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Buffalo Bills players, McDermott support fans in the stands

#BillsMafia wants to cheer on their team in person. So do several players and head coach Sean McDermott

Back in August, before this most unusual of NFL seasons began, the Buffalo Bills announced their first two home games would be played without fans, aligning with guidelines released by the New York State Department of Health for professional sports teams.

With the Bills (4-0) one of just six undefeated teams in the league, fans of the team have remained hopeful that they will be able to cheer on their team in person this year, and several Bills players, along with head coach Sean McDermott, have voiced their support for allowing fans into Bills Stadium.

Defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, backup quarterback Matt Barkley and long snapper Reid Ferguson are among the Bills players lobbying to have #BillsMafia back in the stadium this year, with Phillip tweeting “we work so damn hard to win for you and this city. We need the chance to have y’all in our stadium next home game” while asking New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo if there’s “anything we can do” to get fans in the stands.

Ferguson added “we are missing (#BillsMafia’s) energy and noise in the stadium this year. We know you have what it takes to watch safely at Bills Stadium. ... There has to be a win/win solution for everybody.”

“I think it’s coming from a good place in their hearts. They only want what’s best for obviously our community number one, and then our team number two. As long as it’s coming from a good place, which I know it is with the three young men you mentioned, yeah I’m all for it,” McDermott said when asked about his players’ Tweets.

New York State governor Andrew Cuomo offered a glimmer of hope for Bills fans who want to cheer on their team in person when, on Sept. 30 during a conference call with reporters, he said he will be touring Bills Stadium and meeting with the team’s front office to discuss the possibility of allowing a limited number of fans to attend home games.

The next home game is a highly-anticipated showdown between the Bills and the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs (4-0), set for an 8:20 p.m. EDT kickoff Oct. 15 on Thursday Night Football.

With Bills Stadium holding a capacity of roughly 72,000 people, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said there is a proposed plan to let approximately 7,000 Bills fans into the stadium for the Chiefs game, with a caveat: The plan needs to feature both a timed entry and a timed exit from the stadium.

“Because there are multiple gates, you would be assigned a gate. And you would be assigned that you have to come into that gate — at let’s use a 1:00 game on Sunday as an example — at 12:15. Even if you normally would not walk in until 12:50, you have to come in at that time,” Poloncarz said during his media availability on Sept. 30.

On that same call, Cuomo mentioned having conversations with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about getting a limited number of fans to attend Bills home games while maintaining safe social distancing.

While several NFL teams—including the Miami Dolphins (Buffalo’s Week 2 opponent), Tennessee Titans (Week 5) and Denver Broncos (Week 15)—are allowing a select number of fans in stadiums, New York State’s policies currently ban crowds at all professional sporting events.

According to Gov. Cuomo, the higher infection rate in Western New York compared to the rest of the state is among the reasons for banning fans at sporting events.

Back in August, McDermott expressed his frustration over the NFL’s lack of a consistent policy for allowing fans into home games this year.

“I think it’s honestly ridiculous that there will be, on the surface, what appears to be a playing field that’s like that: inconsistent across the league with the different away stadiums. But it is what it is, we control what we can control. That’s got to be our mindset and that’s how we attack it,” McDermott said.

For their part, on Sept. 29, the Bills announced that fans will not be allowed into the stadium for the foreseeable future, which would seem to include the clash with the Chiefs. In a tweet, the team said “we promise you we are working diligently behind the scenes to ensure we are ready to provide fans with a safe environment should protocols change and we are able to root for the Bills in person.”

After the Chiefs game, Buffalo’s next home date isn’t until Nov. 1, when the New England Patriots come to Orchard Park.