For only the third time in the 21st century, the Buffalo Bills have made the NFL playoffs. They’ve also clinched the AFC East for the first time since 1995, a year before their quarterback Josh Allen was even born. Needless to say, this year’s success has been a long time in the making.
The Bills will play the Indianapolis Colts at home on Saturday, January 9. It’s the first time Bills Stadium will host a playoff game in 24 years. But as with most sporting events during the Covid-19 pandemic, the game will look different. All fans in attendance must test negative for the virus, masking and social distancing guidelines will be strictly enforced, and there will be contact tracing following the game should somebody come down with Covid-19. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has limited attendance to just 6,772 people––roughly 9 percent of the stadium’s capacity.
Last week, Cuomo announced his intent to be one of the lucky few to watch the game in person. He eventually walked that plan back and opted to give his ticket to a nurse, but not before invoking the ire of the Bills Mafia, the nickname for the team’s rabid fan base.
On Tuesday, Bills fan Jeffrey Dorenzo created a petition titled, “Ban Andrew Cuomo from Buffalo Bills Stadium playoff games.” As of this article’s writing, it has accrued over 41,000 signatures, which is more than half of Bills Stadium’s capacity.
In a note accompanying the petition, Dorenzo said that the Bills Mafia had endured so many painful years that a devoted fan should take the place of the governor. Though that has thankfully happened, Dorenzo’s criticism of the governor’s arrogance is evergreen:
So Cuomo is going to attend our playoff game after telling us that we can only attend at less than 10% capacity? If he thinks he has more right to a seat in that stadium over people who have waited over 20 years for this opportunity, then people better be there to protest his entry. This is OUR team! This is OUR home. We don’t want you here.
The petition’s language––and the broad support it’s accrued––point to an important lesson. Cuomo has a limited stake in the industries that he’s ravaged, and the effects of his policies will never harm him the way they’ve harmed New Yorkers. Fans, customers, and owners, meanwhile, have been forced to pick up the pieces of their shattered establishments while Cuomo plays celebrity, winning awards and praise from the popular press. The petition reads:
Lawsuits are popping up left and right because the people have had enough of your crippling effect….But you know who isn’t struggling? Andrew Cuomo! No, you’re still getting pay raises.
As recently as November, Cuomo said that it would be “reckless” to let fans enter Bills Stadium. So why is he allowing fans to attend a playoff game now?
It isn’t as if New York is experiencing its lowest case burden––its numbers have hardly ever been higher, in fact. Hospitalizations, seven-day average infections, and testing positivity rates all hit new highs on the same day that Cuomo announced the in-person allowance. There have certainly been less risky times to host crowds at events.
In reality, Cuomo is allowing fans at Bills Stadium in the hopes of conducting a science experiment:
We’re looking to test a hypothesis. The National Football League currently does games without testing. The Buffalo Bills are going to have a playoff game….Could we allow fans to the game with testing and then contact trace after the game? That’s what the Department of Health has been working on.
New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker backed Cuomo up, saying, “This would be a demonstration project. It’s a public health model. It’s never been done anywhere in the country before.”
It hasn’t. Saturday’s game is being described as a test run that could later inform the strategy to reopen other sporting facilities, concert venues, and perhaps even Broadway theaters. But the governor’s timing is odd, considering how many prior opportunities he had to conduct his experiment.
The Toronto Blue Jays played baseball in Buffalo over the summer, but in-person attendance was banned. There were plenty of regular season football games in Buffalo, but Bills Stadium has seen no fans this year. Cuomo allowed New York colleges and universities to resume sporting events, but this, too, has been a no-fan arrangement. Somehow, Saturday’s football game is different.
Of course, the bigger picture is important here. Cuomo’s willingness to welcome a crowd to Bills Stadium, all with his thumb on the state’s most vulnerable establishments, is a slap in the face to any New York business that has struggled to stay afloat. Indoor dining is still banned. Nearly one-third of the state’s small businesses closed in 2020. New York had the second-highest total of job losses in the country, ranking behind only Hawaii. But now that it’s convenient and desirable to the governor, this particular reopening has been sanctioned.
And even this reopening doesn’t seem to sit well with Bills fans. The ideal resolution to Cuomo’s firestorm, Dorenzo says, would be the following:
Most importantly, I want you to see what football truly means to the people of Buffalo and I want you to allow more than a measley [sic] 6,700 fans to sit in those stands….people are aware of the risks, and we should be allowed to choose for ourselves if the risk is worth the reward. Nothing shy of 25% capacity is acceptable. 50% would be nice, but 100% will earn you the approval to join us!
The Bills have had their most exciting season in ages. Josh Allen’s star is rising, the receiving corps is world-class, and Bills fans can be unabashedly proud of their team. The outdoor stadium is well-suited to hosting games, given how low the risk of virus transmission is compared to indoor facilities. So 6,772 members of the Bills Mafia will be rewarded with an in-person playoff experience. But one wonders why the epidemiological risks have suddenly changed in the postseason.
Cuomo’s actions prove that he operates under a different set of constraints than the rest of us, but New Yorkers remain subject to his whim. Here’s to hoping the governor will learn an important lesson: His contradictions are becoming increasingly obvious, and people are growing less tolerant of his questionable pandemic logic. Without rhyme, reason, or adherence to restrictions among the political elite, the compliance of the public will undoubtedly waver.