Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., my family would go to at least one Buffalo Bills game yearly, usually a preseason game, although sometimes my father would secure a regular-season ticket to a Bills game, usually in December.
I’ve been to more than a hundred Buffalo Bills games during my time as a fan, including being a loyal season ticket holder for the last 10 years.
I’ve gone on road trips to see Bills games in San Diego, Jacksonville, Miami, Denver, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Toronto. I’ve witnessed epic come-from-behind victories, and I’ve seen agonizing defeats.
Nothing I’ve seen matches the sheer spectacle of Sunday’s 13-7 Snowvertime triumph by the Bills (7-6) over the Indianapolis Colts (3-10). Or maybe I should include Sunday’s game in the things I’ve never before seen at Ralph Wilson Stadium/New Era Field, since for most of the first quarter, visibility in our end zone seats was close to nil.
The excitement for this game started building the week before, when two of my season ticket friends mentioned how the early forecast was calling for snow on Sunday. We didn’t know exactly how much snow would fall, but my one friend Liz casually commented that she was disappointed to miss out on this year’s snow game, having enjoyed herself watching the Bills play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the snow during a December game in 2016.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have witnessed a few snow games in person, from the 8-0 shutout loss to the Cleveland Browns during Week 15 of the 2007 season, to the 38-21 win in 2002 when Ricky Williams dashed through the snow for 228 yards.
Sunday’s game was in a category of its own, and it’s one fans in Western New York will be talking about for generations to come.
The morning didn’t start out with snow, and we were amazed at how quickly we made the trek from Rochester to Orchard Park with little traffic or fanfare.
We arrived in our usual tailgate lot (we don’t park in the stadium lots but rather in a business lot near the corner of California and Southwestern) Sunday morning equipped with Wegmans subs, chips, cookies, beers, and some brown liquor that we had convinced ourselves would give us a fighting chance of staying somewhat warmer in the elements.
As we were finishing up our last game of cornhole, the snow had steadily ramped up to a consistent downfall, and there were snowmen being built everywhere in the nearby parking lots.
We packed up our tailgate remnants and shuffled off to New Era Field. During the walk to the stadium, which usually takes between 10-15 minutes, it was tough sledding as the snow had intensified. It took us 25 minutes to plod through the snow and by the time we had made it past security, it was full whiteout mode at the stadium.
Rumor had it that Will Wolford, a Bills offensive lineman from 1986-1992, led the charge as the players ran out onto the field, but it was only a rumor for myself and the fellow residents in Section 123. We couldn’t see 10 rows in front of us in our end zone seats, much less make out the players and coaches for both teams.
Only the fact that the Bills wore their ketchup-red Color Rush jerseys gave fans a fighting chance of distinguishing the Bills from the Colts, who conveniently wore white jerseys to blend in with the elements.
Being able to decipher what actually was transpiring on the winter wonderland known as New Era Field was left to the public address announcer, whose booming voice was the only thing that kept us abreast of the first-quarter developments.
The thick snow kept falling and falling, oblivious to the human beings trying to play a football game, the fans trying to watch a football game, and the volunteers using leaf blowers to try and keep the sideline stripes and markers free of snow.
Even beer wasn’t immune from the lake effect snowstorm that blanketed Orchard Park, as within minutes of purchasing a frosty cold one, the beverage had turned into equal parts beer and snow thanks to the driving snowstorm.
It was a futile effort. The game had turned into a whiteout, and for the paid crowd of 60,000 who braved the elements, the game had become a badge of pride, a measuring stick for your Bills fandom.
At some point late in the second quarter, rookie Nathan Peterman drove the Bills 80 yards in seven plays, capped with the rarest of sights: a passing touchdown that Kelvin Benjamin went up for, hauled in, and dragged both of his toes in-bounds to give the Bills a seemingly insurmountable 7-0 lead heading to halftime.
We saw the usual sights that accompany a Bills game: shirtless fans, drunken fans, even inanimate fans, as spectators built snowmen (decked out with Bills snow hats and empty cans of beer) in their section with the 6 to 8 inches of snow that fell nonstop from kickoff until LeSean McCoy’s 21-yard touchdown run sent the remaining few diehard Bills fans home happy with a 13-7 win that kept Buffalo’s playoff hopes alive for another week.
It was a cathartic experience, watching our beloved Bills players celebrating like little children after the dramatic victory: diving into piles of snow, making celebratory snow angels, and playfully tossing snowballs at each other following the win.
While we didn’t stick around until the bitter end, that was a once-in-a-lifetime environment for a game. It didn’t matter that visibility was poor due to the heavy, driving snow. That’s a game I will tell my children and my grandchildren about. Speaking of driving, the roads on the way back to Rochester were atrocious, with plenty of cars having spun out thanks to slick conditions. But riding in an SUV and taking your time on the icy roads just gave us more time to savor one of the craziest football atmospheres we’ll ever be part of here in Western New York.
Afterwards, I think all of Bills Mafia was pleased to hear how much the passion of the Bills fans, especially on this snowy day, meant to the Bills players themselves. Especially to Kyle Williams, the defensive tackle from Louisiana who was nearly moved to tears during his post-game media session.
“I want to say that our fans and the people here are the toughest damn people in the world,’’ Williams said. “They’re why I’ve been here so long, and the reason I enjoy being here so much. (They’ve) never failed to lift my spirits, get me going, and surprise me, honestly. Obviously, a lot of things did go wrong, could go wrong, but to pull it out in basically a quagmire, this is a good thing.’’
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