It started more than 20 years ago, when Depew native Mark Sarnowski would wear his Bills hat while managing Lodo’s Bar & Grill in downtown Denver. If another native Western New Yorker noticed it, he would invite them back on Sundays to watch the game.
Soon, they had a group of six regulars cheering for the Bills on a single TV. They officially formed the Colorado Bills Backers Club in 1998.
This Sunday, more than 1,000 people will pack into the two-floor Lodo’s to watch the Bills host the hometown Broncos from 1,500 miles away.
“It’s one of the biggest bars in Denver, and we’ll fill that place up to capacity,” said board member Scott Malchow, a West Seneca native who still has a 716 cellphone number 15 years after moving to Colorado.
Lodo’s is owned by Watson Cornell, a Canisius High School graduate and a club board member with Malchow, Sarnowski and Tyler Westbrook.
This week’s pregame party will start at 8:30 a.m. local time. Lodo’s has hired a band to cover Goo Goo Dolls, Tragically Hip and Rick James songs and will be raffling off a trip to watch the upcoming World Juniors hockey game at New Era Field.
The club’s logo features a charging buffalo with the Denver skyline and the ‘C’ from the Colorado on its stripe. Their slogan is “We back the Bills 5,280 times more,” referencing the altitude.
Group: Colorado Bills Backers Club
Membership: More than 1,000
Operating since: 1998
Gather place: Lodo’s Bar & Grill, 1946 Market St., Denver
Tradition: Annual authentic tailgate party
The club has sought to support Buffalo and Denver-based charities in recent years, Malchow said. Last year, they raised $9,000 to help with medical costs for a child with a rare form of cancer. This year’s fundraising initiative will be announced at halftime on Sunday.
Bills fans from nearby cities like Colorado Springs and Fort Collins make the 60-mile drive to watch games at Lodo’s. And not all of the club members are Western New York transplants.
“We have quite a few diehards from North Dakota, Oklahoma, states that didn’t have an NFL team,” Malchow said. “You wonder why you’re from middle-of-nowhere Montana, and you’re a Bills fan? But a lot of them are around my age , and growing up in the '90s we were a team that was fun to follow.”
Every year, the club hosts a tailgate party at Lodo’s, with sponsored “Taste of Buffalo” items added to the usual fare of beef on weck and chicken wings.
“We start early, with the barrel fires and everything,” Malchow said. “It’s supposed to look like we remember it in Orchard Park. We try to replicate it as much as we can.”
This year’s party will be held before the Nov. 19 game against the Chargers, giving fans an extra three hours to tailgate before kickoff at 2 p.m. (local time).
Sunday will draw the biggest crowd of the season, but it will be a "divided house," Malchow said. "We don't get Broncos fans in here all that much," he added, "but when the Bills are playing the Broncos, they show up for that."
Jonah Bronstein is a BNblitz.com contributor. If your Bills Backers club has a unique story, reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story topics: Bills Backers