Hey Jon Bon Jovi: Bills Fans Live on Buffalo Wings and Straight Talk, Not a Prayer

Wanted, preferably alive: an NFL owner that embodies the unique spirit of the Rust Belt city.

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Aug 6 2014, 5:00pm

Photo by Flickr user mattbritt00

The recent open letter Jon Bon Jovi wrote to Buffalo Bills fans in an attempt to explain his Toronto-based group's bid for the team was a slap in the face. Not only does it make it clear the "Slippery When Wet" singer is a viable candidate for team owner, but combined with Donald Trump's own bid, it means the Bills faithful are getting two candidates for overlord who have no business owning anything in Buffalo.

I'm not from Buffalo, I'm from nearby Rochester and the Rust Belt is in my very blood. So when Bon Jovi attempted to assuage my fears that the most important professional sports team (sorry, Sabres fans) within a two-hour radius of my hometown will be moved north of the Canadian border, I got understandably miffed, and more than a little ticked off at the condescending rhetoric.

Here's the only necessary pull-quote from Bon Jovi's missive in the Buffalo News, without the fluff that buttresses it on both sides:

We are committed to working with the State, City, County and business community to identify the best possible site in the Buffalo area for a new stadium and to then develop and implement a plan to finance and build a state-of-the-art NFL stadium for the loyal Bills fans.

As Matt Sabuda of the Buffalo Fan Alliance and Charles Pellien, a cofounder of the Bills Fan Thunder, both point out, at no point in Bon Jovi's patronizing epistle does he say he'll actually keep the Bills in Buffalo, a major issue for a fan base that worries about carpetbaggers moving the franchise north to Toronto. While Ralph WIlson, the now-deceased previous owner, had his own history of wandering rhetoric, he never beat around the bush when it came to keeping the Bills in Buffalo.

Speaking of keeping it in the family, Al Davis's son Mark is a real chip off the old block.

Bon Jovi's business partners, Larry Tanenbaum (chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) and the Rogers family, who own Rogers Communications, are never mentioned in the letter, and it's clear why when you take into account their ties to the city currently getting one Bills "home game" every season.

Buffalo is the second-largest city in New York, but it also sits precariously close to the delights Niagara offers the just-turned-18 set across the Canadian border. Kids grow up at the famous Sundowners strip club past the border checkpoint. We know Toronto's up there, we know it has MLB and NBA teams, and we know it probably wants an NFL franchise to call its own.

So we're justifiably anxious about any group that's connected to our brethren up north, and by failing to mention his partners, or provide clear-cut language guaranteeing Buffalo will always host the Bills, all the letter has done is alienate Bon Jovi further from fans and may have violated the non-disclosure agreement the singer signed with the team.

Buffalo is an old-school town. We consume Labatt Blue in unhealthy amounts with lips covered in Buffalo sauce—all while trolling for a funnel from a friend in an Orchard Park parking lot. We're a long way from New York City, metaphorically and geographically. Our former septuagenarian owner—who was himself a Michigan native—never tried take the franchise away from us, and for that he'll always be lionized, even though at times we cracked wise about his diminishing mental faculties. The man helped found the AFL, he loaned the Oakland Raiders money in order to keep that league afloat, and he built the team into something great, even if it hasn't been successful in recent years. There's a reason we named our NFL stadium after him.

The Bills have a lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium that lasts until 2022, with an opt-out clause that kicks in in 2020. (If a future owner tried to opt out of the lease earlier than that, they'd incur a $400 million fee.) But 2020 is too close for any of us to feel safe after reading Bon Jovi's 346-word purple prose-laden letter only a star-struck 14-year-old girl from 1987 would take seriously.

Bon Jovi's letter looks like a particularly loathsome symptom of a mid-life crisis, and the people of western New York—who have survived some of the most depressing weather in the country, not to mention the economic downturn—don't have time for his ego-stroking desire to own an NFL team. He should stick with the CFL team he already has.

"I'm not risking it all to let you down," Bon Jovi writes, sounding like a strident boyfriend who can't get over getting dumped. The Jersey rocker might have gotten his rocks off all the time in the halcyon days of the 1980s, but in Buffalo we say what we mean and we don't demean each other with double-talk. Long hair doesn't get you laid in Buffalo—trust me, I have long hair—but a willingness to down some whiskey and sing the "Bills Make Me Want to Shout" until you're hoarse, might.

The first time I ever went to a Bills game, a foul-smelling gentleman in my row took his cock out and pissed all over the chairs nearby. The man was led away apologizing, and after someone poured some beer to splash away the urine pooling in the seats closest to the landing spot, we went back to business as usual—screaming "Thurman" as loud as we possibly could. No one minded the unruly behavior because there was something authentic about the display. The man had to pee, and he was too drunk to make to the trough in the bathroom Bon Jovi would never deign to use. We could all respect the man's overwhelming urge to unload some of the Blue he'd likely consumed, but Bon Jovi's letter lacks that man's dignity.

Spencer Lund is western New York transplant living in New York City and managing editor of Dime Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.