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Pinto Ron talks attendance streaks and navigating the 2020 NFL season

Ken Johnson boasts the longest consecutive-games streak in the NFL.

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Buffalo Bills Superfan Ken Johnson— better known to Bills Mafia as Pinto Ron—who plays host to a little tailgate at Hammer’s Lot, connected with Buffalo Rumblings’ copy editor Matt B (aka TheAfghanTwilight) while driving down to South Beach for Sunday’s Week 2 game between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.

By now, you may have heard about his impressive consecutive games streak and for sure you’ve heard of those parties he and his friends like to host. Well, 2020 has done all it can to put them both to bed—but Ken’s astute enough to know that sometimes an asterisk can help keep a streak alive.

Below you’ll find the complete transcript of Pinto Ron’s Q&A session with me.

Matt B (TheAfghanTwilight): So i’m here today with Ken (Johnson), better known as Pinto Ron to almost every single Bills fan alive. I just wanted to catch up because it’s been such a historic run that you’ve had Ken, that really just is simply on pause, if you will. I’d like to hear some of your thoughts as this season is underway, and what you’re thinking as the season progresses and your ability to hopefully go back to some home games. So, without further ado, catch us up with where things are at, Ken—thank you!

Ken Johnson (Pinto Ron): First of all, i’m just excited the football season’s starting. Whether i’m watching it in the stands, or whether i’m watching it on TV. It’s Buffalo Bills football first and foremost. As far as getting back to the stands, i’m on my way to Miami right now so we’re taking care of that in a few days! And I understand Tennessee just opened up for fans so we’re good there. Eventually Ralph Wilson Stadium will open up (or whatever they call it this year) and we’ll be good. Yeah, I was mentally prepared this was going to happen so i’m good with what’s happening—i’m not good with what’s happening but I’ve accepted what’s happening. Last weekend, just to make sure I was still around fans and stuff like that, I drove to NYC and was with the NYC Bills Backers in their home bar. They had about 100 outdoor seating—it was awesome, I had a great time!

MB: So, I guess i’ll jump there real quick—You don’t watch many Bills games on TV, i’d imagine!

KJ: I’ve watched one Bills game—well outside of preseason, I’ve watch one Bills game on TV in 26 years, and that was last weekend. It was really an awesome experience.

MB: Yeah, the broadcast have come a long way. You know, you almost see more detail on the TV than you would obviously at a game, but you can’t take your eyes off the play and still see what’s going on on the coaches’ sideline like you can at a game and when you’re at the game, your eyes are the TV.

KJ: Yeah, I mean that’s the exact comment I’ve been making to people. I watch a lot of football that’s not the Buffalo Bills so I know how it’s technologically been, but i’m not invested in those teams that much. The example I’ve been giving everyone was when there was an injury and then they broke to commercial and it bothered me. You know, usually i’m watching the player when he comes back to the bench, is he going to the bench, is somebody talking to him, is he going to the tent—there was just a lot of nuances like that. Like a running play sometimes, when you’re at the game you know that the side judge as soon as the play is over puts his foot down right where he thinks the line of scrimmage is going to be. You can’t see that on TV so you’ve gotta kinda guess until they tell you.

MB: Yeah, nothing will ever, ever replicate the Bills game day experience, honestly. It won’t, you know, but hopefully—hopefully we get some good news soon that we may see fans be able to come into the stadium but who knows.

KJ: So many teams are dropping into that now, like Nashville now just this weekend, they announced the Bills game I think they’ll (fans) will be there—I think that is, somebody sent me a text on that. But I think there are seven or eight teams that have dropped in and there’s gonna be the pressure for all the rest of ‘em to drop in. Except for Nevada. They have no intention of dropping in because he (Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis) wants to have a big gala opening and he doesn’t want to do it with 15,000 fans.

MB: So, speaking of all the cities opening up, what’s your favorite road city. Do you have one you love going to each year or one that really sticks out? I know you’ve mentioned some in the past.

KJ: My favorite road cities are always cities that very large Buffalo Bills Backers groups that step up. They have maybe a Friday thing, a big Saturday night party, host a tailgate where I don’t have to do anything except show up, and then of course the game. Some of those cities that step up—i’m gonna miss one or two right now so I always hate giving a list—but like San Diego’s on top of the pile, Houston’s on top of the pile, Denver always steps up and Arizona. I sure hope we get to both those games. I’m gonna be out at those games anyway. You know, Carolina, steps up, oh Nashville—yeah Nashville last year was huge! It’s all about the Bills Backers groups and how they step up. Those are my favorite cities.

(4:20) MB: Awesome. So, do you have a favorite game ever? Is there one game that stands above ‘em all?

