Some Buffalo Bills fans who decline to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and are therefore no longer allowed to attend home games at Highmark Stadium are now planning to go to a road game instead.
And some players are buying them tickets.
For Bills games, all fans must have at least a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to attend the team's next home game Sept. 26.
“They have a stance on it and they’re just kind of trying to help people out, knowing that you don’t have to be vaccinated, let’s say for example, at Arrowhead Stadium,” Bills fan Jordan Larrington said.
After Erie County and Pegula Sports and Entertainment announced Tuesday that proof of vaccination is a requirement for entry to home games, Bills All-Pro slot receiver Cole Beasley, who has been one of the most vocal NFL players against vaccination mandates, and long snapper Reid Ferguson each responded to unvaccinated fans on social media who expressed disappointment in the edict by offering to purchase tickets to the road game of their choice.
The Bills are the fourth NFL team to require vaccination to attend games, joining the Seattle Seahawks, Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints – which host Buffalo on Thanksgiving – meaning seven of eight road games this season are possibilities, beginning with Sunday’s game at the Miami Dolphins.
Stadium and arena goers must be fully vaccinated to attend games and events by the end of October. The only exception is for children younger than 12, who must wear a mask inside the stadium.
The players’ gestures have drawn a wide range of responses online, from applause to condemnation.
“I always thought that Cole Beasley was a good guy, but man, this just puts him at the top of all NFL players for me,” said Chris Hauquitz, a 39-year-old father of five from Albuquerque, N.M., whose Twitter profile picture features his family in matching Bills pajamas in front of a Christmas tree.
Hauquitz tagged Beasley in a tweet Tuesday.
“@Bease11 sad day for me as a Buffalo fan,” Hauquitz wrote. “I was bringing my 10 year old daughter to her first game in December all the way from Albuquerque. Already bought tickets. I won’t get the shot so now I don’t know what to do. I probably need to sell the tickets and find an away game.”
Beasley responded: “If you find an away game you are able to go to then I will buy the tickets for you guys. DM me names and everything snd (sic) I’ll figure out the best way to make it happen. Wish she could witness the mafia!”
The Bills got a taste this week of what can happen when that many players are unvaccinated.
Hauquitz told The Buffalo News that Beasley was working to get him tickets to the Oct. 10 game at Kansas City and explained that his refusal to get vaccinated was based on a combination of factors, including a lack of education about the Covid-19 vaccines – which are free, widely available, highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death, if not outright infection, and in the case of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I’ve had Covid, so in my opinion, I’ve already got the antibodies,” Hauquitz said. “I think they’re just as good as the vaccine. The vaccine came out pretty rushed. I don’t really know all the information. In my opinion, there’s so little information out there and it all seems to be one-sided. And then, personally, my religious beliefs. I think God created me for a purpose. He has a plan for my life. And whether I have the vaccine or not, I’m taken care of.”
The three Covid-19 vaccines in use in the United States are collectively 86% effective in preventing hospitalization, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest to date on the real-world effectiveness of the Moderna (95%), Pfizer (80%) and Johnson & Johnson (60%) shots.
The study involved about 32,000 patients who visited hospitals, emergency departments and urgent-care clinics in nine states between June and early August.
Hauquitz said he had Covid-19 late last year, that it manifested as a light head cold for two days and that he lost his sense of taste and smell for about six to eight hours.
“I did get tested,” Hauquitz said. “They just said go home, drink lots of fluid. I did that and I was fine. My wife got it. We huddled up as family. I took the ‘chicken pox approach’ and thought, well, let’s all get together and get it over with. My youngest boy had the sniffles for about a week and my youngest daughter (also got sick). But nobody else.”
His children’s ages are 12 years to 23 months, he said.
“As an offense, you want to get to the point to where every time you step on the field, you're getting points,” Beasley said.
More than 41.5 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19 and more than 666,400 have died, according to the latest statistics from the CDC. The risk for severe illness and death from Covid-19 increases with age. There are fewer than 500 reported deaths among those ages 17 and younger.
Larrington, a 29-year-old Bills fan from Nebraska who said he always played Buffalo in Tecmo Bowl as a child, told The News that his pregnant fiancée and the rest of his family are vaccinated, but that he doesn’t feel the need because he’s relatively young and in good health.
Larrington tagged Ferguson in a tweet because the two had previously exchanged messages about hunting and grilling on social media. Larrington was planning to bring Ferguson bear grease, which he said is good for reverse searing meat and making pancakes.
“Well damn. Was so excited to see the @BuffaloBills play at home for the first time ever, especially being from Nebraska,” Larrington wrote. “But I guess the new rules for the stadium will keep me out. I guess I’ll have to watch @SnapFlow69 (Ferguson) from the parking lot if I even go to Buffalo now…”
"Here we are in 2021, and Bills-Dolphins is pretty hot again for a couple reasons," writes Mark Gaughan.
