Buffalo Wingding

The bright lights of Hollywood didn't dazzle the Bills' fans, who traveled to Southern California for a long weekend of talking about their team
February 08, 1993

I met a man namedJarvis Smith, who had the Buffalo Bills' logo carved into one side of hishaircut and Thurman Thomas's number, 34, carved into the other side. He saidthe job was done back home, at Hair Flair 2000 by a barber named Nate. Theprice was $30.

I met a womannamed Janet Paskuly, who had the Bills' red, white and blue colors painted onher nails. She said the job was done back home, at Nail Connection. The pricewas $25.

I met a womannamed Shari DeMarco, who said she owned the only Buffalo Bill brassiere inexistence. "Where'd you buy it?" I asked.

"It was agift," she said. "Some friends said this was the missing piece, becauseI have worn Buffalo Bill clothes on every other part of my body."

"You wearthis brassiere?"

"I'll wear iton Sunday," she said. "I wear it all the time. I wore it last Thursdayto work. I'm an accounting teacher at Bryant and Stratton Business Institute, atwo-year college in Buffalo. I wore the bra over a sweatshirt, a Billssweatshirt, of course. I was giving an exam to my classes that day. One of mystudents came up and asked me to take it off. He said he couldn't concentrateon the test. I took it off."

I met a man namedRich Amico, who said he had been married next to a dumpster in the parking lotat Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. His family and friends are all Buffaloseason-ticket holders, and they always park next to the dumpster and tailgatebefore games. They usually decorate the dumpster with Bill banners and signs.When love bloomed, there was little debate about what to do.

"It was abeautiful service," Amico said. "We did the whole thing, invited 200people. The tuxedos. The wedding gown. Beautiful. The wedding favor was abottle of champagne with the name of my wife and me and BILLS VS.DOLPHINS printed on the front. September 1, 1991. First game of theseason. What a game. Bills won."

I met a man namedMark Reusch, who said he and his friends always park in Mrs. Richey's backyardin Orchard Park. The price is five bucks, and Mrs. Richey always has a charcoalfire roaring in a 55-gallon drum by 9:30 a.m. on game days. For, the firstthree games of the season, the fire is mostly used for barbecuing. For the restof the season, the fire is used for warmth.

"This is mythird straight Super Bowl," Reusch said. "The first one...Scott Norwoodmissed that kick, the game ended, it was unbelievable. My friend Phil, he justsat in the stadium, crying by himself for about a half hour, waited foreveryone to leave. Me, I went outside. Where we'd parked, there was a littleforest or something next to the lot. I walked into the forest by myself. Ipulled down a branch from a tree. I started bashing it against the trunk. I didit for about 10 minutes, just getting everything out."

"How were youthis year during trouble?" I asked. "What were you doing during thewild-card playoff, when the Bills were losing 35-3 to the Houston Oilers atRich Stadium?"

"I was athome for that game," Reusch said. "I have a friend in Dallas. He calledme up and shouted into the phone, 'Drain the tub. Put away the razor blades.Leave your wrists alone. It's only a game' At the end of the game, when theBills were lining up for the field goal, I started dialing his number. I dialedall the numbers except the last one. The ball went through the uprights. Ichecked for flags, saw there were none and punched the last number. His wifeanswered. She said he ran from the house as soon as the ball went into the air.He knew I'd be calling. He didn't want to listen."

I met a man namedJames Griffin, the mayor of Buffalo, who had been at the Houston playoff gamewith his son. He said he was drinking a beer at halftime. He said his sonwanted to leave. This seemed to be a prudent idea, but he still had some beerleft in his cup. The mayor made his son stay. They witnessed the greatestcomeback in NFL history, a game that sent the mayor's city into thishair-carving, nail-painting, brassiere-wearing frenzy.

"You shouldhave seen the people coming back into the stadium," Griffin said. "Theyhave a rule, you know, about no returns, but people were climbing the fences.Finally they just opened all the gates. People from the neighborhood startedwalking in. There were more people in the stands at the end of the game thanthere were at the beginning."

