On Sunday, Buffalo erupts. Tables fear for their lives. The sizzles from grills create a symphony. Fans salivate over pictures of Josh Allen in shorts.
While New Era Field is always rowdy, it gets wilder outside in the parking lots. Tailgaters, at least in Buffalo, are known for jumping through tables (flaming tables if you’re feeling dangerous). Drinking games, like Dizzy Bat, are abundant and often lead to epic fails that rile up crowds and spark “Let’s Go Buffalo” chants. Oh, and there’s an elderly man who gets sprayed with ketchup every game day (we’ll get into that later).
As a diehard Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I went to see how crazy the Bills Mafia really gets on game day.
The Bills played the Redskins (don’t get me started on how offensive that name is) at 1 p.m. so we planned to leave early. If you want to make it into Hammer’s Lot, the craziest tailgate spot, you’ve got to get there before 10 a.m.
So, at around 8:00 a.m., the boys crammed into the back while 5-foot me sat shotgun. With cruise control on, the tunes too loud, and a cooler full of beer, bacon, and beef nestled safely in the trunk, we were off to witness Josh Allen and his abnormally large hands.
As we neared New Era Field, we passed a tailgate that had a wrestling ring. A Bills fan power-slammed a Redskins fan to the ground.
We got to Hammer’s just in time — they closed the lot down once we had parked. As I got out of the car, I heard a Bills fan screaming for his friend, Harry, who had seemingly gotten lost. My phone read 9:52 a.m. Not even 10 a.m. and fans were drunk. Excellent.
I looked around more as my friends cracked the cooler open and set up our table. Blue, red, and white dotted the lot, Bills flags flew, and fires burned. The smell of meat products danced in the air.
My friends tossed around the pigskin as I stood on a rock and took a video of my surroundings. The forecast read 44 degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind was agony.
Later, I found myself double fisting a Twisted Tea and a Labatt Blue, Buffalo’s beer of choice. Perhaps alcohol would warm my body up. I had added another layer, but having no gloves was the real killer. My fingers were bright red. I could feel the frostbite coming. Around me fans grilled with brewskies in hand, the revelry still strong despite the cold. Mixed in with the grill smell was now a dank smell, which certainly wasn’t from a skunk.
I had yet to see anything that Bills tailgates were infamous for. Someone told me they banned table slamming in Hammer’s Lot to try and discourage the rowdiness.
Still, there was a chance to see Pinto Ron. Pinto, or as he calls himself, “Red Pinto,” is a lifelong Bills fan, now 61, who has become an icon in the Bills Mafia. Every tailgate, if you make it to the front of the hundreds of fans who circle him, you can watch Red Pinto become red (and a bit yellow) as Bills fans cover him in ketchup (and occasionally mustard). Three fans kneel on a car and squirt the condiment at him, lathering Pinto up in a sauce bath.
Red Pinto also offers people shots out of bowling balls and uses his red car as his grilling station. He puts metal bowls filled with hot coals on the hood and then sets a rake on top of those bowls. Hot dogs line the metal prongs of the rake. It’s a must-see.
At that moment I was too cold and too hungry to think about my mission to see the wonders of a Bills’ tailgate. I was focused on finishing the drinks in my hands because that would help me forget how cold my fingers were, and grilling, so I could subdue my hunger. Luckily for me, my friend’s dad came to the rescue with hand warmers. I then had the best burger of my life, as we cooked our meat patties in bacon grease. I was a happy girl.
When it was finally time to seek out Pinto, my bladder had other plans. While my friends caught a glimpse of Pinto cleaning himself off after his sauce bath, I waited in line for the porta-potty.
It was now 30 minutes until kickoff. The once clean pebbles that lined the parking lot were now soaked in beer, grease, condiments, and mud. My duck boots cried but I pushed on. I passed through the sea of blue through the entrance of New Era. I found my way to my seat just in time for kickoff.
By halftime, there was a man in front of me that was curled over, ready to hurl into the unlimited popcorn bucket you can purchase at the game. Fortunately, he didn’t and could get more popcorn.
Although the game itself slowed down in the second half, the liveliness of the crowd never swayed.
The last seconds of the game ticked away, Bills winning 24–9, as fans shuffled out, ready to do it all again next week.
Even though I did not fulfill my mission, I learned that nothing stops Bills fans. Rules, the cold, a losing season — they’ve been through it all and will go through the worst for their team. And boy, do they know how to tailgate.