KJ: Yeah, my favorite game ever is the AFC Championship Game (1990 vs. Los Angeles Raiders) leading to our first Super Bowl. And that’s because I think we were winning something like 42-3—I can’t remember the exact score. So, we’re at halftime and you absolutely know we’re going to the Super Bowl, so you have an entire half in football—and entire half to just sit there and party and just scream and yell and run around the stadium. That second half of the game, where we knew we were gonna be in the Super Bowl is probably my favorite in-game moment.

MB: That one’s up there for me too. I was right there along with ya.

KJ: Yeah, and of course the greatest comeback game you have to lump in there.

MB: Yeah, unfortunately as I previously mentioned to you when we spoke that it was maybe one of the one or two games that I did not attend.

KJ: At least you’re honest about it, because 160,000 people in Buffalo claim they were there at the end and there was only like 30,000 at the end.

MB: (laughing) Yeah, I know one for me that sticks out is the final (1993) AFC Championship Game that they participated in against the (Kansas City) Chiefs. Thurman just went off in that game.

KJ: I think that was Joe Montana’s last game too, as I recall.

MB: I believe that is correct, yes.

KJ: He got bull-roaded down by Bruce Smith on one play. Bruce just jumped on his back and rode him to the ground :laughing:!

MB: Yeah, Bruce, Jeff Wright, and Phil Hansen I think. You know, I—I feel for the fan base that hasn’t been able to witness those years and it’s really impressive to know that you’ve missed...I believe you’ve said one game in between what would have been an incredibly, much longer streak of consecutive games. Right?

KJ: Well, no that’s not true. My consecutive is 423. But the year prior to that, which would have been 1993, I didn’t make the last three road games. I did make the first two playoff games, but I didn’t get into the fourth Super Bowl. I was out there, I could hear the roar of the crowd, but the scalper tickets were going for about $1250 (about $2248 in 2020 USD) and I only had $900 on me. Poor planning. You know, they didn’t take American Express®. So the streak started in 1994 and I just amended it right now after this game. In two days i’m just going to say I’ve been to 424 games in a row that allow fans. So i’ll just throw the giant asterisk up there.

MB: Makes complete sense.

KJ: Actually, you know, it doesn’t mean as much to me as a lot of the people around me ‘cause my goal was only to do 16 games in a row and I did that in ‘94, and I just think i’m kind of exceeding expectations. People always ask me what my goal is and I keep telling them I’ve already met it—i’m just rolling.

MB: You’re just in rarefied air now.

KJ: Yeah

MB: So...the ketchup and mustard.

KJ: Yeah

MB :laughing: How did it—how did it come to be and why ketchup—why not something like beer?

KJ: It didn’t—it’s kinda funny. It started about 30 years ago and me and my brother and we had a small crew, maybe about ten of us. We were, you know back in the late ‘80s—’88-’89—we were always up to shenanigans. And you know, if we found something pretty cool we’d just keep doing it. So one day I needed some ketchup for my burger and I saw my brother holding the ketchup bottle so I held out my arm and said “Hey, can you put some on here?” And instead of just holding it up straight down and giving a squish, he shot it from a foot away and I was like “whoa” you know! I didn’t get anything on me but we immediately realized that was pretty cool. So, the next week when I needed a burger we started this thing where he’d stand back a little farther each time. Then we switched to another guy who would stand on top of my Pinto—and still, it wasn’t very far at that was just a little tiny burst. And you know, when you start trying to get more—when the weeks and years go by and I start standing back father and we add a second person, it took 30 years to get where it is today. It was just a slow evolution. But it all just started out with, just trying to shoot it a foot and seeing if we could get it on and then we put that into our shenanigan pile. List of rituals each week.

MB: Then if you don’t it almost is like the superstitions like: “We have to do this or else something’s not gonna go right!”

KJ: :laughing: Well, I never do it for a superstition it’s just one of those little shenanigans that didn’t go away!

MB: You know, the pregame parties have been well documented, and there’s no way that during the restrictions we’re under right now that any of it could happen and I just think the parties wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun as you’re used to.

KJ: Yeah, you know they discourage crowds right now and technically they mandate there is no crowds right now. I’m pretty sure the Bills are gonna allow cars in the private lots this year. I know a vote was coming up in a day or two, or maybe already happened where they’re gonna issue the permits to the local owners. I’ve been in touch with Hammer (Hammer’s Lot) on that. But I can’t do anything that’s gonna attract a crowd, so the Pinto has to stay parked in the garage. I was thinking months ago of symbolically putting it in its spot but that alone would attract a crowd, you know. Especially now when they consider a crowd now two people talking to each other.