I met a man namedAl Ruggierio, who had bought cigars the size of rolling pins for all hisfriends. Everyone smoked the cigars and sent up a fine haze, and Ruggierio saidproudly, "We're men. Real men. None of this politically correct L.A. stuff.Men."

I met a man namedChuck Specht, who had gone to the Super Bowl last year in Minneapolis and wasamazed that corporate-type people attending the game didn't seem to care aboutwhat was happening on the field. "There was this woman in front of me,wearing this fur coat, she read a book the entire game," said Specht."Can you believe that? Read a book during the Super Bowl?"

"What was thebook?" I asked.

"How would Iknow?" he said. "I'm from Buffalo. All I could see was it didn't haveany pictures."

Buffalo. I hadthought these people would be unchained in Los Angeles, refugees from the snowand the cold, let loose among the palm trees and the glitz, pasty-facedinnocents in a Day-Glo Babylon. No chance. They came from Buffalo to be withBuffalo people. They came for football, on a civic crusade. Let the DallasCowboy fans have the glitz. Let the corporate people have the limousine luxury.Buffalo. Who would want L.A. when they could be with people from Buffalo?

I spent a lot oftime in a place designated Billsville. It was really a ballroom at theDoubletree Hotel in Pasadena, but for this weekend it had been converted into aroadhouse from Tonawanda or Cheektowaga or someplace else in western New York.The food was Buffalo food, Sahlen's hot dogs, true Buffalo wings and "beefon week." The margaritas were colored Buffalo Bill blue. The music wasplayed by Nik and the Nice Guys, a band from Rochester, N.Y. Buffalo. I went toL.A. and found myself in Buffalo.

The entire cityseemed to be crammed into Billsville. I became involved in the great debateover whether a Buffalo radio station should have gone ahead and put the slogan"You couldn't protect Kennedy; how are you going to protect TroyAikman?" on three billboards in Dallas. I decide that, yes, it would havebeen a bit tasteless. I marveled at the fact that an Orchard Park restauranthad shipped a table and two chairs across the country. Buffalo quarterbacks JimKelly and Frank Reich eat breakfast at the restaurant every Friday and sit inthe chairs at the table. Anything for good luck, right? I learned thatChristmas lights hadn't been removed from a large number of houses in Buffalobecause the comeback against the Oilers occurred when lights were on thehouses. Anything for luck, right? Buffalo.

I met a76-year-old woman named Dorothy Sarra. She said she remembers watching JackKemp throw passes and O.J. Simpson run sweeps at the old Rockpile, Buffalo'sWar Memorial Stadium, before Rich Stadium was built. She wasn't going to missthis game. She was staying with her granddaughter in Montrose. What a time. Hergranddaughter had taken her on one tourist excursion, to see the taping of TheTonight Show. Jay Leno had noticed Sarra in the audience and brought her downto the front, sat her with four Buffalo players and spoken her name on nationaltelevision. What a time.

"That'sGrams," Sarra's granddaughter, Karen Ippolito, said. "She comes outhere, and things just happen to her. Last time she came was for my wedding. Shewent down to get her hair done in the hotel salon, and it was filled withpolice. The hairdresser had just been murdered. Everywhere she goes, strangethings happen to Grams. She comes here, and you about expect an earthquake tocome next."

I waited with theBuffalo people to see what dimensions that earthquake would take. Win or lose,this was the epicenter. This was where Super Bowl XXVII mattered most.

TWO PHOTOSCHRIS COVATTABacks straight and heads held high, Buffalo gals and guys displayed their allegiance; a toddler tried out a Steeler uniform. TWO PHOTOSBILL FRAKES[See caption above.] TWO PHOTOSCHRIS COVATTAA mail carrier delivered his signature to the Bills, Jim Kelly's dad signed on and on for eager fans, and youngsters tried
the 40-yard dash.
PHOTOBILL FRAKES[See caption above.] PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONAfter getting a kick out of various pre—Super Bowl activities and staking out the lobby of the Bills' hotel in search of autographs from their heroes, Buffalo fans put on their game faces—but to no avail. PHOTOCHRIS COVATTA[See caption above.] PHOTOBILL FRAKES[See caption above.]