brand new stories now about how sources close to the team are saying that Stefon Diggs is aight.
(5) Hottest club in Buffalo? It’s my DMs.
I’m getting “thank you, Shnowman” letters. I’m getting notes of encouragement. I’m getting pictures of y’all showing off your jerseys. I’m getting videos of y’all at home watching the games. I’m getting Mafia stories. I’m getting life stories. I’m getting a bunch of wild-ass memes.
People truly have no idea, the amount and the quality of DMs I’ve been receiving from Bills fans this season.
True story: The other day, I got a DM from this one guy, and it’s two photos of him back-to-back. In the first photo, he’s a little kid, and the Bills have just won the AFC East. It’s 1995. And then in the second photo, he’s a grown man, and the Bills have just won the AFC East again. It’s 2020.
That one really hit me hard.
That one was just, like……. DAMN. I hear you. I feel you.
I get what this means.
Anyway — I wanted to give a quick shout-out to everyone who’s been sending me all these messages. It’s been awful, for real, to not have the #Mafia at our games..... but connecting on IG and whatnot has managed to make things a little less awful. So, thank you.
(And keep ’em coming!!)
(6) Quick story about my rookie year.
It’s actually kind of on a related topic.
Alright so flash back, it’s 2017: I’m 23, an absolute weirdo, I’ve got this loud personality, I’ve got blond hair. Can’t really tell me nothing — I’m just that classic “brash rookie.” And I think a lot of the older guys, they don’t quite know what to make of me. I’m definitely an outsider.
But then for Thanksgiving of that season, our whole O-line crew, we get together for dinner. It’s this big thing at Eric’s house, he does it every year. And of course it’s classic O-line sh*t: we even have a contest to see who can gain the most weight by the end of their meal. There’s a legit scale set up in the kitchen and everything. (Eric wins. He always wins.) It’s the best time, man.
Anyway, there’s this moment I’ll never forget. At the end of that dinner, the vets kind of take me aside for a chat. And Eric — he tells me, “Dion, we really think you’re a unique kid. We don’t gravitate to every rookie that comes along, but we see something in you. We see in you the type of player, the type of guy, who we’re going to be able to pass the torch to here pretty soon.”
And I’m looking at him, like, I’m sorry — what?!? Get out of here. Pass the torch?! You’re in your prime here!! You’re E-WOOD. Ain’t no torch getting passed.
And he’s like, “Man, I’m serious. You’ll see. It’ll happen. Pretty soon, us vets — we’re just going to be these old f*cks, sending you text messages, saying good luck this week. And you’re going to be in our shoes by then. You’re going to be that guy who’s leading this unit, who’s finding a greater purpose in this culture that we’ve built. You’re going to be the guy who finishes what we started.”
And for as much as those words obviously meant to me in that moment — I still wasn’t 100% buying it. Part of me was still, like, NAH. Come on. Quit playing. You’re not going anywhere.
Of course, it turned out he was right. E-Wood retired a few months later.
And I’ve just been thinking about that Thanksgiving conversation a lot this year. First, in terms of what it means to me to be a captain on this team, and what kind of a leader I want to be. But then also in terms of what it means to me — and to this whole group — to be building on, and hopefully finishing, the work that previous Bills teams started.
And I guess that’s really the other part of this season that’s had such a cool energy.
It’s like: there’s these generations of fans, this lineage of amazing Bills supporters from over the years, that I feel like we’re trying to make this RUN for. But then on top of that, there’s also these same generations of players. And I feel like this run is for those guys as well. Winning the division, sweeping the Patriots…... that sh*t goes out to my vets. But also their vets, and their vets’ vets, and so on and so on.
That right there is what it’s about, you know what I’m saying??
Like, yeah, we’re playing football. This is a football thing.
But it’s also a family thing.
(7) J.A. is The One.
People will always be asking me, “Yo, Shnowman, what got into Josh this season??” And every time they ask that, it’s too bad, because I have to disappoint them. I have to hit ’em with the most boring answer possible.
