The Bills’ Home Opener: A Tailgater’s View
blog by Dan Ludwig • September 20, 2011 @ 8:00am
The Buffalo Bills opened up their home schedule this past weekend with a showdown versus the Oakland Raiders at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Supporters of each team descended on Orchard Park for some Sunday morning shenanigans. I explored all the parking lots to try and find some of Buffalo’s best tailgaters in action.
In talking to fans, I found mixed reaction about the new parking and tailgating rules for the upcoming season; some fans expressed anger and apprehension about the rule changes at The Ralph this year, while other fans refused to let new regulations ruin their good time.
This bus, brought to the stadium by Mike Casullo and Mike Nirelli, was deemed “too big” to park in the stadium lot. The bus, and the tailgaters it contained, found refuge across the street from the stadium in a private, grass lot, but Casullo said that he had never before been turned away from the stadium parking. The entire tailgate party was somewhat upset that they had to change from their preferred spot.
Michael Hughes, pictured above with microphone in hand, is the founder of this tailgate party. Hughes has been coming to the Ralph for 22 years; it is his fourth year with the patented party bus that you see above. With a name like Necessary Roughness, one can safely assume that this tailgate is quite the wild scene. In the hours leading up to the game, Hughes shouts into his microphone, imploring fellow tailgaters to come join his party. “We work entirely off visitors’ donations,” informed Hughes, “and we’re expecting over 700 people to come to our tailgate today.” Obviously, Hughes is not letting the new rules affect his tailgate plans.
This zumba-patterned truck is property of Joe Schieber. Schieber has had tickets for 25 years, 10 of which he has been parking in the stadium lots. Although Schieber’s lot was not affected by the Disney-style parking (that is, packing in cars one after the other into consecutive spaces), he said that the 9 a.m. opening time creates too much traffic for tailgaters. Schieber said he is content with the parking situation now, but will not hesitate to move his party to a private lot if he finds the rule changes to be too limiting.
This car pulled up along side the stadium lot and immediately drew calls of “BOOO” from Bills tailgaters; the all-black body with accents of silver led many to believe that the driver was a diehard Raiders fan. Therefore, everyone was taken aback when the driver volunteered to have his car re-painted on the spot. Things really got interesting when a graffiti artist, who would not share his name, took the driver up on his offer. What ensued was five minutes of insanity as the artist drew a large crowd of observers. When the artist stepped away, many were impressed with the skill level of the impromptu art.
This group of Raiders fans came from Saint Marie, Ontario. “I have been a Raiders fan for a while now, but the tailgate stories I hear from friends was extra motivation for us to come today.” I guess you have to respect this group’s bravery; few others would set up camp in the enemy’s territory with so little support. Well, maybe these guys could take a few notes from this next group on the benefits of power in numbers…
This picture is courtesy of a group of Bills fans who took offense to a group of boisterous Raiders supporters who were attempting to take over the sidewalk. When the group of Bills fans confronted the Raiders fans, what resulted was a shouting match that (thankfully) did not move past the verbal stage. In fact (and maybe somewhat surprisingly), the competing tailgate parties maintained cool heads throughout the morning; the confrontation never moved past friendly banter.
This table caught my eye as I was walking into the stadium. With pictures of past Buffalo greats such as Steve Tasker, Cornelius Bennett, and Bruce Smith, it is clear that this fan has a true appreciation for Bills’ tradition. Coupled with the full survey of NFL team helmets on the benches, this table would be the perfect addition to any tailgate.
Luis Martinez from St. Catherines plays host to this tailgate party; Martinez said that he and his friends have been fans since 1987 and they try to make it to as many games as possible. Throughout the day, Raiders fan everywhere were the subject of smack-talk about their ubiquitous (and sometimes heavy-handed) use of face paint. Martinez defended his use of face-paint, saying, “Real men wear make up.” I may have to disagree, Luis.
This tailgate party’s energy and overall rowdiness is what drew my attention to their gathering. The host, Jimmy Winster, says he has been mostly hands off in the evolution of the party. “Everyone kinda brings their own things,” commented Winster. “Honestly, its not about the supplies…if everyone brings energy to the tailgate, then the party will make itself.”
If tailgate parties like Winster’s keep the energy up, there should be no reason to let the new rule changes ruin the mood on Sunday’s at the Ralph.