In Buffalo, football is more than just a sport. It’s a way of life.

Saturday night I went out and met a bunch of awesome people from media outlets that cover Buffalo sports. After only communicating online it was my first time meeting them but it felt like I’ve known them for years. It got me thinking, sports truly brings people together. Especially in Buffalo. Many lifelong bonds have been formed over football and hockey.

For all the criticism Buffalo receives, being compared to Siberia, small market, nothing to do, etc. There’s also has been a stigma around Buffalo and whether or not players “want” to come here. Once they arrive they quickly realize this community’s heart beats with the Bills and Sabres. Players get a one of a kind welcome right from their arrival at the airport, literally. What other fans would show up with wings and other local favorite foods to welcome new arrivals?

“Bills Mafia” is so much more than just a slogan. So much more than the national perception of us. We work hard and yes, we play hard. We donated thousands to a player’s charity for helping to provide the greatest sports memory in decades. We even donated to opposing team’s charities in response to criticism. The “Mafia” part rings true because you are born into this family and are part of it for life and beyond.

Photo of Ezra Castro ‘PanchoBilla’ from

Bills Mafia has also adopted many family members who didn’t even have ties to Buffalo. Family members such as Ezra Castro aka/ Pancho Billa, who’s legacy of spirit and kindness will be carried on forever. Ezra is a true example of what it’s like to be a Bills fan. Loyal, generous, determined to never give up through all the ups and downs in life as well as sports. Being born and raised in Texas didn’t matter, Ezra is part of the family and always will be. Along with millions of other Mafia family members. You will always live on in our hearts and within the walls of New Era Field. Pancho, we love you.

Photo from

Bills Mafia is very passionate (maybe sometimes a little too passionate) but we protect our own at all costs. Training camp just started but Bills fans are already in mid-season form. Fans flock out to Pittsford from near and far to get a first look at the team. Hungry for content, fans eagerly await updates on how players look at practice. Optimism is in high gear, perhaps more so this season than in seasons past.

There are still many questions and much to prove but the new regime has provided a sense of stability that hasn’t been seen around here for decades. Smart roster building moves, along with a stable and committed culture could be the foundation to a successful future. Something this fan base has been craving since the early 90’s. As a third grader, I was lucky to develop my love for football during those fun times, but even those early memories left me with some heartache and a sense of unfinished business.

As we start the 2019 NFL season, the 100th season in league history and the 60th season in Bills history, memories will be broadcast from throughout the years. Memories that will bring back many emotions for Bills fans, but the focus is now on the future. It’s time to make new memories, time to pass down the tradition to new family members of Bills Mafia. Most importantly, time to hopefully finish that business that was left on the to do list from the 90’s.

Bills Mafia, please leave a comment on when, how, and why you decided to become a member of the family.

Editor’s babble: Beautifully captured by Erik Smeal. You can find Erik on Twitter @Buffwagon819.

About Erik Smeal

Born and raised in Buffalo NY. Army Veteran. Die hard Bills and Sabres fan for 30 years.

6 Replies to “In Buffalo, football is more than just a sport. It’s a way of life.”

  1. Born in Central NY & grew up watching the Giants with my Dad in the 50’s+. Moved to Buffalo in 1968 & immediately became a Bills fan… listened to all the chat about drafting OJ! NEVER have regretted becoming a fan of the red, white & blue! Stuck with them thru the HARD 70’s & early 80’s… had season tickets thru the 90’s & actually went to the Super Bowl (something I NEVER thought I’d be able to do, & I watched every one from Super Bowl I)… what an experience!! For a while again, it’s been hard but THIS YEAR we have huge HOPE. Finally a coaching & management regime that recognizes the need for O line! And continuity, and paying valuable players AND has the ability to recognize valuable players!! This may not be THE YEAR, but we have hope that it’s on the way!! #BillsMafiaForever

  2. Growing up my family were actually Browns fans but I never really followed or understood the game of football. Then 22 years ago I married a Bills fan….and the rest is history. We both LOVE our Bills. We attend 2-3 games a year as well as usually take in a couple of days at training camp and we one day hope to be season ticket holders. We are so looking forward to this coming season!!!! GO BILLS!!!

  3. Born and raised in Buffalo, my father started to take me to games at age 10…40 years ago. I had season tickets for years, going to the 3rd superbowl. I moved to Philadelphia, keeping my season tickets until it was too expensive to fly back. I try to get back for a game each year, otherwise, I’m wearing the red, white, and blue at a local bar every Sunday. The Philly fans that use to taunt me, now secretly cheer for the Bills! GO BILLS! #BillsMafia for life!

  4. The buffalobillsofbrandon,Florida, are doing a tailgate for opening day to ask members to donate backbacks and school supplies to support a great cause for pancho🏈🏈GO BILLS