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We're ready for our close-up Prime-time game shines light on Bills

The bowling buddies from the old Roc-Mar lanes sat in their usual spot Saturday morning, in the back corner of the Tim Hortons shop at Delaware Avenue and Sheridan Drive.

The menu's always the same: hot coffee, with cream and sugar, along with wheat rolls and a free-wheeling discussion about the Bills, the Sabres, the Yankees and any hot sports topic.

Don't even ask what they think about Alex Rodriguez.

Topic A on Saturday morning was tonight's Bills-Patriots nationally televised prime-time matchup in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Meanwhile, at the RV lot along Abbott Road, in the shadow of the Ralph, Jack and Linda Clayback and others had already set up camp. Saturday night's chill was tailor-made for renewing acquaintances around fires.

Long odds dominated the talk at Tim's place.

"We're all wondering how bad Buffalo's going to get beat, especially with [running back Marshawn] Lynch not playing," Vic Bova, 72, of Kenmore, said as a visitor approached their table. "I just want them to play a decent game and not get embarrassed, because it's Buffalo. They always rag on Buffalo."

But these old bowlers are glad the national cameras will be trained on Buffalo.

"It's good for the area, because you're in the national spotlight for a night," said Larry Insinna, 74, of Kenmore. "It's good to show off Buffalo."

"At least it won't be snowing [much]," Paul Valint, 68, of Riverside, added. "If they see the snow, the first thing they'll say is, 'It's Buffalo, and it's always snowing.' They always downgrade us."

The conversation in the back corner of the doughnut shop may have summed up Bills fans' predominant feelings toward tonight's game.

They're somewhat fearful about the outcome, especially since Lynch got injured last week. They're also concerned how Buffalo its team, its fans, its weather -- will look through a national TV camera lens. But they're excited about the national exposure.

"It's about time," Bob Johnson, a 56-year-old house painter from Riverside, sitting at a nearby table, said of the Bills' second prime-time home game of the season. "I think it's the national spotlight that makes it so exciting. I think people like to showcase where they live."

Fans in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, even tonight's visitors from New England, might not get such a charge out of hosting a nationally televised game.

"We're a small, tight-knit community," Johnson explained, referring to the way Western New Yorkers pulled together during last year's October storm. "There's a camaraderie that we have as a town. And [tonight], the spotlight's on us."

That small-town feel may help explain why local residents put so much stock in the game-to-game fortunes of the Bills and Sabres, and how we look to the rest of the country.

"I think it builds the morale of the people, in a city that is considered secondary to big-league cities like Dallas," said Herbert Sedita, 81, of Kenmore, who was talking with Johnson in the same doughnut shop.

Out at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the early fans already had arrived, as the RV and camper lot along Abbott Road already had attracted a handful of vehicles by Saturday morning.

For Jack Clayback, 69, of Buffalo, a little thing like arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday wasn't going to keep him from tonight's game.

"I'm on IR [injured reserve] now, so I don't know if I can fill in for Marshawn," he said. "But I will definitely be at the game."

Clayback loves the idea of the national exposure for Buffalo, its football team and its fans.

"We're always the doormat, and now we can be the door," he said. "We get some national exposure, which was great in the Dallas game. That's why they came back, the way the fans get so involved in the game."

His wife, Linda Clayback, a Kaleida Health business manager, talked about how proud she is of Buffalo.

"Unfortunately," she added, "everybody lives through the Bills and lives through the Sabres. We've had a bad rap with everything else, and they're hoping one of the teams wins a championship and brings some kind of star quality to our area."

The Claybacks were renewing acquaintances with their RV-camper lot friends, Bev and Tim Nowicki from Alden.

"We're very enthused that we were picked for the Sunday night game," Bev Nowicki said. "We know we're worthy of it, and we want another chance to show the country that we're worthy of it."

The Nowickis were looking forward to sitting in front of a fire Saturday night, greeting old friends and making some new friends among Patriots fans coming to the game.

And they're ready for any challenge..

"We brought our shovels, we brought our Ice-Melt, and we brought our double long-johns," Bev Nowicki said. "We're ready."


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