It was 4 degrees outside, 1 in the morning and the end of a long night of New Year's celebration.
Even so, hundreds of Buffalo Bills fans – perhaps 500 or more, many wearing Bills jerseys over their winter coats – waited in the bitter cold to cheer the players as they walked off their plane early in the New Year on Monday.
The Bills land in Buffalo after ending their 17-year playoff drought! This is video shot by WGR beat reporter and Bills' sideline reporter Sal Capaccio as he and the team stepped off the plane into a wild scene of rabid Bills fans!
Posted by WGR Sports Radio 550 on Sunday, December 31, 2017
The outdoor scene at the Air Cargo Center took on a festive atmosphere, with euphoric people still in a state of disbelief after the Bills made the playoffs following 17 years of futility.
"I've never seen a playoff game in my life," said Michael Grimaldi, 23, who lives in North Tonawanda and was there with his brother, Jonathan, and Paul, his father. "I was 5 the last time the Bills went to the playoffs. I literally cannot explain how I'm feeling."
"I lived through the Bills' Super Bowl days, and I want my kids to experience it," Paul Grimaldi said. "It's generational, man."
While they waited, impromptu chants were heard of "AN-DY DAL-TON," for the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback who threw the winning touchdown to beat the Baltimore Ravens and carry the Bills into the playoffs.
Chants of "Trust the Process" also rang out from the crowd in honor of Coach Sean McDermott's mantra.
Fans were kept behind a fence topped with barbed wire when the plane arrived and had no direct contact with the players as they walked off the plane, but a few of the Bills acknowledged them as they walked past, and some raised their own cellphones to capture the gathered, cheering throng. Most fans were unable to see much of the tarmac but still added their voices.
"The last time the Bills made the playoffs I was 12 years old, and I got home just in time to watch the not-really-a-touchdown, 'Music City Miracle,'" Derek Jozwiak said.
That won't happen this time. But he and Allyson Yelich aren't going to be watching next Sunday's playoff game on TV.
"We're going to Jacksonville next week, we bought tickets!" Yelich said.
Welcomed home by the best fans in the world.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 1, 2018
Earlier, within the first few minutes after the playoff berth was clinched in double-cliffhanger games by the Bills and the Bengals, fans in downtown Buffalo struggled to process the end of the NFL's longest playoff drought.
"I'm on the verge of tears," said John Litzinger of Hamburg. "I grew up in Buffalo, and lived in Buffalo my whole life. This is the first time as an adult that I can say we're going to the playoffs. It's pretty awesome."
Die-hard Bills fan Andrew Schwendner also was pretty emotional at the realization that the Bills were playoff-bound. Schwendner dropped to his knees, hands folded in the air, as the seconds ticked down on the Baltimore Ravens-Cincinnati Bengals game, as the trailing Bengals got the ball and had to score for the Bills to get the wild card spot.
"My prayers are answered," Schwendner said. "I've been a season ticket holder since 2000. It's my wife, my kid and the Buffalo Bills."
For the first time in those 18 years, Bills fans won't have to start of the new year watching other teams and waiting for "next year."
They get to watch the Bills play against Jacksonville next Sunday.
"It's awesome, and it's about time," Norman Isaacs said. "It's been over half my life since I've seen them in a playoff. I'm happy they finally did it."
As usual, the Bills didn't make it easy, nearly squandering a safe lead as the Miami Dolphins narrowed Buffalo's lead to six points before safety Jordan Poyer put the game away with an interception with 49 seconds to go. The Ravens were defeated on a touchdown pass by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton with 44 seconds left.
"It was extremely nerve-wracking," said Pat Hanavan, as he watched the ends of both games inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, where First Night family activities were held.
"I'm stressed out. You couldn't have written it better for a nail-biter," Hanavan said.