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Diehard Bills fans head to Detroit to keep their streaks alive

The Streak appears to be alive – for Ken Johnson, Peter Braun and probably lots of other Bills diehards scrambling to get to tonight’s Bills-Jets game in Detroit.

The relocated home game will mark the 336th straight Bills game – regular season and playoffs, home and away – attended by Johnson, a Rochester software developer. His streak dates back to 1994.

Braun’s streak is a bit more modest. He hasn’t missed a Bills regular-season home game for 29 years, although he passed on the ill-fated Bills in Toronto series.

“I was given an exemption for the Toronto series, because of the moral stand I took in not endorsing the Toronto games,” kidded Braun, an attorney with Phillips Lytle in downtown Buffalo. “But for this game, morality didn’t come into play.”

Johnson and Braun were two of thousands of Bills fans heading to Detroit in the last couple days. No one knows for sure how many Bills fans will attend, but the team, after canvassing its season-ticket holders via email, gave a rough estimate of 4,000 to 6,000 season-ticket holders attending and maybe another 3,000 who previously had bought tickets for this game.

While Braun didn’t decide to go to the Jets game until late Sunday night, Johnson always knew he’d make it, even after authorities determined late last week that the game wouldn’t be played in snow-buried Orchard Park.

“I never go to keep the streak alive,” Johnson said at mid-morning today, not far from Detroit. “I go because I want to go. I always look forward to the games, wherever they are.

“It’s not ever in my mind not to go to the games,” he added. “I don’t even consider it. It’s become routine. And it’s not that hard to do.”

The idea for Johnson’s streak began in 1993, when he decided that any true Bills fan had to attend all 16 games, home and away, in one year. He didn’t pull off the feat that season, but attended all 16 games the following year.

When the Bills opened the 1995 season in Denver, Johnson drove there and later decided to extend the streak to 20 games, then 25.

“Twenty five led to 30, 30 to 40, 40 led to 50 and when I hit 50, I knew it was the point of no return,” he said. Johnson drives or flies to the games, but that decision doesn’t have much to do with the distance involved. He’s driven to Seattle, San Francisco, Kansas City, Minnesota and other far-flung locales, and his trusty 1983 Ford Pinto has become a fixture outside Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“One year I drove to all 16,” he said.

Including Monday night’s game, Johnson has attended 331 regular-season and five playoff games. He has no idea how long his streak will last. But, health permitting, he has no plans to stop any time soon.

Johnson then paraphrased Forrest Gump: “One day I’m going to wake up and say, ‘I think I’m going to stay home today.’ ”

Braun, the attorney who lives in Amherst, began his streak in 1986, buying season tickets a month before the team signed Jim Kelly. He planned to stay home for this game, until his older son, Pat, 29, started bugging him late last week about his streak.

“Pat told me that my streak of not missing a Bills home game for 29 years was in jeopardy, because this is a home game,” Braun said. “I said it’s not really a home game. It’s in Detroit.”

But then his younger son, Brendan, added the clincher: “There will always be an asterisk if you don’t attend this game.”

“That hit me where it hurts,” Braun admitted.

He had only two season-ticket cards and no way to print tickets late Sunday, but after exchanging emails with his Bills ticket-account manager late Sunday night and borrowing another season-ticket card from a friend, Braun headed off late this morning with his two sons to drive to the game.

Braun and Johnson, both obviously passionate fans, disagreed slightly on one point, whether their obsession with the Bills could be considered a disease.

“Obviously, I have a disease,” Braun said, with a poker face. “I haven’t fully treated it yet, but it is encouraging to recognize it as a disease.

“I’m feeding the disease,” he admitted about his last-minute decision to head to Detroit. “I realize that.”

Johnson doesn’t call it a disease.

“Actually, I think it’s normal,” he said, before changing his mind. “No, I know it’s not normal, but it’s become so routine.”

The Bills, of course, have no clue whether tonight’s crowd will be pro-Buffalo.

Despite the thousands of Bills diehards heading from here to Detroit, there’s speculation that the crowd could have more people rooting for the Jets. That’s because a Detroit radio station encouraged people to pick up the free tickets and root for the Jets, or against the Bills, whose defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, the former Lions head coach, was carried off the field by his players when the Bills beat the Lions on Oct. 5.

The Bills hope the crowd reaches or approaches the capacity of some 65,000, but there are too many unknown variables to gauge.

“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families in our community and everything they continue to deal with back home,” Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon said today. The fact that some of our fans are able to make the trip to Detroit speaks to the passion of our fan base, but also that so many of our fans will be watching the game on television during this time period speaks to that passion as well.”

email: gwarner@buffnews.com

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