5 Reasons Having Fans in the Stands Will Result in a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl Run
By: Sue Kuligowski September 14, 2021 Kokopelli Insights
A wise man once famously posed the question, “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?”
And while Marv Levy, the winningest coach in Bills history (1986-1997), may have uttered those words a long time ago to a squad that’s no longer intact, the question remains as relevant as ever. Both the players and the fans in the stands are hungry for a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl run in the 2021-2022 season.
Like so many other Bills fans, I believe this team has a chance at making it to the Super Bowl this year. I REALLY do. I see the boys in red and blue victoriously hoisting that ever-elusive Vince Lombardi trophy high over their heads, especially now, with fans back in the stands.
There, I said it.
I know some of you are shaking your head in disbelief, disapproval, or in just utter outrage for what may seem an overly optimistic toss of the helmet-in-the-ring for a team that has struggled to find respect or much post-regular season play two decades after four back-to-back nail-biting Super Bowl attempts and fails (‘91-’94). I get it.
Talking heads still love to question the team’s ability. Heck, even the X-files took a jab at the team during an episode called Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man where The Smoking Man (William B. Davis) demands of a minion, “What I don’t want to see is the Bills winning a Super Bowl.” Although, one could argue that being mentioned in a show such as the X-files could be considered just as big of a win as a Super Bowl win.
It’s not easy explaining the reasons for remaining a loyal Buffalo Bills fan after the Wide Right heard ‘round the world and a painful 17-year playoff drought.
But this year feels different. Not only does the management, leadership, and talent seem to be on the same playbook page, something just as important that was missing from the stadium for most of last year is back. The fans.
That’s right, those table breaking (don’t knock it til you try it), chicken-wing-hat wearing, delay of game (sorry Green Bay) causing fans are back in the stands.
Just as many of us who have been working remotely are making our way back into the workplace after a year-plus of being sidelined by COVID restrictions, the Bills Mafia has also been making a beeline for High Mark Stadium since it reopened practices and preseason games to the public. While studies show that working from home has actually resulted in increased worker productivity, with about 70% of employees wishing to continue some form of remote work, it’s my opinion the same can’t be said for remote fanning.
Here’s why I think the return to in-person fan football will have a positive impact on the Buffalo Bills this season of any given Sundays.
1. Buffalo Bills Fans are More Productive in the Stands
The shutdowns and shutouts due to COVID-19 couldn’t have come at a worse time for any sports fan who’d been itching to watch their team in person. It was especially brutal for Bills fans coming off a decent 10-6 run in the 2019 season and looking forward to continued growth in 2020.
Instead of resuming their place at the tailgate table, the NFL made the difficult decision to head into a bubble. Fans were sidelined to watch remotely on television. As the Bills played hard and the wins stacked up (faster and higher than a pile of New England Patriots scandals), the fake crowd noise coming across the airwaves felt like a slap in the face (or the ears) to long-time Buffalo fans who hadn’t witnessed a winning season in, well, a very long time.
Not surprisingly, when some stadiums, like Highmark in Buffalo (only true, long-time fans know it as “The Ralph” in honor of former owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.), allowed for reduced-capacity attendance during playoff season, seats filled up quickly despite rigid regulations and mandatory testing. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, nor a pandemic keeps these fans from the swift completion of their appointed spectating. The Bills won both of their home-game post-season games, by the way.
The fans continued to show up during training camp and practices to the point of backups on the roadways and a near game-like feel when the players took to the field.
More than 50,000 strong attended the recent pre-season Buffalo Bills vs. Green Bay Packers matchup in late August. The Bills won 19-0. Some may argue that while Buffalo played its starters for the first half, Green Bay kept most of its projected starters out of the game—hence a disparity. However, I’d argue that the second string stepped up quite nicely (thank you very much) in the second half (hence the shut out). Oh, and the Bills “12th man” worked their magic as well.
