Back in the mid-80s, Buffalo Bills fans around the city began to meet up at a bar on the Upper East Side to watch their Bills. The name of the bar was originally “Name This Joint”, then the “Rugby Club” and finally “Brother Jimmy’s”. The bar would show the game with the sound on a large screen TV in the back, and lines would form out front to get one of the prime seats. However, with each name change of the bar it became less and less of an official Bills bar and after the 2000 season, they decided to change direction and televise all games and give no special treatment to the Bills fans that had patronized them on Sundays for years.
At this same time, I had graduated college (let’s go Fordham!) and was looking for a place in the city where I could watch Bills games. I looked on the official Bills site and saw that Mark Bishopp was the contact person. Mark had been in charge of the Backers at the old bar for a few years and told me about the upcoming change in the bar policy. Since he travels for his business he has trouble being at every game and asked if I could help him run things. It was agreed upon that I would go to the bar and get e-mail addresses from all the fans there and we would begin to find a new bar. That very weekend I intended on going to the bar to do just that when I missed my train to the city, so I figured I would just go the following weekend.
Unfortunately, that particular Sunday that I missed my train was September 9, 2001. After 9/11, Mark and I decided that we would wait until the following season to reform the NYC Bills Backers.
During the following off-season, I luckily met Matt Soreco, a native New Yorker and lifelong Bills fan that had never watched a Bills game in NYC with other Bills fans. Matt offered to help Mark and I out, especially with designing a web page. We decided to throw a draft party in April since the Bills had the 4th pick. We posted on message boards, created a web page to get the word out, and picked a bar on the Upper East Side (Bar Coastal) for everybody to meet at. Draft day came and we had about 25 Bills fans show up and spend the day watching our team select key college prospects. We made sure to get everybody’s e-mail, started to keep a list, and NYCBBB started to take shape.
We now had a list of Bills fans, a web page, and a promising upcoming season. All we needed was a bar that would show the Bills game with sound and offer an affordable beer and wing special. The three of us spent the summer going to different bars around Manhattan and talking to owners about our group. One of my friends owned a portion of a large bar on East 42nd Street that received a small football crowd on Sundays (I was one of them!). After several e-mails and beers, the NYCBBB had a new home… McFadden’s! They offered to show the Bills game with sound on a big screen TV and give us a wing/beer special, and most importantly, accommodate us as we grew!
The first game attracted about 20 people. We figured we’d be happy if we got 150 people to show up by the end of the season. Little did we know that we would have more than that within 3 weeks! Every week there were more and more fans showing up, and we experienced growing pains, like running out of wings and beer! By week 9 we had filled McFadden’s with over 350 Bills fans.
We decided that we needed to make Sundays at McFadden’s more “Buffalo-ish”, so with your suggestions we brought in Labatt Blue and the owners agreed to start making the wings with Franks Hot Sauce. At one point, I even went into the kitchen and taught the cooks how to make REAL Buffalo wings! As one fan said, “being in McFadden’s on Sunday is like being back in Buffalo”. By season’s end, we had over 400 addresses on our e-mail list and a great foundation to build on at McFadden’s for the following season. Since Mark was so busy caring for his family and business, he couldn’t afford the needed time to NYCBBB, and stepped down from leadership.
The 2003 season saw even more improvements (although not on the field!). With a visit from Charlie the Butcher, came beef-on-weck to the McFadden’s Sunday menu, as well as Sahlen’s Hot Dogs! NYCBBB raised over $1,000 for Drew Bledsoe’s Parenting With Dignity organization. A classifieds page on the website was created for members to advertise their businesses. NYCBBB decided to link up with BillsDaily.com to provide up-to-date news to members. NYCBBB also teamed up with Kenny “Pinto Ron” Johnson to create an official tailgating spot at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and we even created a page devoted to him on nycbbb.com! Our Jets/Bills tailgate at the Meadowlands attracted over 200 Bills fans and has now reached legendary status! At season’s end we had close to 600 addresses on our mailing list.
The 2004 Season began with over 700 members. After solid turnouts at McFadden’s for the pre-season games, our fans filled both McFadden’s and Calico Jack’s for the first two games of the season. Despite a slow start on the field, crowds remained strong throughout the year. It climaxed on the final game of the season, when the NYPD had to erect barriers on 2nd Avenue to contain the hundreds of Bills fans overflowing into the area outside of the bar. NYCBBB also welcomed celebrities Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press and author of City of Light, Lauren Belfer. Over $1,200 was raised for Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, and several more hundred for Bills fans serving in the Middle East. NYCBBB also held its first field trip to Buffalo, where 60 members went on a tour of Ralph Wilson Stadium, mingled with Bills Alumni, and saw the Bills beat up on the Jets.
Perhaps our biggest improvement of 2004 was bringing on additional staff to help Matt and I run NYCBBB. Anna was brought in to serve as official photographer, Kevin as coordinator of tailgating, Ryan as a columnist/marketer, Michelle as a columnist, and Phil as an advisor. Together, the five of them have greatly improved NYCBBB. Matt and I are ecstatic to have them aboard and look forward to working with them for years to come!
Matt and I never expected it to grow this much so fast! None of this could have been possible without the spirit of Bills fans in this great city. Please feel free to keep sending us your suggestions.