Even though the Buffalo Bills lost to the Carolina Panthers in Week Two of the NFL season, something pretty cool happened. The tailgating lot before the game was overflowing with red, white and blue, as Bills fans managed to outnumber Panthers fans in their own pregame celebration.
“There was anywhere from 15 to 20,000 Bills fans tailgating in the parking area before the game,” said Todd Zielinski. “It definitely looked like we had more Bills fans than Carolina fans. I think a lot of people came out for the tailgate and wanted to represent Buffalo.”
Zielinski, 41, has been living in Charlotte, N.C., since 1999. He moved down south to become a police officer and left his beloved Bills behind. But Zielinski says he wasn’t the only Buffalonian to matriculate down south, particularly to Charlotte.
“Over 30,000 people move down here over a two-year period,” he said. “It was a growing trend and now there are lots of transplants here from other states, too. I run into someone everyday who comes from a different city.”
The area, friendly people and sunny weather have certainly grown on Zielinski. He’s happy living in Charlotte, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to become a Panthers fan. And he’s met plenty of friends who feel the same way.
“I have a ton of friends down here who are Bills fans. Met some of them just going out to games. A few mutual friends from back home have moved down here as well, and we reconnected and now hang out. I’ve also met a lot of people just being on the job who are Bills fans.”
Zielinski says that whenever he wears something “Buffalo-themed,” whether it’s at the grocery store or a gas station, he’ll inevitably meet someone who’s from the area or who follows the Bills.
That’s why, on the Saturday night before the Panthers handed the Bills their first loss of the season, Zielinski got together with some friends and planned one of the largest football-eve, Bills-backer tailgate parties ever assembled in Charlotte. The event was held at a local watering hole called Tavern on the Tracks and the turnout, Zielinski says, was incredible.
“I want to say 1,400 people showed up. It was even mentioned on WGR550 during the pregame show. My friend’s daughter plays in a band called Seven Days, and they performed. People were sharing photos all over Facebook. Next time the Panthers play the Bills in Buffalo, I'll travel with a large constituency back home."
Name: Todd Zielinski
Current location: Charlotte, N.C.
Previous location: Buffalo
Games he’s been to: Had season tickets growing up; went to every playoff game in the ’90s
Favorite Bills player: Jim Kelly
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