MB: Yes, exactly. So who has more miles under their belt—the Pinto or you...going to see the Bills?

KJ: Yeah, the Pinto itself—it only goes to the Hammer lot or Lot 1 prior to that. You know, I don’t do that on road trips. If I tried to drag the Pinto to a road trip and do what I do i’d get shut down right away—probably a 50% chance of missing the game because i’d get arrested. I mean, i’m well known in Buffalo but trying to do that at the Jets. I’d have to hire security to watch the car, you know, during the game because it would attract too much attention from the other team. You know there’s always those drunks from the other team (fan base) that try to break the windshield, or slash the tires or something.

MB: So what game are you looking forward to most this year? Do you have one that you just think is going to be the best ever?

KJ: When the season started I was looking forward to Las Vegas like everyone else. That would have been the No. 1 in the pile. But Arizona is another good one that sticks out because they’ve got a really good Bills Backers group. Miami I always like because who doesn’t want to go—actually Bills fans always go to Fort Lauderdale, not Miami—but I always like that because who doesn’t want to go to Southern Florida once a year. But right now Denver sticks out, too, for me. Let’s say currently games I know I can get to probably Arizona and Denver. Yeah they have no fans in Vegas.

MB: Yeah, and I don’t know what the situation will be for New England (Patriots) but that one’s up there too this year. You know, everyone’s counting that team out but I have not. They’ve got Cam Newton and he’s more dangerous than a 2019 (Tom) Brady is.

KJ: Yeah, New England’s the last game of the regular season and you know there’s two things you can count on—three things: death, taxes, and a New England road game is gonna be just before Christmas or just before New Year’s. It’s happened like five years in a row now right in the middle of winter. I’m starting to hate that but since it is (week) 17 there’s a real reasonable chance they’re gonna be opened up. It’s those mid-season teams that I gotta still watch if their gonna be opened up or not like Tennessee just dropped in and the Jets are after that and they say they’re out for the season.

MB: So, have you met anybody else who’s undertaken a streak like yours, you know whether it’s a Bills fan or a different fan?

KJ: Actually, for sure! I meet everyone that’s a wacko. You know after 26 years the wackos attract wackos is what I say. So, I think the person who is closest to me—and this is really close actually—he’s a Chicago Bears fan and he doesn’t stand out. He’s got no costume and he’s a kinda quiet guy and he just goes to the games. He actually sits directly next to that famous guy, Bear Man, you know that you always see in the first row of Chicago he wears a bear suit in there. But Paul, that’s his name, he’s only missed I believe one regular-season game, maybe two, but I think it’s one since 1992. So that’s two years longer than I’ve been doing this, but he did have that key miss in 2001, which put me ahead of him for the consecutive steak. There was another guy in Oakland, he was at—he was closing in on 300 in a row and he died. We have a lady from Buffalo here, Joanie DeKoker and she is at 156 in a row right now. So, there’s another impressive streak just coming from Buffalo.

MB: Absolutely. We support our team like nobody else, in my opinion. So, you grew up in Buffalo, correct?

KJ: No, I was born in Buffalo but I grew up in Indian Falls and then Alexander, NY and I went to college in Brockport. So I started in Buffalo and then kinda slalomed out to Rochester. I ended up staying in Rochester because I graduated in 1980 and back then when you got a job you had to use the local newspaper. You couldn’t do, and so Rochester was the local newspaper I was looking at and got a job out in Rochester and stayed here.

MB: And somehow you caught the “disease” as a Bills fan.

KJ: Oh I caught the dis—Well, I guess—yeah. Pembroke—and Indian Falls is near Pembroke—and Alexander that’s Bills territory right off the bat. No, I caught the disease because I was born in Buffalo and it’s just one of those things you catch at birth. To me, the only thing is when do you remember it for the first time, you know? And that was when I was nine or ten and I remember yelling at the TV “I hate losing.” I think it was the year before we got OJ Simpson and we were going for the worst team in football, and I think the second half of the season we always used to go up to my grandparents’ house—my parents would always drag me out there with the family we’d get together and watch the game and they were, like, rooting for the Bills to lose, which was a very foreign concept to me and I got really mad at them. So i’d be really emotionally invested in the game for them to win just ‘cause I couldn’t stand what my parents and grandparents were doing. So I just got sucked into it emotionally mostly as an adverse reaction to what they were doing. So that would’ve been ‘68. I would have been ten or 11 then.

MB: So, as a Bills fan who’s seen close to 400-and-what, 30 games at this point, is there anything you have yet to witness, anywhere you’ve yet to go or something that’s on your bucket list to do as a Bills fan?

