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Buffalo Bills fans love Josh Allen. This is not only because he wins and has a cannon for an arm and plays with the joy of a boy on a backyard ballfield.
It is also because they believe he is one of them. And they believe this for good reason — he believes it, too.
The Bills will play the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. The game is being billed as Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes. As it happens, the Bills traded the 10th pick of the 2017 draft to KC. In effect, the team that spent decades trying to find a worthy replacement for Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was saying, “Yeah, Mahomes is not the guy.”
That kind of thing could haunt a franchise forever, except for this: The Bills got Allen with the seventh pick in the following year’s draft.
“It seemed like we had a connection from the get-go,” Allen said of the cheers he heard then. And now the bond is so strong that many Bills fans see him as something akin to kin — the rambunctious little brother who grows up to leap linebackers in a single bound.
Allen and Buffalo go together like peanut butter and jelly — and Bills fans are not the only ones who see it. Jim Nantz, who will call Sunday’s game for CBS, sees it, too. This week he told Alan Pergament, TV critic for The Buffalo News, that Allen is “such a perfect fit for Buffalo, the vibe in Western New York around this team.”
Del Reid agrees. He is a co-founder of Bills Mafia, the grassroots fan club that by now is an umbrella term for Bills fans everywhere. “If you love Buffalo, Buffalo will love you back,” Reid says. “And from Day One, it was clear that Josh Allen loves Buffalo.”
Buffalo-born actress Christine Baranski appeared this week on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” where she touted her Bills fandom and spoke of the hardy fans who brave sub-zero temps: “If you're from Buffalo, you are a survivor. You know how to endure.”
That’s part of Allen’s appeal. He knows how to endure. He had no Division I scholarships coming out of high school in tiny Firebaugh, California, where one of the big annual events is the Cantaloupe Roundup Festival. So Allen went to junior college and then the University of Wyoming. He was overlooked, which is just how Buffalo feels much of the time.
Last season, Allen endured the loss of his grandmother. She died the night before the Bills played at home against the Seattle Seahawks. Allen threw for 415 yards in a 44-34 win. This moved offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to call Allen “all-day competitive and all-day tough” before adding high praise: “This dude’s Buffalo.”
Daboll would know: He grew up in Hamburg, a Buffalo suburb only a few Josh Allen bombs from Highmark Stadium.
Fans treated the loss of Allen’s grandmother as a death in the family. Bills Mafia asked them to make donations of $17 (for his uniform number) in his grandmother’s name to the local Oishei Children’s Hospital. They raised more than $1 million. Allen then attended the dedication of the best Buffalo wing of all — the Patricia Allen Pediatric Recovery Wing.
“My family and I cannot even begin to express our gratitude for the support this community has shown us,” Allen said, adding that the care given at Children’s “absolutely exemplifies what it means to live in the City of Good Neighbors,” as Buffalo styles itself.
Steve Young, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, the team of Allen’s youth, talks about all this on a video put out by the Bills.
“That’s going to bind him to Buffalo in a way that sometimes nothing else can,” Young says. “For me, that’s the connective tissue. You step in those shoes. You live with them. That binding is great. It’s precious. It’s wonderful.”
Allen, on the video, honors the ties that bind: “Everything about Buffalo I absolutely love. The city, the people that are here. I’m not just playing for myself. I’m playing for them.”
He signals that to Bills Mafia by ending pretty much every media interview with “Go Bills.” It is the aloha of Buffalo — an all-purpose salutation that can mean hello or goodbye.
“Love that he does that,” Reid says. “He understands Bills fans. He understands our culture. He understands Buffalo. That is who we are: We end our conversations with ‘Go Bills’ — and he does the same.”
Pogo, the pen-and-ink opossum of mid-century comics pages, famously said: “We have met the enemy. And he is us.”
Bills fans think of it another way: “We have met our quarterback. And he is us.”
To which Josh Allen might add, “Go Bills.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bills' bond with QB Josh Allen makes him perfect fit in Buffalo