What got into Josh?
Man….. JOSH got into Josh.
Or, in other words: This ain’t a new guy — it’s just an evolution of the old guy. It’s just that Next Step in the come-up. It’s the Elite Step. It’s the All-Pro Step. It’s the Big Money Step.
Last year for Josh, I think, was about confirming for himself all the things he can physically do on a football field. It was like he was experimenting with the entire toolbox — and every game, almost in real time, you could see him learning more and more about what he’s capable of.
It was like: Okay, I can jump over hella guys. Check. I can run through hella guys. Check. I can stiff-arm dudes and they’ll just fall on their asses. Check. I can throw the ball from basically any arm angle, at any body angle, to any spot on the field. Wow, really?? Okay. Check. I can get us out of trouble with my legs, whenever that’s needed, just let me know. Damn. Cool. Okay. Check.
It was like all these skill-sets he was checking off, and then filing away. And it was a scary sight. But at the same time — it was still just this collection of skills, you know what I’m saying?? Like, I don’t think Josh had figured out yet how to leverage those skills into an actual identity as a football player.
And then this season, I mean….. that’s what you’re seeing: You’re seeing it all snap into place. You’re seeing Josh enter the Matrix and suddenly he’s dodging them bullets. It’s these tiny details I’ll notice. Like, just the way Josh walks into a huddle. Or the way he carries himself on the sideline. Or in a meeting. Or in the locker room. It’s the emotion that he knows how (and when) to show if things go good…... or even more important, if things go bad.
Like, Josh isn’t just the “face of the franchise” anymore — where it’s some marketing thing. He’s the full-on franchise now.
Now, instead of having the playbook learned, he has it mastered. Now, instead of being a pretty mentally tough dude, he’s one of the most mentally tough dudes in the league. Now, instead of having to be the whole offense, he’s become the leader of a great offense.
Now, instead of being our MVP, he’s the MVP.
(8) Actually — let’s talk about this. Here’s my “Josh for MVP” case.
Everyone knows the stats. Everyone knows the record. Everyone knows the talent. I’m going to let that stuff speak for itself. But the case for Josh as MVP, in my opinion — it comes down to about a 15-day stretch around the end of November. As a matter of fact, I’ll narrow it down even further for you.
It comes down to two plays.
Play #1: Kyler to D-Hop, Hail Mary, six points, ballgame, goodnight.
Play #2: Josh’s personal foul against the Chargers.
Those aren’t typos — you read that right: a Hail Mary against us, and a personal foul. Now stay with me and I’ll explain.
First play, the Hail Mary, what that represents to me is just rock bottom. A few minutes earlier was one of our great plays of the season, Josh throwing a touchdown pass to Stefon to take the lead late against Arizona. Then Arizona gets the ball back and, you know, it’s what it is. They’re making some plays, moving the ball. They’re fairly close. But I’m telling you: on our sideline, as we’re watching it, nobody is thinking they’re going to score.
And then I’ll never forget that play.
D-line surges through for the almost sack..….. Kyler flushes out to his left, with Mario so close right in front of him…... Kyler freaking CHUCKS it..…. and we’re just looking at this BALL, man..…. this BALL..…. and it’s going up, and up, and up, and up..…. it’s up for so long..... like I literally remember having time to think, “Nah. There’s NO WAY he’s about to catch that......”
You know the rest.
But then after that?? Honestly — the craziest thing happened.
It was like it was this fork in the road, I think.
We saw Arizona celebrating on the field, after the Hail Mary. And it was just something about it, man. It was the way they were running around, hooting and hollering, like they’d won the damn Super Bowl. It was something about that. I think for whatever reason, that just struck this chord with us. Not because we were annoyed with them or anything. They won, they can celebrate how they want. Nah. It was more like: We looked at them. And then we looked at us. And I think we just had this moment of, Alright — hold up. If they’re fired up like they won the Super Bowl….. why aren’t we upset like we lost the Super Bowl?
