(Orchard Park) Thursday lunchtime at the restaurant in downtown Buffalo. The waiter chats with a couple seated at the bar. Pretty quickly, the conversation turns to the event of the week around here – and no, we’re not talking about David Reinbacher’s presence at the rookie tournament organized by the Sabres.
It’s more like the Bills’ home opener. The waiter has his tickets. The couple at the table too.
“I’ll be there for my newspaper, I’d like to write an article to report on the atmosphere surrounding a Bills game, like these people throwing themselves through tables. »
The couple’s response is instantaneous. “It won’t be hard to find!” »
It is therefore full of hope that we are heading towards the suburbs of Buffalo on this lovely Sunday morning. A journey of 19 minutes on paper, which ultimately took 75.
10:30 a.m. in the parking lot. A couple of students pose with the stadium in the background. He is a regular, she is attending her first match.
“So, these people who throw themselves into tables, where do we find that?
– Go around the stadium, cut to the right, and you will find some grassy areas where a lot of stuff is happening. »
This is intriguing. Along the way, we hear about a “ketchup and mustard guy”, essentially a guy who gets doused in condiments. If there is a man who is festive enough to smear himself in ketchup, he must have friends who enjoy throwing tables. Lets go see.
So here we are at Hammer’s Lot, an independent parking lot where our ketchup man would be located. The first humanoid we meet, Eric, doesn’t really know where to direct us. “Construction of the future stadium began this year, so the parking lots have been moved,” he explains.
A Sunday in Buffalo
Eric is less confused when it comes time to make a drink for a friend. He starts: brandy, vodka, blue curaçao, a little lemonade and a cherry. “It’s called a Bills’ Mafia!” »
Now here is Marty, in action on his barbecue which is mounted… on an old fire truck! Truck which also included barrels of beer and one of fireballthese shooters with cinnamon flavor.
We continue our way through the fumes of propane, a bit like Super Mario trying to get to the “boss”. A certain Kyle McCarthy, aka The Buffalorian, catches our attention. “This suit cost me $800,” he said. How can you hear it under your headphones? It has a microphone built into it.
We look up as we continue our way to see three bottles of ketchup on the roof of a van. A kind Vermonter confirms that we are in the right place. So it’s time to squeeze through the crowd to watch the show.
Our “ketchup and mustard guy” is known as Pinto Ron around here. Pinto because he and his friends cook on the hood of an old Ford Pinto. Ron because a journalist mistakenly thought they were reporting on him in the 1990s. His real name is Kenny.
Kenny Johnson, therefore, has attended every Bills game since 1994. The last one he missed: Super Bowl XXVIII, the fourth in a row that Buffalo lost. “I was in Atlanta, I had $900, I thought that would be enough, but the scalpers were asking $1,250 for a ticket,” he remembers.
Since that time, this programmer says he has attended every Bills game, in Buffalo or abroad, even in London. The only exception: closed-door meetings during the pandemic.
Pinto Ron is not alone. Pizza Pete is part of his inner circle. He uses an old document folder as a pizza oven. There is also the guy who makes shooters in bowling balls.
But Pinto Ron is really the attraction. To the sound of For Some Sugar on Me, oddballs perched on the roof of the van squirt ketchup and mustard. All this before the eyes of Theresa, the mother of Pinto Ron, 89 years old, who is attending her son’s ritual for the first time.
Pinto Ron is then mobbed by spectators who want a selfie. The gag is to pretend to eat a bite of the hamburger that Pinto Ron is holding in his hands. Because this would be the origin of the tradition. “At first, he asked his brothers to put ketchup on his burgers, from a certain distance,” says Mark, a friend of the group. And obviously, they sprayed him a little. The next week, they had to do it at 6 feet. Then at 12 feet. Then on the roof of the truck. »
Between two photos, Pinto Ron offers Theresa a bite to eat. ” Oh no ! », she replies, with the half-outraged, half-discouraged look of a mother of a teenager.
1 p.m. is approaching, it’s time to head to the stadium. We hear French in the crowd.
This is Serge Denis, from Cochrane, near Timmins. His passion for the Bills is quantifiable. “I drive 2,000 km round trip for every home game,” he says proudly. And I’ll see at least one a year on the road. This year I’m going to Philadelphia and London. »
And in money? His season pass costs him “$4,000 Canadian”. In addition to “well food, well beer”, and its accommodation. For each match, he invites different friends. This week, it’s the turn of Nicholas Cheff and Charles Giroux-Tremblay.
“It’s an investment in happiness, but not monetary. »
Why the Bills? “It’s a family affair. The whole family is a Bills fan. I lived in Toronto for six or seven years, so I often came to the games. »
So what motivates people to invest in a costume, drive around for hours, make a drink that looks like nuclear waste, douse themselves in ketchup and throw tables? Is this the decadence of a nation? The passion of amateurs who are still waiting for a first major championship?
“It’s like a family. When we come here, we all know each other. Check that, chills, calisse, says Serge Denis, showing his forearm. We are proud. When we win a Super Bowl, Buffalo might go to the fire! I won’t be there to light the match, but I’ll watch! »
After the game, we speak with Latavius Murray, the only Bills player from the region. This 10-year veteran is on his sixth team in the NFL, but has just arrived with the Bills and is playing at Allegiant Stadium for the first time in his career.
“You feel the passion when you arrive at the stadium. Even last night, you could feel it, people were already getting ready! It took me an hour to get there, because people arrive so early, says the running back. It’s not like that elsewhere. When you see that, you want them to get value for their money. »
Leaving the stadium, we return to Hammer’s Lot, where we come across a natural Pinto Ron. Without ketchup.
“It’s typical of the Northeast. Buffalo, like Pittsburgh and Cleveland, was a blue-collar city. People went to the steel mill and they worked hard. They are not bankers. These are cities where it is cold. They come home and they just want to relax, watch TV, eat chicken wings and drink beer. This is why they are more involved in sport than white-collar workers.
“It may not be a blue-collar town anymore, but the parents were and with a good education, that was passed down!” »