Vincent Gallo’s 1998 film “Buffalo ’66’’ is among my all-time favorites, although I remain unsure if the Buffalo native's intention was to provide wicked satire or a docudrama taking us inside the minds of Bills fans.
A case for the latter was made in recent days as a Tweet was circulated showing a Bills fan wearing a red No. 49 jersey tossing his very small son back-first into a cake on a folded-up table, in a tribute to the tradition of overserved Bills tailgaters diving from the top of vehicles (including RVs) onto folding tables.
“That wasn’t a good look for us,’’ Ryan Stang said. “It played into a big misconception that it’s the only way Bills fans roll, that we’re all crazy all the time. That’s only on game days.’’
Stang and younger brother Aaron became fans attending games with their father Richard as tykes. “My dad wanted us to share his passion for the Bills,’’ Ryan said. “He also wanted to sneak beer into the stadium in our snowmobile suits.’’
Stang was connected through mutual friend Chris Reuvers, the motive being my belief the major happening on the NFL schedule released Thursday was overlooked in media breakdowns.
Brees vs. Brady on opening week -- ho-hum.
The engagement that truly matters is this: Buffalo at Las Vegas, Oct. 4. Even if it still had the real Mafia running the town, The Strip might not be able to control what awaits on that first weekend of October, when Bills Mafia hits the desert.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal might want to reprise the New York tabloid headline from years ago cautioning citizens when a serial killer was released: "Run for Your Lives!"
“I bought my ticket to Vegas immediately,’’ Stang said. “Within one day, I heard from 100 Bills fans who had done the same.’’
It was on the same October weekend in 2019 when Buffalo played at Tennessee, and Bills Mafia stormed Music City. “Amazing … we took over downtown, and then the stadium,’’ Stang said.
Back in January 2018, the Bills reached the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. They went to Jacksonville for a wild-card game. Stang, an insurance broker by trade and party organizer by hobby, put on a Facebook page that he was trying to arrange a place for fans to gather on Saturday night in JAX.
“By morning, 3,000 Bills fans had responded,’’ Stang said. “The normal Bills’ bars that are in towns all over the country can’t handle the number of traveling Bills fans on a regular weekend. I knew we needed some place large in Jacksonville. I found The Landing, with eight bars and restaurants.’’
Stang called a person attached to The Landing at mid-week and issued a warning: All your places will be full on Saturday night, so be prepared.
“The woman I was talking with said, ‘OK, fine,’ ‘’ he said. “I could tell she didn’t believe me.’’
On Facebook, Stang suggested Bills fans get to The Landing around 7 p.m. He was a bit late with his flight and arrived at 8 p.m. “Bills fans had drank ‘em dry of beer when I got there,’’ he said. “All eight places … out of beer.’’
What did Bills Mafia do about that? “Drank their liquor,’’ said Stang, sounding as if it was a naïve question.
Reuvers was in attendance for the Jaguars' 10-3 victory. Dull game, but a raucous pregame tailgate that was highlighted by Bills fans building and torching of a bonfire.
“A woman from security came running over and said, ‘Are you people crazy … you can’t have a bonfire!’ ‘’ Reuvers said. “I pointed out she should have informed these law-abiding Bills fans of the bonfire prohibition in advance.’’
My friend Tom Linnemann, now working in Toronto, prides himself on having taken in the craziest fan experiences in the NFL, including a couple of visits to Oakland’s Black Hole.
“There’s nothing close to a Bills game – from the pregame tailgate, through the in-game craziness, and then the endless postgame partying as people wait for the traffic jam to loosen up. It’s like you’re living the movie ‘Dusk to Dawn.’ ‘’
Linnemann’s connection to Bills world is Johnny Patrito, a co-worker in Toronto and one of thousands of Canadians in reasonable proximity of the border that are hardcore Bills fans.
“I’m a Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors and Bills fan,’’ Patrito said. “I can get a season ticket to the Bills for $850, or go to two or three Leafs or Raptors games total for the same price. Plus, you can’t tailgate in Toronto, and that’s a big part of the appeal with the Bills.
“I’ve seen some of the most-compassionate things you could imagine at the tailgate, and also some heinous acts of violence.’’
Patrito thought about that contrast for a moment and said: “There’s no public transportation, and there’s parking in the yards of houses in the vicinity, and the postgame traffic is unbelievable. When you’re getting ready to leave after two, three hours, you look around the parking lots and the reaction is, ‘Who lost the war?’
“When you arrive after the drive in from Canada, you’ve never been happier to be some place. And eight or nine hours later, you’ve never been happier to leave.’’
Vegas, baby … first weekend of October? “I doubt it,’’ he said. “I don’t know if I want to be with Bills Mafia for that one.’’