KJ: Yeah! Let’s start to do international games in London, that’s about it :laughing:. No, I’ve been to every city so many times I’ve used up all the tourist stuff. Thank God the Bills Backers step up right now that way I’ve got stuff to do all day Saturday because they always arrange stuff wherever I go. Or I’ve got so many friends in those cities that I just visit them. But yeah, I’ve done every tourist thing in the United States I can think of. There’s nothing left on my bucket list. Well there is one thing on my bucket list: They gotta win that damn Super Bowl.

MB: I was gonna say—I wasn’t sure if you’d say win the Super Bowl but yeah, i’ll go to my grave saying i’ll take the four losses in a row over one and done, honestly.

KJ: Yeah, I would do exactly that. That’s not what most will say but I’ve been asked that question a lot and I agree. That’s exactly how I answer it.

MB: Because, think about all the games you would’ve missed that they got to play in if they only went to the one Super Bowl, and won and never got back there. I remember last year my mantra was: “Anybody but New England.” Just to preserve the four in a row for the Buffalo Bills.

KJ: Yeah! I was thinking the same thing! New England’s like No. 32 on my like list. Sometimes they’re No. 33 when they’re cheating but I’ve switched over to hating them more than any other team. For the first half of my career it was Miami. That kinda dates you. If Miami just gets you where you can’t stand them that means you’re at least 45 or older, because that was the big rivalry when I was growing up. And now the big rivalry has switched to the New England. So there’s two ways you can tell if a person’s old: If they detest Miami beyond belief and if they still have AOL for their email.

MB: Or Yahoo!

KJ: Or Yahoo!

MB: Yeah, i’m with you on the Dolphins. You know it really isn’t what it used to be—I think most of us know that—but they seem primed for the future, I think. Tua hasn’t played a down but the promise is undeniable. Let’s hope that the Patriots are on a downtrend, but I will never count (head coach) Bill Belichick out. I don’t care who’s throwing the ball for him. It doesn’t matter especially if (offensive coordinator) Josh McDaniels is calling plays there still, but let’s hope they take a backseat for a while. You know, I think the whole league would be better off without that for a while.

KJ: Right. Especially our division.

MB: So do you have any charitable work or anything that you like to support or endorse that has a meaningful connection for you based on your experience as a Bills fan?

KJ: Not really. I’m pretty much connected with just about every charitable thing out there on account of the fact I know all the Bills Backers groups and each one has their own favorite things to do.

MB: What is your favorite game-day meal? What do you have to have on a Bills game day?

KJ: That’s a pretty funny question, actually, because usually on game day you know i’m at big tailgate parties and stuff like that and i’m so busy talking to everyone especially at Ralph Wilson Stadium, that i’ll get home about 11-o’clock at night or back to the hotel room or something like that and i’ll ask myself: “What did I have to eat today?” And the answer usually is something like: “One chicken wing.” I rarely eat on game day because i’m just so busy from the minute I get up ‘til the minute I go back to bed. However, to answer your question it would be chicken wings. If you’re a Buffalo person you gotta have your chicken wings before the game.

MB: And they can’t be boneless.

KJ: No, neeeeh! They gotta be Franks® (Red)Hot Sauce cut with butter...deep fried.

MB: Alright Ken, just another question or two here and we’ll let you continue on your way to Miami. So, do you have any prediction for this season?

KJ: You’ll never catch me saying anything except that the Bills are gonna be 16-0. The only thing I will acknowledge is that some of the games may be close. So...16-and-0 and the Super Bowl.

MB: I love it—but then they could never play again. You can’t ruin perfection, right?

KJ: That’s true.

MB: But it would be great to just shut the Dolphins up, right? 1972 was a long time ago so, we need an update.

KJ: And that was a 14-game schedule back then too. So, who knows what would have happened games 15 and 16 for them. Buffalo came the closest to beating them that year, by the way. We lost by one point. And they had to come from behind.

MB: A lot of people don’t realize the other really interesting Bills note is that they were very close to going to the first Super Bowl.

KJ: Yeah, we were the AFC Champions the two years before that and we were in the Championship Game that year.

MB: Alright, well I truly truly do appreciate your time Ken. I hope you have just a great time this season—it’s so strange, but you know being able to be in a stadium this season’s gotta be a pretty cool experience. You know it’s not as loud, obviously, but your line of sight’s gonna be better almost every time. So I imagine that’s a lot of new things you get to experience you know, being in these stadiums that are 20% or less filled.

KJ: This week me and five other people got together—we actually rented a luxury booth. That’s a different experience than what I’ve had.

MB: Alright. I really do appreciate your time again and, as always, GO BILLS!