My favorite football in the entire world is half-deflated, torn, grass-stained, paint-smeared, genuinely ugly and autographed by Jim Kelly.
I can still remember standing next to my father as a young boy when Jim Kelly jogged off the training camp fields at Fredonia and took a moment to sign the ball. A kid in complete love with the Buffalo Bills and overcome with excitement, I couldn’t even muster a word as Kelly momentarily took it from my hands. I just shook with energy.
The football has been with me ever since, through childhood games in the side yard to a collection item I set out for key Bills games still today. Earlier this year while packing boxes to move into a new apartment with my fiancé, the ball and myriad other Bills keepsakes that continue to travel with me caused me to reflect…
There was the Bills helmet I wore Trick-or-Treating on Halloween nights and in my family’s yard when I’d pretend I was scoring touchdowns at Rich Stadium.
There were the Starting Lineup figurines of Kelly, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith I’d set out in the living room and act out plays and games.
There were sports cards, posters, jerseys and Flutie Flakes that all marked key moments and memories in my life.
Even as a 29-year-old set to become a husband, I can’t let go of the memorabilia. It’s not that it reminds me of great wins or epic touchdowns, but it reminds me of my life. My dad and I used to throw around that autographed Jim Kelly ball. My friends and I wore those jerseys and drank beer from those cups when we’d tailgate before games. These are great memories – memories I wish I could live again.
It’s a bummer the Bills have lost every Super Bowl they’ve played in. But, looking at the Bills items that continue to be packed and unpacked as I travel through life, it’s easy to realize my memories wouldn’t be an ounce richer if they had won any of the four.
I take pride in the ups and downs that come with being a Bills fan just like I take pride in my beat up autographed football. I’m proud I never kept the ball under lock and key. Such protection might have made it worth more money today, but it wouldn’t have made it more valuable to a kid who couldn’t imagine anything more exhilarating than playing with a ball Jim Kelly held in his hands. I’m thankful for every grass stain on the ball, just like I’m grateful for every Bills memory in my heart.