who took his team to the Super Bowl four times -- has been nominated for the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
What is surprising is that Valerie Pawlak, a grandmother from Dunkirk, has beaten him inside. On Tuesday Pawlak took her place in the Visa Fans Hall of Fame (based at the Pro Football Hall), chosen from hundreds of entries in a contest run by the NFL, the Hall of Fame and Visa. Pawlak, a widow, retiree and a mother of four, was in Canton with 30 other rabid rooters, one from each team.
It was payback time for faithfully standing behind the fence, waving signs and calling out encouragement for 13 years while the Buffalo Bills used Fredonia State College for training camp.
Pawlak worked there as a dorm mom, both for college students and the Bills during camp, where she encouraged all of them, rookies and veterans. Each August, she showed up with a cake for Marv Levy's birthday and led the singing of Happy Birthday to the coach.
Still, there was tough competition. Consider those multi-colored painted faces, the Elvis impersonators and the many-year season ticket holders. Some of the most diehard fans had been given applications, said Denny Lynch, Bills director of public and community relations.
But it's Pawlak's sunny personality -- she shines even in a phone conversation -- her steadfastness and her strong lungs that got her to the top of the fan heap this year, the second year that fans have been inducted.
In an essay she wrote as part of the selection process, she recounted how she became involved with the players: "I took the team under my wing and tried to make it their home away from home, just like I did for my college students all those years . . . My greatest fulfillment was meeting fans from all over the world that loved the Bills as much as I did."
Pawlak is also being recognized for being one of the founders of the Southern Tier Boosters Club, which started with 22 members and now numbers more than 300. And for believing in the team when no one in her family (or many other families) did.
She began her road to super fandom in the early 1970s when each person in her family predicted which team would win the most games that season. Unfailingly, she picked the Bills. Her children always asked why.
"I looked at them and said: 'Some day the Bills will go to the Super Bowl and mother will go with them.' "
In fact, she did in 1994 when they played the Dallas Cowboys in Atlanta.
"I saw them win half a game," she said. "They must go back and win me a full one."
Then, she got to really know the players and other personnel when the Bills moved to Fredonia State, where she worked.
"I parked not far from the fence, and I'd go every single day," she said. She shouted encouragement and held up signs telling the team what she wanted. One year it was "Instead of 6-10, we want 10-6."
Hanging out behind the fence she got to know veterans and rookies, stars and wannabees, and she became a friend of coach Ted Marchibroda. She praises the team and management personnel and shies away from any criticism, whether it's about escalating ticket prices or the organization moving its training camp to Rochester.
She'll only say this much about the last game of the season: "The only part that bothers me is that we lost. I wanted Kevin Williams to run that ball back. We should have done that, not Tennessee."
She said she doesn't have a favorite player.
"When you're a mother, you don't pick a favorite," she said.
But she does have a favorite game: the Houston comeback game.
"When they lose, I pout and cry, but I always say they'll come back," said Pawlak.
Her clothing, her car, her home all give evidence of her fanaticism. If there's any doubt, you just have to sit near her. At a quiet moment during a Bills-Colts game at the Indianapolis dome, she cupped her hands and started shouting "Let's go Buff-a-lo. We love you." While listening through her headphones, she heard the announcer say that he didn't see a lot of Bills fans, but he could pick out a distinctive voice leading a chant.
In the Hall of Fans exhibit, there are pictures and testimonials from each honoree, fan mementos, a high-energy film on these dedicated and sometimes outrageous fans, and a plaque commemorating past honorees. Last year's Bills honoree was Archie Diemer of Attica, who purchased the first season tickets in April 1960.
Lynch said it's an amazing experience to be in a room with such rabid fans.
"It's people like the Seattle Touchdown Mom, who has bright blue hair with green on top," he said. "When she hits a switch, her hair lights up."
These are the unshakable fans, the ones who know exactly what Valerie Pawlak means when she predicts, week after week, year after year, that her team is going to win.
When people tell her she's dreaming, she doesn't care. She's going to keep on doing it.
She says: "You jump for joy when your team wins, and a true fan also cries for their losses, but does not find fault."