If you’ve ever been to New Era Field in Orchard Park, you’ve seen the house. Just across the parking lot, it sits on a nearby side street with its backyard facing the stadium. Painted white with blue and red trim, the Buffalo Bills logo and the signature hashtag #BillsMafia, it’s hard to miss.
“It’s owned by a guy named Shane Prouty,” said Breyon Harris. “I’ve only been there one time when it was first painted, but I believe people go there all the time. He’s a great guy.”
Harris, 29, is one of the original founders of #BillsMafia — an expansive network and supportive movement of diehard Bills fans from across Western New York and all over the country.
It began, like many networks do these days, on Twitter.
Back in 2010, Stevie Johnson dropped what would have been a game-winning, catchable, full-of-playoff-implications touchdown pass in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Johnson was blasted on social media, even by Bills fans. But when ESPN’s notorious NFL leaker, Adam Schefter, weighed in, Harris and his friend Del Reid came to Johnson’s defense.
“It started with me, Del and a few others trolling Adam Schefter and sticking up for Stevie. We all got blocked by Schefter on Twitter. So, Del called us BillsMafia and we ran with it. It really could have been a flash-in-the-pan thing. But I had a feeling it would stick because football players and fans love that stuff. Once I got the players to catch wind of it, I knew the rest would be history.”
Name: Breyon Harris
Current location: Virginia
Previous location: Buffalo
Bills fan since: “The womb”
Most memorable moment as Bills fan: When the Pegulas bought the Bills
Harris was right. The name stuck. And the BillsMafia has become a growing and evolving network that offers an instant way to connect with other passionate Bills fans no matter where you live or whether it’s the offseason or not. Twitter is constantly ablaze with Bills-themed tweets by fans and players using the now-famous hashtag, #BillsMafia. Even some of the legendary Bills Hall-of-Famers, including Andre Reed, use it in their tweets.
But for Harris, it’s more than hashtag. It’s an extended family.
“It’s basically Bills fans from different walks of life coming together to support a team. We really eat, sleep and bleed Bills. It’s incredible. You won’t find a fan base that is more passionate about their team than us. The first time BillsMafia got together in Buffalo for a ‘tweetup,’ the moment was so surreal and overwhelming. Everyone was so friendly and the Bills won the game.”
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Unfortunately, Harris doesn’t get to make it to most Bills home games. Though lived in Buffalo when he was younger, his family moved to Virginia in 1999, and he has lived there ever since.
“I used to watch games at a Bills backer bar in Virginia Beach,” he said. “But now I have Sunday NFL Ticket, so I just watch the games at home. I haven’t missed a game since 2005.”
Even though he’s not in Buffalo for the games, Harris says he can still feel the energy of the fans through Twitter.
“I remember the game after the [Terry and Kim] Pegulas bought the Bills and beat the [Miami] Dolphins. I tweeted at the time that we would’ve beat any team that day, which is a fact because the energy in that city and amongst Bills fans was unlike anything I ever felt and I wasn’t even in the city.”
A Bills fan “since the womb,” Harris says it’s the kind of energy that only Bills fans would be able to understand. The kind that makes your heart race and your endorphins run crazy. The kind you can feel even through 140 characters. With the hashtag #BillsMafia, of course.
If you or anyone you know is a diehard Bills fan and has an interesting story to tell about rooting for Buffalo no matter where you or they might live, email LynsD21@gmail.com.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a freelance writer. Visit her website at lyndseydarcangelo.com or follow her on Twitter @darcangel21.