Three white, plastic tables sit under a red pop-up tent for a growing crowd of around 85 people in a parking lot outside New Era Field.
No one is jumping through these tables. They're used for a more innocent purpose, as brothers Rory and Ray Parker cook and assemble stinger subs — shaved steak, marinated chicken fingers, lettuce, tomato, cheese and Italian dressing plopped on a sub roll.
Rory is a mailman. Ray is a construction worker. For eight Sundays, however, in Lot Three, between the RV and bus lots, the two turn into game-day caterers.
Fans in that lot paint a different tailgate scene than the table-smashing Buffalo tailgating reputation spread by sites like Barstool Sports and Deadspin, and, of course, by those partaking in the unruly tailgates.
There wasn’t a table-smasher in sight here, but instead, friends played putt-putt on a pop-up green outside their RV. Others tossed a football around. The sound of searing grills and smell of summer’s last-chance grilled foods permeated the air, along with the sharp, warring sounds of booming music and fans' voices. Someone called this "craft tailgating."
Yes, people were shotgunning beers and consuming too much cholesterol, but no one was playing a game of brute force versus a plastic table or setting someone on fire. It was rowdy, sure, but a tame rowdy.
And it’s how these Bills fans have liked it for nearly a decade.
"I love that Barstool and Deadspin are all about the Bills rowdiness, but here we’re about food and drink and fun and that’s it," Ray Parker said, standing over the grill and flipping shaved steak. "You can smash through the next door neighbor’s table, you can smash through your own table at the bus lot, that’s fine by me. But here, we just have fun, drink and eat.”
While Ray Parker might not mind Buffalo’s table-smashing reputation, a lot of his friends at the tailgate didn’t think the reputation fairly portrays the Bills fan base. After all, these are the same fans that raised over $450,000 for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s foundation after he threw the touchdown pass that ended the Bills' 17-year playoff drought.
“All I ever hear about is these rowdy tailgate, horrible Buffalo fans and that’s not who we are,” said Kit Trapasso, a friend of the Parkers. “For the Buffalo Bills bashers that say we’re animals, they’re wrong. This is the essence of what Bills football and Bills tailgating is all about, not bashing tables and acting like idiots.”
A game-day tradition
The 85 people at the Parker brothers' tailgate include lifelong friends from the Parkers' hometown of Medina, friends from their college years at SUNY Fredonia, plus friends from their current South Buffalo neighborhood. Those friends bring their own friends.
Between the official, professionally made "Parker Brothers Tailgate" sign, the creative menu the brothers begin planning in January and the mandatory Facebook RSVPs, the Parker brothers take their tailgate seriously.
From his spot in the stinger assembly line, Rory Parker rattled off that Sunday's grocery list: 30 pounds of chicken fingers, 10 pounds of shaved steak, 10 pounds of tomatoes, five pounds of onions and a 20-pound bag of lettuce. The food isn’t cheap, but the two brothers aren’t concerned about that, taking suggested $10 donations in an empty cardboard Genesee box.
“Not that money’s not an object, but we love doing it, so it’s like, whatever it costs,” Ray Parker said.
“Nobody’s shy about showing their appreciation and talking these guys up,” said Jack Shea, a longtime friend. He's wearing a tie-dye Bills shirt and backward red baseball cap, nursing a beer and standing under the tent, keeping the two company while they work. “We can’t say enough good things about them.”
“Eight Sundays a year, that’s all it is," Ray Parker said. "So when you stack it up against the 365 days we have, it’s not that much."
On their menu for the rest of the season: garbage plates (a favorite, many said), spaghetti and meatballs, and deep-fried turkeys. Not on the menu: hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages.
Back on the stinger assembly line, the brothers work in tandem: Ray is frying chicken fingers, dumping the silver basket of fingers into the plastic bowl in Rory's hands, where he tosses them with hot "Country Sweet Best Cooking Sauce" and adds them to the subs.
It's nearing game time, which means it's one of the last chances to eat and drink before it's time to enter the stadium. Both brothers are breaking a sweat, but just from the heat on an 86-degree day with a bubbling fryer and a 36-inch cast-iron stove top nearby.
Neither brother seems stressed by the long line of people. Often, Rory Parker said he misses kickoff to clean up, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
The Parker brothers are giving Jim's Steakout a run for its money.
“We’re not even cooks,” Rory Parker said.