And I think that’s when it hit us. It hit us that things are different now.
It hit us that this team, our team, these Buffalo Bills — we’ve moved on to a different place. Like, with all due respect to the Cardinals: I think they're in a similar spot now to where we were these last few seasons. Just trying to claw and make the playoffs with an up-and-coming roster. Whereas, for us? It’s not like that now. We’re taking the long view. Every game isn’t the Super Bowl for our team.
The Super Bowl is the Super Bowl for our team.
Or at least that’s what we’re working toward.
And like I said, it was this crazy outcome, this crazy thing that happened. But after we saw their celebration, I think we just kind of took a deep breath, and found some perspective about it. Like, Alright, ha — we’ll give them this one. Time to take our Bye now, and hit reset, and come back strong to fry some bigger fish. And I absolutely love that about our team. It’s like, that whole week, everyone on the outside was yappin’ in the media about this “collapse” of ours, and how we “blew” our “big chance,” and “it’s more bad luck for the Bills,” and “the AFC East is up for grabs.” Meanwhile..... we’d moved on!! We were just tuning it all out, and getting right.
And then the next game, we played the Chargers, and Josh f*cking sonned them by spinning the ball in their faces.
Yeah — that got us loose, man. I think we needed that.
(9) Okay….. last thought and I’m out.
I’ve seen some national-type news coverage of that airport scene from a few weeks ago — of us coming home to y’all fans* in the cold** after clinching the division in Denver. And it’s funny, but it’s almost like these big news places don’t even understand what that moment was about.
*THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF DEDICATED #MAFIA MEMBERS
**STRAIGHT UP AN ARCTIC SITUATION
The stories I’ve been seeing? They’re all, like, “Bills Mafia, doing their thing again. SO CUTE!!! Back to you, Susan.” And it’s like…..... okay. But do you get what that moment meant to our fans, really?? Do you get what it meant to our players??
Because it’s actually the opposite of what they’ve been saying on the news. That moment for us — it was the opposite of cute. Nah….. we’ve been “cute.” We’ve been those lovable losers. We’ve been that blue-collar city, grinding hard, but ultimately settling for a moral victory. We’ve been Little Brother. And you know what??
We’re so damn sick of it.
That airport scene wasn’t about any moral victory.
It was about an actual-ass victory!!
It was about WINNING. It was about winning like we haven’t won in 25 years.
It was about winning like we’re just getting started.
And this gets around to what I was saying back toward the beginning of the article. This idea of how, like, it’s important to say up front..... I know this NFL season isn’t happening in a vacuum. I know there’s a whole lot of stuff going on that’s much bigger than football. I know that people in Buffalo are facing much realer issues than the AFC East — and I know that no one’s tough times have ever been cured by a football team winning some games. I know these things, man. I never grew up rich. Been a regular dude my whole life. I’m always going to keep it 100 about stuff like this.
But with that said…….
Man. I feel like something special has been happening here.
I feel like something very special has been happening this season, between us Bills players and y’all fans — between this team and its city.
Maybe I’d phrase it like: I feel like we’ve been helping to bring each other’s swagger back.
You know what I’m saying???
Like on one hand you have the Mafia, and the way y’all have STOOD BY US, and the way y’all have given us an identity, even when we were piling up L’s. Y’all helped build the culture that bridged us to this era of winning football. And then on the other hand, you have this season’s Bills team, and — y’all, I say this as humbly as possible — I feel like maybe we’ve helped inject a small amount of joy into this terrible year. I feel like..... man, I feel like Buffalo maybe even carries itself a little different when we’re winning. Like it just holds its head up a little higher or something. Like we thrive together, you know??
And it means a lot.
So that’s pretty much where I’m at right now.
I won’t sit here and act like I know what the future holds. Won’t claim to know how the playoffs or the world is about to shake out over the next while.
But I love this city, man.
And as far as this football team goes….. let’s just say we’ve got one thing on our mind.
It ain’t losing.