Not only did fans show up—they showed up loud enough to cause a delay of game penalty on a third and goal from the 5-yard line. The Bills defense then managed to stump the Packers after an incomplete pass and a missed chip-shot field goal. Can I get a HECK YEAH!
Fans can’t do that sitting home on a couch.
2. Fans Patiently Waiting to See the Process Pay Off is an All-Around Motivating Factor
“For me coaching is about seeing a vision and trying to sell that vision to the players through a day to day teaching of the job.” – Sean McDermott
Like a lot of people, during the Bills drought, my life changed and got busy with family and work. Priorities changed. Making time for football sometimes took a backseat to responsibility. Constantly changing management, stadium names, coaches, and players made it difficult to keep up with the upheaval that had once resembled a football franchise.
Watching staff and players come and go was disheartening. Hearing national news stories about the Bickering Bills or dealing with roasts from out-of-state fan-o-mies who were quick to point out player legal woes or scandals was not a good time.
“Enough,” was a word I heard uttered quite a bit around town during that time.
Despite that, like so many other fans, the constant faith that things would eventually turn around did not diminish.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see what we were missing was vision. Or more specifically, a visionary.
In 2017, things began to change for the Buffalo Bills. And despite life’s hustle and bustle, it became impossible not to follow more closely what was happening at 1 Bills Drive. Still under the honeymoon phase of owners Terry and Kim Pegula (who came onboard in 2014), the Buffalo Bills franchise took a turn for the better around January 11 (okay it was exactly on January 11) when first-time head coach Sean McDermott (aka Coach) joined the ranks.
Without a doubt, Coach has proven to be a high-quality leader able to collaborate with coaching support on and off the field, which is supported by his nomination last year as a contender for the 2020 AP NFL Coach of the Year award.
Known for his focused and honest locker room speeches, sideline high-fiving and clapping, and positive approach to the game, Coach has won over the stadium from the field right on up to the 300 level.
One of the first moves Coach did was to reach out to some of the former Bills Super Bowl contenders like Jim Kelly, Cornelius Bennet, Thurman Thomas, Darryl Talley, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, and Steve Tasker. This not only sent a message to Buffalo and to the players that McDermott wasn’t just a surface figure who would be pacing the sidelines, but an all-in player himself, making moves off the field and deep into the heart of Buffalo as well.
Sitting around a table at a local steakhouse away from the cameras and with an inquisitive mind, Coach asked the football greats what had made their team so special. He listened (and took notes) while the men talked about their team bond, chemistry, and the magic of Buffalo Bills fans in the stands (especially during a playoff game).
He also initiated an exercise of team building through storytelling, a tradition that began in 2017 when Coach called on then Bills defenseman Jordan Mills to share with his teammates about the most important person his life. The practice has continued every week since as a prelude to closing a team meeting.
Needless to say, the addition of McDermott was an immediate game changer for the up-until-then Groundhog Day-like rebuilding year team that couldn’t seem to land enough first downs to put 6 on the board much less make it out of regular season. If you live in Buffalo, you know. If you don’t, just know that along with the chilly January winds, Coach brought with him a new sense of hope and direction to an eager and ready city (something you Coloradoans might one day hope for).
Longtime fans who’d been “hanging in there” till their knuckles bled began to lift their chins a little higher again. Younger fans began to purchase jerseys with the hope that this time the name on the back might stick around. Going to a game again began to feel like less of a crapshoot and more of a maybe.
Not that Bills fans ever stopped going to games. I mean, even in 2011 with a record of 6-10, average attendance hovered around 62,694 in a stadium that seats nearly 72,000 people. Underdogs or not, Bills fans are true blue in showing their support regardless of the record.
Upon coming on board, Coach changed the narrative asking management, players, and fans alike to “trust the process.” And trust we did.
3. Buy In from the Target Audience Pays Off the Field Influencing What Happens On the Field
“Leadership is the responsibility to see those around us rise. It’s not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in our charge.” – Simon Sinek, Leadership Expert
Call them what you will—fans, 12th man, Bills Mafia (which, I personally think sounds the coolest)—Buffalo fans survived and are thriving on the heels of one of the longest playoff droughts in NFL history after losing a Wild Card round to the Tennessee Titans in 1999-2000—you read that right, 1999-2000.
