Many believe we created the Bills Mafia in 2010, but I’ve always been a part of the Bills Mafia and so have you.
I grew up around Bills fandom. Many Catholic families have a picture of the pope in their house but we had a picture of former star running back O.J. Simpson (which came down in 1994.)
Every Sunday, my mother would invite friends over to watch the game. She’d make the same dip with pumpernickel bread. As I got into high school, my friends started to come over as well. I watched every Bills game in our living room until the late 90’s when I moved out. For me, football has always been as much about the community surrounding the game as it is about the action on the field.
However, in 2010, thanks to former Bills receiver Stevie Johnson and ESPN reporter Adam Schefter, I began to realize the real power and meaning of our community – the Buffalo community.
It was late November. The Bills were 2-8 when they faced the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tied at 16 at the end of regulation, the game went into overtime, where Johnson dropped what would have been the game-winning touchdown. Disappointed and upset, he took out his frustrations on Twitter, where he blamed G-d for the dropped ball. The tweet went viral. As Bills fans, we rallied around him. You could see he was hurting. We made sure he knew the city of good neighbors was there for him.
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The next day, around 4:00 pm, Schefter retweeted Johnson. We teased Schefter with the hashtag #schefterbreakingnews since he shared the tweet 24 hours later. He ended up blocking a bunch of us. Fast forward to April 2011, I sent a tweet featuring those of us that got blocked by Schefter and referenced us as the #BillsMafia.
It was supposed to be a joke between me and some other Bills fans, but the players ended up discovering the hashtag. All of a sudden, the players are tweeting at us and people think our opinions are valid.
Around the same time, my youngest daughter had a seizure just before her fifth birthday.
I remember being at the doctor and thinking, “Just fix her, just bring her back to where she was. Please, make this go away.”
The experience made me more aware and compassionate about the struggles of families with sick children.
In August of 2011, I, along with two other Bills fans, decided we should do something positive with our growing Bills Mafia popularity. So, we started selling “Mafia” shirts and raising money for charities and people in need in Western New York. A lot of you bought our shirts. Within a couple of years, I created a business, 26 Shirts. Eventually, I left my career as a web developer. We now give about a third of our gross to different charities or people in the Buffalo community.
Early on, we made a shirt for a young man named Nathan. He was in high school and battling brain cancer. With medical bills and other unexpected expenses piling up, as they do for all families with sick children, we were able to sell several hundred shirts. Unfortunately, he passed away. But a few years later, his mother said in an interview that our help meant so much to her that she considers me a de facto member of her family.
We’ve helped hundreds of buffalo families, raising more than $900,000 through the years.
It means so much to me to give back to Western New Yorkers and I genuinely believe this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life.
While our beloved Bills have had their ups and downs through the years, it’s exciting to see them doing well right now. They are 4-0 and in first place in the division. We can feel the city’s positive energy with flags in front of people’s houses and signs in the windows. But regardless of how this season or any season pans out, Bills Mafia isn’t just a hashtag on twitter we created in 2010. It’s so much more. It is a name for our longstanding Buffalo family.
And what these last ten years have shown me is that our family doesn’t just love and support our teams. We truly care and watch out for each other.
Whoever you are, if you’re connected to Western New York, Buffalo has got your back. Go Bills!