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Buffalo in the '70s: Carrying your own six-pack into Bills games

It might have been the birth of the modern tailgate party in Buffalo.

A few days before the grand opening of the brand new Rich Stadium in 1973, the Buffalo Bills put fans on notice that they’d no longer be able to take their own six-packs of beer into the stadium, as they’d been able to do the previous 13 seasons at the Rockpile.

Noting that the changes were being made “for the safety of the fans,” Bills General Manager Robert Lustig told United Press International that the Bills were falling in line with “almost all other major league football stadiums,” and added that War Memorial Stadium was, in part, bring-your-own-beer because there weren’t adequate concession facilities in the 1937-built stadium.

While the more cynical among us might see dollar signs behind the safety warning, the ban was likely a long time coming after a handful of well-publicized incidents at Buffalo’s city-owned entertainment venues.

In response to what Larry Felser called “one of the most inept performances ever put on by a Buffalo football team,” several hundred fans at a 1962 game showered the field at the Rockpile with thousands of beer cans.

Buffalo Stories archives

Two years later, Buffalo Police called it a “near riot” when fans at The Aud hurled empty beer and pop bottles at the stage and at police when a music act failed to show.

Given those two incidents, Police Commissioner William Schneider requested that city lawmakers pass an ordinance barring people from bringing beer into city-owned Memorial Auditorium and War Memorial Stadium.

One of Buffalo's more famous tailgate parties is hosted by Ken Johnson, who cooks on the front hood of his red 1980 Ford Pinto wagon. He's known as Pinto Kenny or Pinto Ron-- after a writer got his name wrong in a story. Buffalo News archives

When Rich Stadium was built in 1973, there was a proposed law before the Erie County Legislature looking to ban fans from carrying beer into the stadium. A petition against the law gained nearly 5,000 signatures, but the Bills rule made the law unnecessary.

Known for his Pinto, Ken Johnson is also known for bowling ball liquor shots and the spraying of condiments – which started after a request for some ketchup for his hamburger got out of hand at one tailgate party. Buffalo News archives.

Starting with the Bills move to Orchard Park, if you wanted to have a few of your own beers for the game, you had to have them in the parking lot before you went in the gates. And out in the open farmland country of suburbia, there was plenty of room to have a few beers and spread out.

Tailgating at the Rockpile was different. People parked on city streets or on the tiny front lawns of the people who lived around the stadium. Maybe there were a few kids throwing around a football or older guys chomping on cigars, drinking coffee from a Thermos and reading the newspaper, grabbing their six-packs only as they walked into the stadium — not draining them before.

Over the 43 years since the Bills stopped allowing fans to BYOB, Buffalo’s love of football and beer and Buffaloness has evolved into its own unique cultural experience — the tailgate party like none other.

 

 

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