Ferguson responded: “I hear you brother. If you can find your way to an away game this year, tix are on me,” adding a pound emoji and #BillsMafia.
Each tweet and response received a torrent of criticism from Bills fans who said they didn't want to be exposed to unvaccinated people, and accused the players of not only rewarding fans for being unvaccinated, but encouraging them to travel.
Hauquitz said some fans found his phone number and left nasty messages.
“I didn’t even notice (Ferguson) responded for the longest time, because of everything else that was on my phone,” Larrington said. “And that’s just people being people. If you want to say bad things, go for it. I’m not going to say anything bad. I’m not going to judge you for what your stance is, whether it be the same as mine or different than mine. Pretty much all I’m responding to everybody is ‘Go Bills!’ ”
Larrington said he’s also considering attending the game in Kansas City, which is a three-hour drive from his home.
As for the offer from Ferguson?
“That’s more generous than I could have ever asked for,” Larrington said. “I wasn’t even thinking anything of the sort until I woke up and sifted through some tweets and found that one. I was like, ‘Oh. OK. Maybe that’s why this blew up.’
“We’d like to maybe still go up to Buffalo. You never know. There were nice people reaching out saying, ‘Hey, come tailgate with us if you want to and watch the game from there.’ So we’re not opposed to it. I’ve heard the atmosphere is phenomenal. Of course, you want to go into the game. But if you can’t, you can’t.”
Anthony Trifilo, 39, of Boston, is the president and founder of “Pancho’s Army.”
The grassroots organization honors the late Bills superfan Ezra “Pancho Billa” Castro – who was 39 when he died in May 2019 after a long battle with cancer – in part by raising money for cancer patients and military veterans.
But Trifilo also took a public stance against the vaccine mandate, even though cancer patients, by virtue of their suppressed immune system, are among those most at risk of dying from Covid-19.
“Sad to say #PANCHOSARMY and family will not (sic) longer Going to Any @BuffaloBills Games at HOME due to current Mandates Made,” Trifilo tweeted. “Hope Everyone enjoys The rest of the Season God Bless And Goooooo Bills.”
Trifilo clarified to The News that he was speaking just for himself and his immediate family.
He said he’s relinquishing his season tickets – the Bills are offering prorated refunds – and that he’s not judging anyone regarding their vaccination status.
“Bills Mafia is a big family,” Trifilo said. “And it’s tough to see how people are tearing people down whether you’re vaccinated or not. It’s sad, actually.”
Trifilo said Erie County and the Bills handled the announcement of the vaccine mandate, two days after the season opener, “very poorly.”
“It felt like they were the drug dealer and they were saying, ‘Your first hit is free, but the second one is going to cost you,’” Trifilo said. “The Pegulas are in a rough spot, too, and then you’ve got (Erie County Executive) Mark Poloncarz power tripping. It is what it is. That’s the way I see it. It’s all a political game.”
Erie County reported 1,449 new Covid-19 cases last week, a 10% increase from the previous week, according to health department data.
The rate of 152 cases per 100,000 residents – and anything over 100 – qualifies as “high transmission,” according to the CDC.
“We believe this is the best and only way to ensure a truly safe atmosphere where Covid-19 cannot be passed, where people will be put at risk,” Poloncarz said outside the stadium at a press conference to announce the vaccine mandate Tuesday.
Poloncarz thanked Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula for their full support. He was joined by PSE executive vice president Ron Raccuia.
“We are looking to provide the safest environment for our fans that we possibly can,” Raccuia said. “We’re thankful for this collaboration and feel this is the right thing moving forward.”
The CDC reports 76.1% of adults in the U.S. have received at least one vaccine injection.
Trifilo said he had Covid-19 early in the pandemic and had a fever and chills for four or five days.
“I think there should be alternative ways to go about this,” Trifilo said. “Why not a negative test? I’ve got antibodies. And my son is 13 years old. I’m not subjecting him to something that’s not foolproof. I’ve got all my vaccinations. I’m not antivax by any stretch of the imagination. I just want one that’s going to actually work. Because people are still getting Covid and they’re still spreading Covid, whether they’re vaccinated or not.”
According to the results of recent CDC studies, people who are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 are nearly five times more likely to be infected, nearly 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and nearly 11 times more likely to die than those who are fully vaccinated.
“I wasn’t fortunate enough to get tickets from the football players,” Trifilo said. “I had to get my own. But I’ll still be able to share (Bills games) with my son, whether we watch it here or we watch it at a restaurant or a sports venue or whatever the case may be. But I know I’m going to Tennessee and I’m sitting front row for the Monday Night game. And then I plan on probably picking up a couple more road games. It is what it is.