Their next shot to post-season glory wouldn’t come again until 2017 with a win over the Miami Dolphins in their last regular season game, complemented by a helping hand from the Cincinnati Bengals squeezing them into the playoffs as a Wild Card contender.
The end of the drought was upon us. Granted the tears from fans were enough to get us out of a normal drought, but check out this video Playoff Caliber: End of the Drought | Buffalo Bills and get out your Kleenex. Put the popcorn aside (so it doesn’t get wet).
The loyalty, faith, or buy-in under the Pegulas and Coach has served the franchise well. Not only did the Bills show up in 2017, but the fans did as well—with several thousand lining up as close as humanly possible to the airport tarmac to welcome their Bills home at 1am in the morning. The Bills Mafia proceeded to donate to Bengal’s Quarterback Andy Dalton’s charity as a way of “paying it forward” for his role in a game that had the potential to decide the Baltimore Ravens’ and the Bills’ post-season fate. To thank Dalton for his perfect throw, Mafia members raised over $330,000 in just five days. More than $415,000 was raised before all was said and done.
Dalton’s wife and members of the Andy & Jordan Foundation board of directors later returned the goodwill gesture, presenting a $450,000 donation to the Roswell Park Cancer Center in downtown Buffalo.
Despite the playoff push, the Bills would lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars a game later. Still, the fans showed up once again lining the airport fences on a cold winter’s night to welcome their team home chanting, “Thank you! Thank you!”
This next part might be sensitive to a few of you, but fast forward to December 19, 2020, as the Bills faced the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium to go on to become AFC East Division Champions for the first time since 1995 and the crowd went wild. Obviously not the Denver crowd (sorry about that).
Yep, the fans showed up to greet their team again. Masked up and bundled up (we love our frigid late-night airport homecomings). Owner Terry Pegula explained their reception like this, “All of us had our phones out and started filming the fans. We became fans of the fans.”
For many of the younger players, especially, that homecoming was something of an eyeopener as to just how die-hard Buffalo fans are through thick and thin. In turn, this exchange of gratitude and hope resulted in players verbally expressing their thanks and determination to make good on “the process” as well as becoming more infused within the community.
As if that wasn’t enough, the following week the Bills beat the New England Patriots 38-9 sweeping the team for the first time since 1999 (having also beat them 24–21 in Week 8). You would’ve thought the Bills had won the Super Bowl. Instead, they had another game to go against the Miami Dolphins before finishing the season 13-3, sweeping all three divisional opponents for a 6-0 record for the first time in franchise history, and clinching the #2 seed in the playoffs.
Post-season, the Bills advanced to beat the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens at home with 6,772 fans a piece before bowing to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
And yes, you guessed it. Bills fans showed up at 3am to welcome their team home and show them the love.
While some may call this behavior fanatical, it’s good for business (and just good fun), good for franchise morale, and good for fan morale. And successful businesses know that internal buy-in is just as important as customer buy-in no matter the product. No matter the service.
As the Bills Mafia has shown time and again through charitable contributions, that buy-in transcends the game of football and makes things personal. Human. Better.
4. The Fans Want the Players to Stay and Players Want the Fans to Stay—Finally
“Plan your work and work your plan.” – Marv Levy
For the first time in a long time, Bills players are expressing an interest in wanting to stay and play in Buffalo rather than make an exodus for another team. Another city.
And yes, getting a few wins under your belt will do that.
But so does the reciprocal relationship that has formed stronger than ever thanks to a lot of hard work, not just by the coaches and players, but the staff as well. From the Pegulas to Coach to General Manager Brandon Beane and everyone else sitting in the front office, to the offensive and defensive coordinators and special teams on the field—it feels like the franchise lineup is gelling like it hasn’t in a very long time, or maybe ever.
