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For tailgaters, Bills Nation starts with community

In the parking lots where tailgaters gathered Sunday for the Buffalo Bills' home opener, it could just as well have been the return of Kelly Holcomb or Thad Lewis at quarterback as starter Josh Allen.

That's because tailgating is about more than just the game.

It's about Bills Nation.

"We're here all home games – rain, sleet, sun, snow, it doesn't matter," DJ Swagg said.

Swagg mixed beats for a couple dozen friends and family while Jerry Bailey worked up a sweat tending to a grill full of hot dogs. Others nearby nursed beers.

"We prepare food and party all the way through," Swagg said. "We have Sunday dinner out here."

Big metal containers on a table offered macaroni and cheese, ribs, chicken, baked beans and potato salad.

"I've been a Bills fan all my life," Bailey said. "The Bills could be 0-13, 0-16 and I'm still going to be here."

Season ticket holders Corey and Heather Yaskow enjoyed the scene a bean bag's throw from a group playing cornhole.

"I like the community, and everyone who comes out, even if you're a rival supporter," said a bare-chested Corey Yaskow, wearing shorts and Bills sneakers.

"I love the fact that no matter who you are and no matter where you're from, you're one big family when you're at a Bills tailgate," Heather Yaskow said. "It's one big party."

Tailgaters came from near and far.

One group departed Rome, in the central part of the state, at 5:30 a.m. to get into the Bills lot at 9 a.m.

Burgers, beef tips and pizzas were on their menu.

Next to them were Mike and Kris Murphy, who drove from Rochester.

"I like watching the people and all the stuff going on," Kris Murphy said after the couple cooked a breakfast of eggs, sausage and bacon. "It's entertaining at its finest."

Alongside was a group that met up from Syracuse, Binghamton and Westfield. Chicken wing dip simmered nearby.

Lorin LeBuff, of Lackawanna, proudly displayed his tricked-out 1965 Chevy van with the license plate Bils4lfe he and his son, Andrew, reconditioned. The red, white and blue interior included Buffalo nickels embedded into red crushed velvet.

"We are die-hard Bills fans, man," Lorin LeBuff said. "My entire family. You have no idea how much we love this team."

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A crowd of 30 to 40 people hovered near a shrimp boil, feasting on corn, shrimp, crayfish, potatoes and crab laid out on a long table.

"We all come together as a family," said Jason Fritz, a native Buffalonian who lives in Syracuse.

The game, he said, was second in importance.

"Honestly, when you're here doing this, it's all about the people and the atmosphere more than the game," Fritz said. "But I always make it. You're dealing with [tailgating] pros."

While alcohol flowed in the public and private parking lots where tailgaters gathered, and grilled meats, fish and cheese were devoured, four people from Canada chose to enjoy their food and beverages in elegance.

"We always start out with champagne and oysters," said Chris Dunn, of Toronto, sitting with friends at a table with champagne glasses, dishes and cutlery.

"We will finish up with steak, mushrooms, onions and red wine," said James Williams, of Mississauga.

Bettina Weide, also of Toronto, said she has grown fond of the Bills Nation tailgating atmosphere.

"I come from the soccer world in Brazil," she said. "It's completely different, but it's fun."

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