The Buffalo Bills held an open house for newly refurbished Ralph Wilson Stadium Saturday night, and despite a little stickiness with the gates, fans seemed pretty pleased with the $53 million face lift.
Season-ticket holders in the new heated club seats -- not really needed on this beautiful late summer night -- were especially taken with their new digs.
"Oh my goodness, I think they're wonderful," Judy Sarna, a retiree from West Seneca, said of her new section of club seating called the Paul McGuire Press Box. "It's like I died and went to heaven."
McGuire, the old Bills punter and now television commentator, would have loved to hear the description, but her two seat mates, Judy Reischuck of East Aurora and Pat Grabianowski of Cheektowaga, are still adjusting to the new location.
Their new seating includes a snack bar and lounge for their section's exclusive use and plenty of television monitors to watch the action when they are away from the field.
But the three have had season tickets for 30 years and were used to sitting a little closer to the field.
"We're getting used to them," Ms. Grabianowski said of the new seats. "We miss our pals."
Their adjustment was eased by Doug Flutie on the first play of the game, throwing a first down pass to Thurman Thomas. And just a few plays later, they watched Flutie throw a touchdown pass to tight end Jay Riemersma.
And they had no need to look at the Jumbotron in the end zone for the replay. They have television screens hanging above them for replays.
"Tell them they need to make the screens a little bigger," said Phil Coppola, a retired accountant from West Seneca, who has had season tickets since the very first game in War Memorial Stadium.
"It's beautiful," he said from his vantage in the Van Miller Press Box club seats. "For the amount of money we paid for the stadium and all the renovations, it's one of the best in the country."
The new $1.1 million sound system got the message out without deafening fans -- a video of the stadium reconstruction played to Fleetwood Mac's lyric "Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone" -- and the action on the field was lit up by stadium lighting about three times the previous candlepower.
Stadium security and off-duty police officers stood out throughout the stadium in their new neon green windbreakers and reported next to no trouble. But then, preseason games are not usually what brings out the rowdy in certain fans.
But not all had high praise for the Bills, especially at the gates.
This was the first game when new restrictions took effect, barring containers of any kind, and some fans were not happy.
"We can't take water in? That's ridiculous," said Debbie Benedict of Syracuse, as she put her bottled water down next to a couple of dozen bottles left before her.
Dave Carbaugh, who also came from Syracuse, is another fan who didn't get the message before the game.
"We bought these coolers at one of the stands," he said. "We filled them with Pepsi. This is crap. My wife had to walk all the way back to the car to take it back. We just wasted a $20 bill."
The Bills' new policy, which also includes shutting off beer sales after half time instead of the third quarter, is aimed at cutting the alcohol consumption that has fueled a growing problem with rowdy fans.
Ron Ramos, who owns a video production company, couldn't agree more with what the Bills are doing.
"It's gotten out of hand," he said. "I'd rather be able to bring my children to the game. If I have to be inconvenienced a little bit, it's OK."
His wife, Dianna, an attorney, disagreed: "I don't like it. We like to drink hot chocolate when it's cold. Now we won't be able to bring it in."
Season ticket holder Pat Grabianowski agreed. "I don't think people with Thermoses were the problem."
Someone who might have been a problem was a young fellow wearing a Kordell Stewart Steelers shirt. As he approached the gate with a 12-pack of beer under his arm, he saw the growing pile of confiscated bottles, and took off running for the parking lot, carrying the beer like a football.
Along with increased security and the new rules, the Bills are also trying to make the stadium more fan friendly.
Bill Hess of Orchard Park, dressed in a Bills shirt and holding a clipboard, was serving in his first game as a Bills Ambassador. He was standing near one of the main gates, directing people to their seats.
"All the numbers are different," he said of the new seating. "People are coming up and asking, where do I go?"
Scott Berchtold, the Bills' vice president for communications, said the team is still working out the kinks and problems in their newly redone home.
"There are so many things we did in this place," he said of the new construction. "There are a few things that can go wrong. We're trying to correct them. But I haven't heard a single complaint."