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Scholars who chronicle such things tell us that Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra is now the most-quoted person in speeches, surpassing even William Shakespeare. That the master of the malaprop would eclipse the Bard himself should not come as a total surprise, because Lawrence Peter Berra has always had a way with words. And even when they didn't make any sense, they made perfect sense, if you know what I mean.
Of the scores of Yogisms, the most repeated one is "It ain't over until it's over."
I bring up Yogi and this particular gem because Bills fans-all sports fans, for that matter-should heed his sage advice. It really isn't over until it's over.
Buffalo's last-second comeback victory on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers at Ralph Wilson Stadium is further proof that the New York Yankees' legendary catcher and wordsmith knew exactly what he was talking about.
Midway through the fourth quarter of that game, droves of fans began streaming toward the exits. And I couldn't for the life of me fathom why. Were they trying to beat the traffic? Were there kielbasas that couldn't wait to be grilled? It was only a three-point deficit, for cripes sakes. The weather was gorgeous. And you had a golden opportunity to see how a rookie quarterback in only his second NFL game would respond to extreme pressure.
Incredibly, even more people headed for the exits after Buffalo fell behind by six points with 98 seconds remaining. Yes, I know it looked dire for the Bills at that point. After a touchback on the ensuing kickoff there would be 80 yards to traverse without any timeouts at their disposal. A touchdown and extra point were needed to win the game. And EJ Manuel had never faced a challenge like this in the pros. Still, ... why were people leaving?!
I understand fans fleeing that wildcard playoff game against the Houston Oilers back in 1993. Heck, I would have left, too, if I hadn't been there to write about the game. The Bills were down 25 points at the half, and that crater they dug themselves increased to 32 points just minutes into the third quarter. We ink-stained wretches began writing obituaries for the Bills' season at that juncture. We figured our stories were safer than gold bricks in Fort Knox.
Well, you know what happened next.
Bills quarterback Frank Reich, who had authored the most compelling comeback in major college football history, marched Buffalo to a touchdown to cut the deficit to 25. Then the Bills scored again. And again. And again. And faster than you could say "fandemonium," we stopped typing and started paying attention to the game. Steve Christie put the finishing touches on the most dramatic comeback in NFL history with his overtime field goal, giving the Bills a 41-38 victory that helped propel them to their third consecutive Super Bowl.
After the football sailed through the uprights, I deleted my original story. I had plenty of company doing the same thing along press row.
A funny aside is that many who had prematurely left the game caught wind that a miracle might be unfolding and clamored to get back into the stadium. They literally were climbing the fences.
The thing about Sunday's Carolina game is that the situation wasn't nearly as daunting as the one the Bills faced in that unforgettable playoff contest. Perhaps those who left figured the ending would be disappointing, as so many Bills endings have been during this 13-year playoff famine. Perhaps they believed that if they stayed they'd only witness another comedown instead of a comeback. To quote Yogi, perhaps they feared that it was going to be "déjà vu all over again." Or rather, "déjà blue, all over again."
So the thousands who departed missed some high drama. Manuel, displaying composure beyond his years, guided the Bills down the field for the winning touchdown pass with just two seconds remaining. They missed the final gun sounding on a victory that one day may be remembered as a turning point in franchise history. They lost the opportunity to share high-fives with other long-suffering fans. They didn't hear the Monkees' "I'm a Believer" blast over the stadium loud speakers as a tearful Manuel hugged his father in the stands before triumphantly jogging to the locker room.
As a fan, I've exercised my ticket-buying right to leave a stinker early. In most instances, I didn't miss much; I spared myself additional misery. But there were a few occasions when I got burned, when I missed out on a winning TD pass or a walk-off hit or a game-winning jumper.
Yogi and Shakespeare taught us that the best often is saved for last, that the final act is the most memorable. That clearly was the case in the Bills' stirring win against Carolina.
It really wasn't over until it was over.
Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak's 16th book, a collaboration with rock 'n' roll legend Lou Gramm titled "Juke Box Hero," is available at amazon.com and in bookstores. He provides analysis following Bills games on WROC-TV and is a correspondent for USA Today SportsWeekly.
9/20/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.