I’ve been part of Bills Mafia since I was 12 years old, way back in 1988. The Buffalo Bills were just coming out of mediocrity, similar to what we are seeing these days. The team won just four games two seasons prior and seven the following year. 1988 would be a coming-out party as the team ripped off 12 wins, which only the 1964 team had accomplished previously.
It was a Monday Night game, October 17th, 1988. I had never watched an NFL game in its entirety until that night. It was Jim Kelly’s first Monday night game of his career. It was a road game against the New York Jets and the game was never close, other than at the opening kickoff. The Bills rolled up 427 yards of offense to the Jets 199.
By the end of the first quarter, Buffalo was already up 17 – 0 and the Jets never had a chance. The Bills would go on to win by a final of 37 – 14. Thurman Thomas was a rookie and had 11 carries for 43 yards. By that time, the team included such players as Andre Reed, Pete Metzelaars, Kelly, and Bruce Smith. Smith went on to record 2.5 sacks in that game as well.
I decided from that moment on, I was a Buffalo Bills fan, which of course later known as Bills Mafia. I’ve often been asked, had the Jets won, would I be a Jets fan today, I’d like to think I would have still made the right choice, regardless. I lived through the Super Bowl years, went to school decked out in my Bills gear, and didn’t care. Took a lot of heat in those days but it only served to strengthen my bond with the Bills.
Of course, I was glued to the TV when Frank Reich and the Bills orchestrated the greatest comeback in NFL history. In fact, I was glued to my family room TV and my parents weren’t into sports and typically, if I watched any sporting event, it was in my bedroom, but the family room had the biggest TV in the house and mom and dad were out.
It was third quarter and Andre Reed just scored his first of three consecutive touchdown receptions, when my parents walked into the house from running errands. I ran to my dad and begged him to not change the channel and let me finish watching the game. After I explained to him what was happening, he let me finish the game on the “big screen”.
Then came the Music City Miracle and the drought that would follow for 17 years. Not so fun fact about the Music City Miracle though. I was in the Army at the time, and we were out in the field doing training exercises, so I actually did not watch the game live. My buddies back at r main camp would radio in the score for me but each time, the score would be completely different than the previous.
The following morning, my First Sargeant brought us breakfast and told me what happened, which I did not believe him, I thought no way, that can’t happen. This went on for a couple days and I was sure he and my buddies concocted this crazy story, then we went home, and I watched it on, get this VHS! For those of you that don’t know what that is, ask your parents.
I say all this, not to relive some of the heartaches, but for two reasons. One is simply to introduce myself to Bills Mafia but also to say I was a Buffalo Bills fan for 33 years, lived through all of those historic games and the drought, yet had never been to a Bills game, either on the road or in Orchard Park and been among Bills Mafia.
That all changed on January 9, 2021. I was unaware this trip was about to happen; however, my entire family and circle of friends knew. To this day I have no clue how my wife and everyone kept this secret from me. Anyway, it was a Christmas present from my wife, she bought tickets to our first ever Bills game! I was finally going to witness Bills Mafia first hand!
We made a small trip out of it though, so we could take in all that Buffalo has to offer and we were not disappointed. From the small diner, Swan Street Diner, two blocks from where we were staying, to the myriad of shops we visited the game itself and the multiple bars and breweries. We visited way more bars and breweries than I can recall but my wife and I were blown away by the people. We’ve never been anywhere as visitors where we felt more at home. The hospitality of Buffalonians is unmatched, never mind Bills Mafia, it was a community, whether you were a fan or not.
What Was It Like To Be Among Bills Mafia?
I brought up the Swan Street Diner and only remember the name because of what the waitress did for us. Since the diner was only a couple of blocks away, we visited for breakfast a couple of times. The second of which, the waitress was really excited to see us, a little too excited I thought. Tyrel Dodson was in the morning prior, and she told him about us. She got an autograph from him on one of the diner’s post cards they hand out to customers, which I proudly display in my mancave, along with the Josh Allen autographed cleat, that we also got during this trip.
There were multiple instances of strangers paying our tab or picking up our dinner ticket. We stopped at the bar, sorry but can’t remember the name, but it’s across the street from KeyBank Center. Yes, we got tickets to a Sabres game, which they happen to be playing Tampa Bay that night, so the game did not go well for the home team, but it was a blast and also our first ever NHL game, let alone Buffalo Sabres.
Sorry, back to the bar across the street. I don’t think we paid for a single drink that night, as everyone was buying us drinks and just wanted to talk Bills football with us. Of course, everyone wanted to know how a guy that grew up in New Mexico became part of Bills Mafia.
The same thing happened the day of the Bills game too, when we stopped in at a sports bar just a little down the road from the stadium, to get out of the rain. We started talking with another family and getting to know more Bills Mafia members there as well. Our waitress came over after that family left and said they paid for our ticket and drinks. My wife and I stayed for a bit longer, had a few more drinks, chatted it up with more Bills fans and again, the waitress came over and said someone just paid for our drinks.
The game itself was amazing and everything I dreamed of and more! We got in line as soon as the gates opened, actually a bit before, and just mingled with other Bills Mafia in line but it was awesome, people out of the blue, “GO BILLS” or “Hey aye aye aye!” We got to our seats and were just taking in the scene. We talked with other Bills Mafia that found their way to their seats early to watch pre-game warmups. Now for the highlight of the whole trip!
Stefon Diggs came over and was throwing passes with the fans in the stands. My wife was recording this on her phone too and as Diggs worked his way down closer and closer to us, my wife continued recording.
She had no idea what she was about to capture on video, as she followed Diggs and each time following the ball as it came into the crowd when she then saw me on her screen and realized I caught a pass from Stefon Diggs and tossed it back, like a pro I might add. It was probably one of the coolest moments in my life and for that brief 20 seconds or so, I felt like that 12-year-old kid again. I’ve included this video at the end of this article, if you want to see me, with my big childlike grin.
Can’t Forget About The Wings And Beer
Oh and this article would not be complete without mentioning two other things, one the buffalo wings are absolutely on point. I can no longer eat wings back home and be satisfied, just not the same, not even close. Also, before you ask, yes I warned my wife beforehand, bone-in and blue cheese, anything else and you’ll find pictures of you on social media eating wings, so all of Bills Mafia can heckle you for not knowing the proper way to eat buffalo wings.
The other thing, I knew Labatt’s Blue was big in Buffalo but never had one until we visited. As soon as we got home, I went on a mission to find Labatt’s Blue and discovered only two places in my home sell it, so you better believe I stock up every time!
I wanted to share our story with anyone that would take a few minutes to read this. I’ve never experienced anything like what we experienced in Buffalo. I’m well aware of the charitable acts Bills Mafia is known for and all the donations to various charities over the years. What I didn’t know, is this generosity is not necessarily just a Bills Mafia thing, it’s a Buffalo thing, it’s a community and feeling of home thing. We were a few days into our trip, and I told my wife, I’m home now, I’m with my people.
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