With as many as 15,000 friends coming into town this weekend, leaders of the Buffalo Bills Backers of Jacksonville knew they couldn’t just wing it.
Joe Davis was on Grand Island watching last Sunday’s games when the Bengals clawed back to beat the Ravens and officially end the Bills’ playoff drought.
“As soon as Dalton threw that touchdown pass I was on StubHub getting my tickets,” Davis said. “Then I was pretty much on the phone for the next two days planning this thing. It’s exciting and overwhelming. Usually, if the Bills play down here, it’s on the schedule and you have months to plan. But this has been fun to put together because I know it’s what the Bills fans want.”
Davis, a Kenmore native, and Jay Plachta of Riverside are the acting presidents of the Jacksonville chapter, of which more than 90 percent of the members are Western New York expats, Davis said.
The group has organized the pregame tailgate party in Lot X at EverBank Field and a Saturday night gathering at Wing-It on Old St. Augustine Road, the Bills Backers of Jacksonville’s regular meeting place.
Davis, a Bills season ticket-holder who attends about four home games and four away games each season, compared the tailgate party to the large Lot 1 off Big Tree Road at New Era Field.
“There will be room for anybody who wants to show up,” Davis said. “Jaguar fans don’t really park in that lot.”
The group has tailgated in Lot X prior to regular season games the Bills have played in Jacksonville, most recently in 2013.
“It’s been pretty crazy in the past I think we can multiply that by 100-fold for this game,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a lot like Hammer’s lot at New Era.”
Ken “Pinto Ron” Johnson and his notorious bowling ball will also be on hand to further re-create the Orchard Park atmosphere.
There will be restrooms at the lot and a few grills and coolers available to use. Attendees will need to bring their own food and beverages.
On Saturday night, the chapter will be able to accommodate about 500 Bills fans inside Wing-It and in the Party Zone parking lot, Davis said. The party starts at 7 p.m. A DJ will be playing the “Shout!” song at regular intervals and the bar will offer its usual Sunday specials on Labbatt Blue and chicken wings.
“I’d have to say that Wing-It has the best wings you will find in Florida,” Davis said.
On most Sundays, about 250 Bills fans show up to Wing-It to watch the game on six screens. The bar is large enough that fans of other teams can also watch games there, but the sound is tuned to the Bills game.
“They have been our Bills Backer Bar for over 15 years and have treated us like family,” Plachta said in a Facebook post.
A second party, organized by Ryan Stang, founder of the Buffalo Spikes for Tykes event, will be held downtown at Jacksonville Landing. That event starts at 7 p.m. and will feature happy hour specials at the various bars and restaurants in the festival marketplace along the St. John’s River.
Stang will also host a pregame party on the upper deck of Tailgate Bar and Grill, 441 Haines Street, a short walk from Gate 3 at EverBank Field. An open bar from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. is included with a $50 VIP ticket. The downstairs and outside bars are open to the public. Food trucks will be on hand. Limited parking spots can be purchased in advance.
Chapter: Bills Backers of Jacksonville
Membership: About 250
Gathering place: Wing-It, 11018 Old St. Augustine Rd., Jacksonville, Fla.
Jonah Bronstein is a BNblitz.com contributor. If your Bills Backers chapter has a unique story, reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story topics: Bills Backers