They started out as Jacksonville fans. After all, the Jaguars were the designated home team against the Buffalo Bills last October, and all fans entering Wembley Stadium found Jags flags on their seats.
By the end of the game, though, British residents Matthew and Claire Wild had become Bills fans – thanks to the efforts of an Orchard Park couple sitting a row in front of them, Jenna Scavone and Zenon Katrij Jr.
So the Wilds, who a year ago might have barely known a football from a Wiffle ball, now have Bills blood racing through their veins. To prove it, they’ve flown across the Atlantic to visit their friends, take in the Western New York sights and, of course, attend a true Bills game at New Era Field before heading to New York City.
And what a game they’ve picked, the Bills’ home opener, on a Thursday night, against the New York Jets.
They may be from another country, but the Wilds already have received a crash course on Bills games and the tailgating exploits that have gone viral, like last season’s YouTube video showing a Bills tailgater repeatedly jumping on a burning table.
“I’m a bit concerned that the fans are going to say, ‘You’re here for your first Bills game, so you’ll have to go on the burning table,’ ” Matt Wild said with a laugh. “I’d prefer not to, but I will if I have to.”
There’s a committed Bills fan, and he hasn’t even stepped onto the New Era Field grounds.
The friendship between the two couples blossomed immediately last fall, at the Oct. 25 Bills-Jaguars game in London. Scavone and her boyfriend, Katrij, celebrated her birthday by going to the London game, where they sat in the first row of the end zone, one row in front of the Wilds.
“It was their first NFL game, and they’ve never really watched much football, so they had no idea what was going on,” Scavone said.
That’s no longer true, but one aspect of the American version of football still baffles the Wilds.
“We understand the basic rules, but there are so many flags going off all the time,” Matt Wild said. “Half the time, we were so busy watching the action we didn’t know what the flags were for.”
The Wilds, from Cornwall, England, began the London game rooting for the designated home team, the Jaguars. That didn’t last long.
The Orchard Park couple converted their new British friends. Scavone and Katrij weren’t very subtle, decked out in their Sammy Watkins jerseys, Bills hats and Zubaz pants. And Katrij didn’t hesitate to stand up and boo the Jaguars. Matt Wild got into the spirit of NFL football, exchanging friendly banter with the exuberant Katrij.
“By the end of the game, we had them cheering for the Bills,” Scavone said. “We converted them to Bills fans.”
After the game, the foursome enjoyed another ritual, visiting a Bills Backers bar, the Green Man Pub, where the Wilds were greeted by lots of fans wearing Bills jerseys.
Back home, the two couples became trans-Atlantic Facebook friends, and the Wilds began streaming the Bills’ games on the internet. They were hooked.
The Orchard Park couple told their new British friends that they had to come here for a real home game, to see the rowdiness absent in the Wembley Stadium version of NFL football.
“It was very quiet compared to The Ralph – New Era,” Scavone said. “Our games, as you know, can be pretty rowdy, with people screaming and getting up. There, pretty much everyone was seated. There was no shouting, no chanting. They were sitting there waving their Jaguars flags.”
She and Katrij have tried hard to prepare the Wilds for Thursday night.
“We tried to warn them about the rowdiness, the craziness, the drinking and the Bills fans in general,” Scavone said. “We tried to explain to them how die-hard we are. I don’t think they understand that. I think they’re in for a huge surprise.”
Maybe so, but Matt Wild knows all about the “burning table.” He’s learned that he has to make some major noise when the Jets have the ball on third down. And he’s apparently learned how to trash-talk.
“I have to see what happens, but I think we’ll spank ’em,” he said, sounding like a longtime Bills fan. “When they come in our backyard, we’ll send them home with a red (behind).”
But the Wilds are savoring the whole atmosphere of a real NFL home game.
“For us, the whole game-day experience, seeing all the people having a barbecue and tailgating, will be absolutely amazing,” Claire Wild said. “The game itself, I’m hoping we’re going to absolutely thrash them.”
She’s not considering rooting for the Jets, even though she and her husband are heading to New York City after they leave Buffalo?
“No way,” she replied.