Really, I Didn’t Know Buffalo had Wings

There was no joy in our home two weeks ago.  I wandered from room to room looking for something to do, something to occupy my mind.  I couldn’t focus enough to read and music was little more than rhythmic noise.  I tried watching a movie but the actors seemed to be wooden caricatures of the parts they played.  Above all, I avoided television.  I couldn’t return there yet.  It was too soon.  Television was the source of my pain, for it was a scant few hours before that I watched as color and music left my world.  It was a few hours before that my beloved Carolina Panthers lay down, rolled over and bared their soft underbelly to a screeching red bird from Arizona.

OK, the mourning period is over.  There’s always next year.  But, football season IS one of the highlights of my year.  I love the Panthers and I seldom miss a Clemson football game.  The exchange students that we have hosted sometimes don’t understand this obsession.  Given the popularity of soccer around the world, that surprises me a bit.

This lack of understanding has its upside though.  It gives me a chance to spend some quality time with our new family members teaching them about our culture and finding a safe subject to argue about.  I actually encourage them to pick a different team to follow.  That makes life interesting on weekends in the fall.

A few years ago we hosted a young lady from Japan named Sara.  Her real name was Sayaka, but she wanted a more “American” name, so Sara it was.  Sara was an extremely bright girl and good student.  More than that, her laughter and joy of life made our house a wonderful place to be.  sara3But what made her a perfect addition to our family was the fact that she also had a tendency to be gullible.  In January of 2003, football season and her gullibility crashed together in a perfect storm and therein lay the tale of “Buffalo Wings”.

It was a cold Indiana afternoon on a Saturday in late January.  Sara and I were doing the grocery shopping that week.  She loved to get the groceries because it gave her the opportunity to make sure that I got all the proper snacks and treats.  As I was getting a few things in the deli, Sara looked here and there seeing what new delicacies she could find.  When I was done I found her looking at a display in a refrigerated case.

As I got to her, she looked at me and said, “Buffalo wings, buffalo wings….what are buffalo wings?”

Now, I have pretty good self-control, but I am human.  That door was just too big and inviting to ignore.

“Well,” I said,  “do you know what a buffalo is?”

“Of course.” She replied.  “I have studied it in American History.  It is big, furry cow.”

“Exactly.” I said.  “But, I bet that you didn’t know that buffalo are the only hoofed animals that could ever fly.” I continued.

“Really?  How could cow fly?” Sara asked.

“Well, that has a lot to do with geography and survival of the fittest.” I said.  “Have you studied about Darwin?”

“Hmmmm, I have studied him a little.” She replied. “But, sometimes the teacher spoke too fast and I didn’t understand her English.”

That was my big green light and with a quick movement I cast my line into the water, “That’s OK, I’ll give you a short course right now.”

“Thousands of years ago North America was filled with giant herds of Buffalo, especially in the middle and western part of the continent.   Now, if you think about the geography of the west, you’ll remember that there are many mountains and plateaus.” I said.

Sara nodded, hanging on every word.

“Well, if you look closely at a buffalo, you’ll notice that their front legs are shorter then their back legs.  This makes it easy for them to climb up a hill but difficult for them to walk down one.  Over time, some buffaloes developed lighter bones and flaps of skin near the humps on their back.  Eventually these flaps of skin evolved into medium sized wings. The wings weren’t strong enough for them to fly, but they could use them to glide from the top of a plateau to the valley below. This allowed the gliding buffaloes to find food faster and also allowed them to avoid being killed by native Americans when they were hunting for food.  Because of ‘survival of the fittest’, buffalo with wings soon became the dominant species.” I explained.

“But,” Sara said, “These wings are very small.  How could a buffalo glide with these?”

“Ah!” I said.  “That’s where ‘man’ enters the picture.  When the Europeans settlers came, they over-hunted the buffalo and then domesticated the few that were left.  Wings weren’t much of an advantage for a domestic buffalo, so over many generations they became smaller and smaller.  Eventually the wings were too small to allow buffalo to glide.”

The key to telling a good tall story is to mix in just enough fact that the story has a ring of truth.  It was time to set the hook so I took a deep breath and yanked hard.

“Today, buffalo wings are very, very small.  They’re about the size of a turkey wing and are useless to the buffalo.  Actually, they get it the way when buffalo run.  So, when buffalo are born the ranchers clip the wings off.  It doesn’t hurt much if they do it when the buffalo are little.  The wings that you see here actually came from baby buffaloes.”

Sara glanced down at the trays of buffalo wings and said. “There are lots of wings, there must be many baby buffaloes.”

“Well,” I said, “It just looks like a lot.  Most buffalo have their calves in January, so that’s when there are many buffalo wings.”

Now I slipped the net into the water so that I could land the fish.

“At first, ranchers just threw the wings away.  Then someone discovered that, if you covered them with different sauces and cooked them, buffalo wings were very tasty.  Since buffalo birthing season and the football Super Bowl come at about the same time, it’s become a tradition that we eat buffalo wings for a snack during the Super Bowl.”   I got her, hook line and sinker.

“Ah!”  Sara exclaimed.  “ May we get some for snack?”

“Sure!” I replied.  “Pick out a couple of trays with different sauces.”

She did and we took them home with the rest of the groceries.  It was still a week until the Super Bowl, so that evening I suggested that we warm up the wings and give them a try.  Sara liked that idea.  The trays she had picked each had two different flavors of wings.  One had a traditional hot sauce and a Teriyaki flavor.  The other had wings covered in a pineapple-Hawaiian sauce and more flavored in Cajun style.  After she had sampled them all, I asked her which she liked best.

“I like the Cajun style the best.  It is spicy but not too hot.” She said.

“So, you don’t like the other flavors?” I asked.

“Oh, they are good too.” She replied. “The teriyaki wings taste a little like chicken.”

Did you know that you can pull a groin muscle stifling a laugh?  Neither did I.

As it turns out, Sara got invited to a Super Bowl party that weekend.  She loved parties and she loved making new friends.  So, it was only natural that when the wings came out at the party she took the opportunity to show her new acquaintances how much she had learned about American culture.  She told them the story about buffalo wings.

I was sitting in my recliner watching the news when she got home that night.  The slam of the door was followed quickly by the sound of her running down the steps to the family room.  She stopped just short of the chair and stood staring at me with malice for what seemed an eternity.  Finally, with a red face and breathing heavily she said, “You are evil, evil man.”  With that she turned and stomped off to her room.

She forgave me in a few days.  It wasn’t in her personality to stay angry.  But, from that time forward, whenever I launched into a story that was more than a few sentences long she’d say, “Pinocchio, your nose is long.”

Of course, the Anchor Bar on Main Street in Buffalo, New York is the real origin of buffalo wings.  There have been many imitators over the years.  Some of them are good; some are better.   But the best wings are still the originals.  If you’re ever in Buffalo, stop by the Anchor Bar and have some.  It doesn’t have to be around January.  Apparently the buffaloes in New York mate all year long.

If you do stop in, tell them Tigerdad sent you and make sure to try the Spicy Barbecue wings before you leave.


See Ya


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One Comment on “Really, I Didn’t Know Buffalo had Wings”

  1. Tom Says:

    Even though I’ve heard it more than one time it’s still funny!

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