The Miami Dolphins fans couldn't believe their eyes.
It was Wade Phillips.
Wade Phillips, the night before the Buffalo-Miami showdown.
In, of all places, Wegmans.
Shouldn't he be reviewing defensive formations?
Anything but returning empties?
The two couples had traveled all the way from Florida for the big game, but they never expected to see the rival team's coach from any closer than their stadium seats. They weren't about to let this opportunity pass them by.
Cameras in tow, they approached their subject. Then, before they could so much as adjust their lenses, he stopped them with his signature opener.
"I'm not Wade Phillips."
No, but Mike Durkin could pass for him in a lineup. You can see the resemblance around Durkin's eyes and in his pencil-thin lips. He has the same silvery hair, the same receding hairline, the same round cheeks and rounder gut. Even those who don't mistake the electrical construction contractor for the Bills head coach still insist he must be a close relative.
"I get that, probably, weekly," Durkin laughs. "Every time I go out to dinner I hear people saying, 'Look who's here!' "
It's often said that Buffalo is not a small city but a large room. As such, we fully expect to spot our hometown celebrities around town now and then. And that's precisely what makes the presence of lookalikes such as Durkin so confusing.
Is that him?
Could it be?
Dare I ask?
It's as if the Body Snatchers have invaded Buffalo. They're furiously working overtime, planting alien pods wherever our local luminaries work and play.
They're out there in force, these dead-ringers for athletes, media personalities and politicians. And they're forcing the rest of us to do double takes.
Take Joe Vacanti, for example.
To see the Kenmore Police detective standing next to County Executive Joel Giambra is to feel an undeniable urge to sing the "cousins, identical cousins" line from the theme to "The Patty Duke Show."
"I personally don't see the resemblance," Vacanti sighs.
"But I've heard it so often that it's like, OK. Put us together and I guess I could see it."
And Giambra does.
"Through the nose, yes," the county executive nods, scrutinizing his likeness and warning him not to "go robbing any banks."
"But we gotta get you some gray hair. You get into politics and you'll get some gray hair."
It should be noted that the two men's similarities run only skin deep. If Giambra ever over-books his schedule, he may want to keep searching before hiring Vacanti as his stunt double.
Vacanti, you see, is a Democrat.
Separated at birth?
John Maguda isn't a retired 6 o'clock news anchorman. But he could play one on TV.
When he puts on his brown-rimmed glasses, Maguda manages to pull off a reverse Clark Kent. Suddenly, the mild-mannered music teacher is transformed into broadcasting legend Irv Weinstein.
"It's just a strange coincidence I have learned to live with," says Maguda, music director at Eden High School.
When he was playing trumpet with the Variety Club Telethon's band last year, more than a few Channel 7 employees approached Maguda on the set, smiles of recognition spread across their faces. When they got close enough to make the distinction, they turned away, embarrased at their mistake.
By now, Maguda is used to that.
"I really think it is the glasses. It never happened before I got them."
Sometimes, that's all it takes. A minor change can turn an everyday Joe or Jane into a notable local. A little more facial hair here, a baseball cap there and -- presto! chango! -- the metamorphosis is complete.
For Scott Rusch, a haircut changed everything. After he had the hair trimmed from the back of his neck, the free drinks dried up. The DJs at bars he frequented stopped shouting "Guess who's in the house!" Minus the hockey haircut, no one mistook him for Buffalo Sabres tough guy Rob Ray anymore.
When Dave McMaster sports a goatee, more people tell him that he's the spitting image of Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.
"It's the goatee and the hair -- or lack of it, unfortunately," the North Tonawanda man laughs.
"Friends tell me that if I went to a hockey game wearing a suit I'd probably get in for free. It's kind of tempting to try it. But I'd probably be arrested."
The threat of a rap sheet notwithstanding, it's easy to understand why celebrity doubles would want to capitalize on their looks. Who among us wouldn't have fun assuming a big name's identity? Who wouldn't want to be noticed like we've never been noticed before?
For last year's Garth Brooks concert, Durkin -- aka Phillips -- rented a stretch limousine. At his buddies' urging, he popped his head out of the sunroof as the limo approached hundreds of fans heading for Marine Midland Arena.
The chants began almost immediately.
"Wade! Wade! Wade!"
Linda Lewis doesn't mind being mistaken for Jean Hill. When the owner of her favorite Chinese restaurant offers her an extra-large portion of moo shu chicken, assuming she's the Channel 7 anchor-reporter, Lewis is not about to send her dinner back to the kitchen.
"I look forward to the day Jean and I show up at the same time for dinner, to see the owner's reaction," says Lewis, a courtroom deputy at U.S. District Court.
"Will the real Jean Hill stand up!"
'Like looking at a mirror'
During a broadcast of the Channel 4's "Wake Up" show, "Why Guy" Kevin O'Neill was reporting on an exhibit by local artist Gerald Mead when he noticed an uncanny resemblance between Mead and Channel 4 meteorologist Chuck Gurney.
O'Neill requested a split screen so viewers could compare the men.
When Gurney saw the two of them side by side, he almost fell out of his chair.
"It was like looking at a mirror. I can't tell you the laughter that came out of my belly."
Gurney and Mead had met before, but Gurney didn't notice how similar their features were until that moment. At a previous meeting, the meteorologist bought a piece of Mead's art, crafted from old weather maps and circuit boards. Once, during a party at Gurney's house, Mead borrowed one of the host's Channel 4 sweat shirts.
Later, when he wore it, Mead noticed that strangers were flashing four fingers in his face and shouting "Gotta Watch 4!"
"I always get these odd looks of recognition," remarks Mead, a curator at Burchfield-Penney Art Center. "But people don't usually say anything."
Which is the way it works around here. When you're a carbon copy of the weatherman, that's one thing. When you can pass for one of the most famous athletes in a sports-obsessed city, that's another matter altogether.
To be Doug Flutie's physical back-up -- all 5'9", 180 pounds his back-up -- means you actually have to deal with autograph hounds.
As Mark Bless walks through the mall, it's not uncommon for him to overhear shoppers whispering "there's Flutie," or making under-the-breath comments about the quarterback's plays. Once, a woman slammed into a perfume display as she was craning her neck for a look.
Still, Bless keeps his resemblance to Flutie in perspective.
He knows there will be no cereal named after him. There will be no quarterback controversy swirling around him, no multimillion-dollar contract in his future.
"So, I look like somebody?" he shrugs.
"It's not like it's going to get me anywhere."