Every Sunday during the NFL season, 83-year-old Irwin Kotlove heads to a restaurant in Boca Raton, Fla. Clad in red, white and blue Bills gear from his hat to his shirt, he meets up with a group of displaced Bills fans to watch the game. Every Sunday, they root for the Bills, ignoring the taunts and boos from the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets fans in their midst.
Every Sunday that is, but one.
One of those Sundays is reserved for an annual homecoming trip Irwin takes with his son, Doug, 48. The father and son make the pilgrimage back to Buffalo to watch the Bills play and indulge in a few of their favorite, nostalgia-filled addictions like Duff’s Famous Wings, Cole’s on Elmwood and the original Anderson’s on Sheridan Drive. Sometimes, other family members have made the trip, too.
Coming home is always thrill for Irwin. He grew up in North Buffalo, just off Hertel Avenue, and graduated from Bennett High School in 1951. After a few years in the Army, he opened a women’s shoe store called the Cobbler Shop in University Plaza across from the University at Buffalo, where he eventually went to college, graduating in 1958. Two years later, the Bills became an official football franchise.
“Football had to catch on, of course,” said Irwin. “But people were interested. I remember going to games at War Memorial Stadium and watching Jack Kemp, Cookie Gilchrist and Pete Gogolak in the old AFL. Ed Rutowski is my all-time favorite player. He was a third-string quarterback. Even though he was a wide receiver, he ended up playing quarterback when everyone was hurt. I just admired him for that.”
Name: Irwin Kotlove
Current location: Boca Raton, Fla.
Previous location: North Buffalo
Been a Bills fan since: 1960
Most memorable moment as a Bills fan: 1991 AFC Title Game; Beat the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3
Doug was born in 1969. By the time he was 10, he was a passionate Bills fan just like his father. The Kotloves lived in Kenmore across the street from Stan Barron, who was Van Miller’s color analyst for the Bills broadcast. When Doug and Irwin went to their first game together in 1976, they rode to the game with Barron. Unfortunately, by 1979 Irwin’s shoe business had fallen on hard times. The family packed up and moved to Florida, and Irwin started out in the food industry, eventually becoming a food broker.
“After we moved, whenever we went to the Miami game against the Bills, we’d go up in the press box before the game and sit in the booth with Stan and Van for a little while,” Doug recalled. “Imagine what a thrill that was for me. I was just an 11- or 12-year-old kid at the time.”
Over the next few decades, life would putter on. Doug grew up, went to college and is now the vice president of a business development and marketing firm in Washington, D.C. Irwin carved out a successful career for himself and eventually retired. But their love for the Buffalo Bills hasn’t changed at all, even as the team slumped into an extended playoff drought that has lasted 17 years.
Once a Bills fan, always a Bills fan, says Irwin. And he means it, wholeheartedly. “It’s always exciting for me to go back every single year for a game. Doug and I get very excited when the schedule comes out and we get to a pick which game we want to go to. It doesn’t matter to me whether the Bills win or lose, but coming back to Buffalo for a weekend is very special to me.”
“It’s tough saying goodbye to my father every Monday morning after our Buffalo-filled weekend, but we always say we’ll do it again next year,” Doug added. “We started this tradition in 2002. And here we are — back again. This year, it's for the Bills home opener.”
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Story topics: Bills Fans