It’s no accident that Bills fans are more pumped than ever. Whomever is heading up marketing and social media has been going great guns, pumping out hype videos, sharing features stories, and working hard to make sure the fans know that not only are they wanted in the stadium, but they are a recognized key player to the Buffalo Bills success.
Who can forget the image of McDermott walking onto the field to gather up a crestfallen Stefon Diggs after a heartbreaking loss to the Chiefs for the AFC title championship. Coach and the wide receiver shared a quiet moment, a hug, and walked off the field together to fight another day.
Genuine, authentic, PR gold. The moment and the image has been transmitted many times over in articles, videos, and memes (at least by Bills faithful, trust me!).
Not only did Diggs express that he wanted another chance at the title, but he wanted to do it as a Buffalo Bill.
Headlines like Josh Allen Loves That He’ll Be Working in Buffalo For Years To Come don’t hurt either.
Like any longtime business looking to overcome, rebrand, and grow after a dip in sales, the Bills needed this latest leadership, direction, and feel-good inspiration to make up for years of lost yards and a glaring hole of lost post-regular season opportunities.
The Buffalo Bills franchise is alive and well. The result of it all is a huge brown and white-laced ball of excitement in a proud underdog town that, despite all the setbacks, hasn’t given up on its team—and the feeling is electric out on the field.
At the end of the day, energized fans in the stands who are happy with what they see is good for business. Players who feel welcome and motivated to stay put are the glue from which a strong foundation and opportunity is built.
5. The Fans + Josh Allen, It’s a Love Story
He had us at hello and now we’ve got his back.
Buffalo Bills Quarterback, Josh Allen, was drafted by the Bills seventh overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and the rest is history.
Say the words, Josh or Allen (but be careful with the potency of saying the two together), and Bills fans can’t help but to smile these days. Although he was born a coast away in Firebaugh, California, Buffalo has adopted #17 as one of its own. And that’s a good thing, because despite being hailed as the City of Good Neighbors, it can be difficult to fit in sometimes. Especially when it comes to the ongoing debate of ranch vs. blue cheese or (ahem) knowing whether or not to give props to Buffalo Wild Wings (oops, Josh).
But it’s not just the Allen-to-fan connection that’s impossible to miss per the 50K adoring, screaming fans who showed up to watch him play in the first half of the Packers game, it’s the Allen-to-Diggs connection. It’s the Allen-to-team connection.
This is a young guy who walks up and down the line high fiving his teammates before the game and the fans can’t get enough. Inclusive, uplifting, and motivating. The qualities of someone others want to follow, but not just follow—be lifted up by. Safe to say, Allen has lifted Buffalo’s spirits.
I can’t tell you the amount of Allen sightings posted daily on local social media. This connection has been good for the fans, but also seems to have motivated the team as well. Be it the park, the county fair, or a local watering hole, stopping to exchange a hello with any member of the team feels more “normal” and less “stalkery” than one would imagine.
And in all honesty, it’s not just Allen, but Coach and so many other players who graciously take a few minutes to stop and say hello, pose for a selfie, or sign an autograph while they’re just out going about their business. The deeper connection being formed feels more like family than fandom.
And like a can of pop (or soda depending where you live) that someone has shook, all this excitement and anticipation of what’s possible is about to burst wide open in the stands this season and the fans can’t wait to explode.
It’s as if the wounds of the past, the uncertainty, and the remoteness of last year has been washed away and replaced by a flood of an equal amount of awe and respect between players and fans. And this is why, just as so many of the Bills are choosing to stay and live and raise families in Buffalo, so many fans are buying up tickets to follow their team not just at Highmark Stadium, but around the country in all the stadiums.
It is the perfect storm and the perfect time to finish what the early 90s Bills started.
So, to answer Marv’s questions, we ALL (Bills fans that is) know where we want to be Sunday, February 6, 2022.
From a very brave Bills fan, publishing this article in Broncos country, Go Bills.
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