Bills fans are awesome and a GoFundMe to restore a stolen tailgate is another example

Adria R. Walker
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

The Buffalo Bills fanbase is perhaps best known for two things: 1. Its enthusiastic breaking of tables and other unique tailgating traditions and 2. Its charitable donations.

In December, Bills fans raised and donated $100,000 to the Food Bank of Northwest Louisiana in Tre’Davious White’s name after the cornerback suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Many donations were made in $27 increments — 27 referencing White’s jersey number.

In a statement at the time via his agent, White, who is from Shreveport, Louisiana, said, “I am at a loss for words for what Bills mafia has done for me and my hometown. It truly means the world to me to have my fans support me in this way, by giving back to my community.”

Members of Tony's Tailgate thank #BillsMafia for their support during a trying time.

Early in 2021, after Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a concussion during the AFC divisional playoff game against the Bills, fans began donating to Blessings in a Backpack, one of Jackson’s favorite charities. Within 14 hours after the game, Bills fans had raised nearly $150,000.

The donating tradition goes back years for the fan-base affectionately known as Bills Mafia. After Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother died in 2020, fans donated over $1 million to Oishei Children’s Hospital, largely in increments of $17, a reference to Allen’s jersey number. 

And after Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s touchdown pass against the Ravens put the Bills in the playoffs, Bills fans donated $415,000 to the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation in early 2018.

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And that #BillsMafia giving spirit continued earlier this month when the donations hit very, very close to home.

Tony's Tailgate thanks Bills Mafia.

Tony's Tailgate and The King

Though Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, members of the national media nicknamed his close friends, family and employees — stalwart and long-trusted men who protected and cared for the singer — the "Memphis Mafia."

And, since the early 1990s, the Bills Mafia has had its own version of "The King."

Lockport, Niagara County, native John Lang first dressed up as "Bills Elvis" at the Bills-Dolphins game in 1992. Since then, he has been a mainstay at home games, missing only three. The home game on Jan. 9 was no different.

That Sunday was a huge day for fans of the Buffalo Bills, as the team celebrated their first AFC East division-clinching game at home since 1995. For fans across the state and country, that win against the New York Jets meant a night full of celebratory festivities.

But for Lang and others regulars at Tony's Tailgate, the night was instead full of disappointment.

Tony's Tailgate, a tailgate hosted by Lang's friend, another Lockport native, hosts other eager fans throughout the year. It boasts being the "home base to dozens of Bills fans each year where you can find an over the top assortment of food, drinks, live music and sometimes even a Buffalo Bills hall of famer.”

The tailgating team returned to Lang's truck only to find that many items had been taken. Thousands of dollars worth of tailgating gear and equipment — including a large tent, a 90-inch, eight-burner grill and four propane tanks — were gone.

To describe the loss as devastating is perhaps insufficient, especially given that the team was less than a week away from the season's first playoff home game.

Jackie Danna's husband hosted the tailgate.

"All of his family friends and local friends have a pretty big tailgate," Danna said. "Dozens of people, hundreds, come there throughout the season."

The next day, they told Danna about what happened. She set up a GoFundMe, in hopes that people would contribute something toward replacing the items.

Danna works the night shift, so after writing, publishing and sharing the GoFundMe page, she went to sleep. When she woke up, she realized that the GoFundMe's goal had been met in just a few hours. By the end of the weekend, at which time she closed the fundraiser, it had more than $8,700.

"It kind of blew up and people from everywhere started chipping in and donating, so it ended up being a really nice thing going on — from being all devastated to being blown away by everyone's generosity," Danna said.

The Tailgating tradition continues

The close-knit group of family and friends from Lockport has been tailgating together for decades and, with the generosity of other Bills fans, that tradition has continued.

Thanks to the quick donations of #BillsMafia, Tony's Tailgate was able to meet once again — you can check out the #TonysTailgate hashtag on Twitter.

Using the GoFundMe funds, they replaced the grill, the 20-foot tent — a godsend in frigid temperatures — and other supplies for the first playoff game, Jan. 15, when the Bills defeated the Patriots 47-17. The rest of the funds will be donated to the Patricia Allen Fund.

"Bills fans are pretty awesome when it comes to stuff like this," Danna said. "Seeing how much everyone donated was amazing, so it's why we decided to make a donation to the Patricia Allen fund because that was started based on the generosity of Bills fans .… Bills fans certainly have each other's backs.

"Whenever anything happens, they stick together."

Adria R. Walker covers public education for the Democrat and Chronicle in partnership with Report for America. Follow her on Twitter at @adriawalkr or send her an email at arwalker@gannett.com. You can support her work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.