For the man they call Pinto Ron, there will be an asterisk. His streak of attending Buffalo Bills games is over – sort of. He is one of the 6,772 fans who will be attending Buffalo’s first home playoff game n 24 years. For Bills fans – especially the Bills Mafia – it’s an exciting time. For others, they haven’t been too happy.
The Bills Mafia began over a dropped pass and a tweet
Whether he likes it or not, former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson is partly responsible for the creation of the Bills Mafia. According to BuffaloBills.com, the name stick in 2010. After Johnson dropped what would have been a touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he directed a tweet at God.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter referenced the tweet a day later, prompting responses from several Bills fans, including Del Reid, Breyon Harris, and Leslie Wille. Reid was blocked by Schefter and then referred to the group of fans as the “Bills Mafia.”
The name was used sparingly among fans, but got a big boost when newly acquired linebacker Nick Barnett popularized it. “What I love about Bills Mafia is it is authentic,” Bills owner Kim Pegula said in October. “It started with Del, it started with our community. … Even though it’s a phrase that we’ve been using over the last several years, it’s more than just the words. It’s the family aspect of it.”
Bill Mafia is a fan base like no other
Former Buffalo Bills special teams star and current Buffalo talk-show host Steve Tasker, knows all about the passionate fans in Buffalo. He’s played for them and he knows what they bring each game day. It never mattered if the team was playoff-bound or had two wins.
“They were absolutely head-over-heels in love with every single mediocre football team that took the field for them,” said Tasker, according to The Washington Post. “It’s really endearing. This fan base cheered so hard for so many bad football teams. You see them jumping through flaming tables for a team that’s 8-8.”
Del Reid, one of the Bills Mafia’s co-founders, said the fan base and the Bills Mafia hashtag on social media has taken off. He believes the reason is that there’s nothing fake about the group. “Part of the reason it’s done well is it wasn’t built in a lab,” Reid said. “We didn’t hire a marketing team to come up with some buzz catchphrase that will resonate with fans and will roll off the tongue real nicely.”
The playoffs are bittersweet for those passionate Bills fans
While many in Buffalo are excited for the team’s second season to kick off, others are struggling because they won’t be able to be a part of it. It’s been 24 years since the Buffalo Bills have played a home playoff game. Ken Johnson, the man known as Pinto Ron, is fortunate to be one of the nine percent that can attend Saturday’s game.
Pinto can usually be found getting doused with ketchup before games and having tailgate parties. The coronavirus (COVID-19) has put an end to that. The Bills didn’t allow fans for the regular season, ending a streak of games attended by Pinto. “I’ve put an asterisk on my streak right now where I say that I’ve been to 426 games in a row that have fans,” said Johnson, according to The Democrat & Chronicle. “But I have to get into the games that have fans to continue that.”
Peter Tasca, a longtime Buffalo Bills fan, told The Washington Post that this season has been “beyond our wildest dreams.” Tasca also said he was “infuriated” other teams allowed fans into stadiums. The Bills Mafia will still be rooting for the Bills. They just won’t be jumping through tables in parking lots with thousands of people.