On a cold, snowy Monday in 1960—- February 8th to be exact—, the newly-formed American Football Franchise Buffalo Bills began selling tickets for their inaugural season. Using promos ranging from, “prime seat choices” to “business tax deductions”, the Bills racked up more than 3,000 season ticket sales in that first year.
More than half a century later, Buffalo Bills fans have once again been lining up to buy season tickets, this time for the newly re-energized team, operating under the ownership of Kim and Terry Pegula. The end result has been an astonishing 60,102 season ticket sales—a short leap from Ralph Wilson Stadium’s 71,870 capacity and a number that has Bills led administrators to cap sales and initiate a waiting list for future ticket holders..
The Bills have been celebrated on national newswires and social media outlets around the world for achieving this admirable benchmark. In response, the team’s front office created a “Thank You” website where they unveiled a graphic of all 60,102 season ticket holders’ names within the design of an oversized number 60. That graphic is now installed on the tunnel at Ralph Wilson Stadium where the players entering and exiting the field, are reminded of the Bills loyal, 12th man fan base.
Yet as newsworthy as these season ticket sales may be, there is a secondary tale to be told at this moment in Bills history, one equally revealing and validating when it comes to the passionate love affair between Buffalo and their team. So, as master radio broadcaster Paul Harvey would say, here is the rest of the story.
In1994, then Buffalo Bills owner, Ralph Wilson, took out a full page newspaper ad addressed to the 290 individuals who’d purchased season tickets every year since the team’s inception. The Bills 35th season was approaching and the man who anted up $25,000 to establish pro football in the blue collar Western New York town was grateful for their years of support. Wilson extended his thanks by noting that a lot of things had changed since 1960, but the 290 original season ticket holders had not. He then directed that a copy of the ad be sent to each of the 290 “Bills Originals” along with a personal letter, written by Bills Director of Marketing and Sales, John Linsey.
Larry Scheur’s father was one of those “Bills Originals” included in Ralph Wilson’s public thank you. Scheur, a photographic journalist and 55-year season ticket holder himself, preserved the tribute by framing the letter with the ad and hanging them in a place of honor in his home where they remain today. Like all lifelong Bills fans, his connection to the team is about much more than the game of football.
“My dad had passed on earlier that year. He was one of the original ticket holders, so I distinctly recall receiving the letter and printed copy of Ralph Wilson’s ad. It was sent in a rolled tube and when I opened it, family memories flooded back. Things like parking in a Reverend’s back yard on Jefferson Avenue on game days, Cookie Gilchrist’s Cadillac, Booth Lustig’s missed kick, the friendliness of players of the day—Jack Kemp, Daryle Lamonica, Billy Shaw, Ed Rutkowski, Ernie Warlick, Booker—on and on.
My mom, dad, brother and I would dress warmly and carry blankets, thermoses and everything not allowed inside the stadium today. Then there was the expansion of ‘The Rockpile” and the move to Orchard Park with seat relocations, parking lots, no more peanut vendors hawking “25 cents a bag, 3 for a dollar. I’m still a season ticket holder and costs have truly escalated, however the memories are priceless.”
This story behind the story evolves further following a recent email exchange between Scheur and the Buffalo Bills. The team’s “60” thank you graphic led Scheur back to Ralph Wilson ‘s fan tribute. Memories of that acknowledgment caused Scheur to wonder how many of the 290 originals were still with the team. Wonder led to action as the dedicated fan sent an email to the Bills front office asking that very question. The official response informed Scheur that 21 years after Ralph Wilson’s season ticket holder tribute, 269 of the “Originals” still remain.
So, in the end, Ralph Wilson was right. A lot of things have changed since 1960—except for the undyingly devoted fans who remain Buffalo Bills Strong.
Christina M. Abt is a free lance writer and author who has been devoted to the Buffalo Bills since the moment she entered The Rockpile and witnessed the Bills beat the Patriots under the lights.