Patrick J. Keem: Buffalo Bills belong at ‘The Ralph’ - The Buffalo News
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Patrick J. Keem: Buffalo Bills belong at ‘The Ralph’

I was there when it all began, Aug. 17, 1973. My wife, Mom, Dad and five other family members attended the first game ever played at Rich Stadium. Forty-one years later, I do not remember the final score of the game; however, I’ll always remember something that began that evening: tailgating.

We arrived at the parking lot two hours before the game. Dad fired up the charcoal grill and cooked hot dogs and hamburgers to go along with Mom’s salads and the chips we brought with us. Many other people near us were also  tailgating for the very first time.

Thus, without us realizing it, a tradition had begun.

This past March, Ralph C. Wilson, the Buffalo Bills founder and owner, passed away. Thus began a frenzy of speculation about what would happen with our beloved team, who will become the new owner, would the team remain in Western New York and where would a new stadium be built?

Various sites are being discussed in the media. But do we really need a new home for the Bills?

Niagara Falls has been mentioned because it would be easier for our Canadian fans to attend games. Has anyone considered the nightmare that would be created with transportation chokepoints at the international and Grand Island bridges?

Batavia has also been suggested, which would be closer for fans from Rochester and Syracuse. However, it would increase travel time for Southern Ontario fans who already have to endure waits at the bridges to enter the United States.

Other places such as West Seneca or along the Buffalo waterfront or downtown are being considered. Infrastructure improvement along with purchasing expensive property would demand many millions of taxpayer dollars being spent.

A new stadium would include increased costs for fans, most likely including personal seat licenses costing thousands of dollars just for the privilege to buy more-expensive tickets. Is that really what Bills fans want? New stadiums are built to increase income for the team owners with the sale of luxury boxes and high-priced club seats.

I was fortunate enough to receive a tour to view the $130 million in improvements under way at our current stadium. People will be amazed at all the fan-friendly features being added, giving a newness to the entire structure.

I’ve attended Bills games in many cities and in my opinion, watching a game in Ralph Wilson Stadium with its wonderful sight lines and passionate fans creates an enjoyable experience second to none.

“The Ralph” has certainly served us well and I’m sure can continue to do so for decades to come. Our current stadium has great bones and the necessary infrastructure along with a fieldhouse and administrative offices already in place.

I’m looking forward to returning to the parking lot again this August. Mom and Dad are no longer with us, but I’m certain they would be proud to see me tailgating with my children and friends, carrying on a family tradition.

Although the final score fades away, I realize much more important lasting memories continue to be made at The Ralph. Why would anyone rather be somewhere else?

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