Inductions of Bills is a Cause for Celebration

CANTON — About 90 minutes before the ceremony, the rains began to subside over central Ohio. The late-afternoon skies turned clear and bright, as if the football gods — perhaps on notice from Tim Russert and Jack Kemp — were smiling down on the Hall of Fame inductions at Fawcett Stadium.

Outside a Bills party tent, Mildred Jackson held an old color photograph in her hands. It was a shot of Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, walking side by side at Rich Stadium in the early 1990s. The two Hall of Famers seemed so very young, bursting with life and possibility.

"I took it myself," Jackson said proudly. "I'm hoping to get it autographed. I'll give it my best shot. But we're just happy to be here at the Hall of Fame. Bruce Smith and Ralph Wilson? Oh, come on!"

Mary Ann Cole, her friend, nodded in assent. Cole and Jackson had season tickets in the same section for a decade in the Bills glory days. Jackson, a retired Roswell Park nurse, adored Smith. She and Cole loved cheering on the defense and feeling part of the 12th Man — or 12th Woman, if you will.

"I wouldn't miss this for anything," Jackson said. "Bruce Smith? No way. I was in that cold, hollering "Bruuuuuce' every week. I was a season-ticket holder for 15 years. That's how Mary Ann and I met. We met at a game and we've been friends ever since."

Evidently, a lot of Bills fans felt they couldn't miss it, either. Saturday's annual Hall of Fame inductions had a distinct Buffalo flavor. Hall officials estimated that 30 percent of the tickets were purchased in Buffalo, but that didn't include the innumerable Bills fans who came here from other locales.

More than half the crowd was Bills fans. Once the night wore on, it was a running joke among the presenters. Those Bills jerseys were everywhere — Smith, Thomas, Kelly, Smerlas, Flutie, Posluszny, Buffalo Soldiers, you name it.

It was a sea of red, white and blue.

When the present Hall of Famers were introduced at the start of the night, the Bills got by far the largest cheers. Both sides of the stadium rose in unison, dominated by Buffalo fans.

It truly was a Buffalo night in Canton, a dual celebration of the Bills' 50-year history and the only team in NFL history to reach four straight Super Bowls. Wilson and Smith went into the Hall as a pair, which gave the festivities an added touch for Buffalo. Walking around the stadium late Saturday afternoon, I was struck by how many fans had come to the induction in pairs.

Jackson and Cole became friends at a Bills home game. Pat Quinn and Shaun McEvoy began going to Bills games together in the early 1990s. They remember games in vivid detail, like all good fans. This was their first Hall of Fame induction.

Sowmya Varadarajan and Brian Battaglia shared a passion for the Bills when attending RIT in the mid-1990s. Varadarajan, a native of India, has moved all over the world since graduating from college. But he's a devoted Bills fan. He and Battaglia go to a couple of Bills games every year. Varadarajan traveled to Canton from New York City.

Battaglia came all the way from Phoenix. They wouldn't have missed the chance to see Wilson and Smith go into the Hall.

"It is very cool," said Varadarajan. "No. 1, Bruce going in in his first year of eligibility. And Ralph, for good or bad, he's kept the team in Buffalo. I'm thankful for that. I thought he deserved to go in long before this, and I'm glad he got the recognition while he was still alive."

No one can say how much longer Wilson will own the team, or what will happen to the Bills when he is gone. Chances are, Buffalo sports fans will never see another night quite like this one, when the town's love and devotion for its football team are on full display for the nation.

In the end, it's about the shared obsession, the way being a fan connects you to other people. How many Buffalo kids waited year after year for their parents to see the Bills in a Super Bowl? How many fans have developed a bond with other people who owned season tickets in the same section at the stadium?

In his speech, Wilson remembered his daughter, Linda, a Bills scout who died early this year. He talked about going to football games with her, and how much he wished she could have been in Canton to see her dad enshrined.

Wilson's speech wasn't terribly inspiring. He went over old ground, lingering on the early years of the franchise, and didn't say anything about the Super Bowl seasons. But he acknowledged the Bills' great fan support early in his speech. He had them at hello.

"It was a lucky pick," Wilson said of his decision to put a team in Buffalo a half-century ago, "because over the years they have supported the team beyond our fondest dreams. Without their support, I wouldn't be on this platform tonight."

This was their night, a chance for Bills fans to celebrate a great era and say thank you to Wilson, who made it all possible. It was a little sad, knowing it could be quite awhile before another Bill gets inducted, and that Wilson's time as the owner could be growing short.

Wilson saved his best remarks for last. He said his luck prevails and he still feels he has youth on his side, even as he approaches age 91. I suppose that's the one thing all good Bills fans want to believe, that Ralph might live forever.

CANTON — About 90 minutes before the ceremony, the rains began to subside over central Ohio. The late-afternoon skies turned clear and bright, as if the football gods — perhaps on notice from Tim Russert and Jack Kemp — were smiling down on the Hall of Fame inductions at Fawcett Stadium.

Outside a Bills party tent, Mildred Jackson held an old color photograph in her hands. It was a shot of Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, walking side by side at Rich Stadium in the early 1990s. The two Hall of Famers seemed so very young, bursting with life and possibility.

"I took it myself," Jackson said proudly. "I'm hoping to get it autographed. I'll give it my best shot. But we're just happy to be here at the Hall of Fame. Bruce Smith and Ralph Wilson? Oh, come on!"

Mary Ann Cole, her friend, nodded in assent. Cole and Jackson had season tickets in the same section for a decade in the Bills glory days. Jackson, a retired Roswell Park nurse, adored Smith. She and Cole loved cheering on the defense and feeling part of the 12th Man — or 12th Woman, if you will.

"I wouldn't miss this for anything," Jackson said. "Bruce Smith? No way. I was in that cold, hollering "Bruuuuuce' every week. I was a season-ticket holder for 15 years. That's how Mary Ann and I met. We met at a game and we've been friends ever since."

Evidently, a lot of Bills fans felt they couldn't miss it, either. Saturday's annual Hall of Fame inductions had a distinct Buffalo flavor. Hall officials estimated that 30 percent of the tickets were purchased in Buffalo, but that didn't include the innumerable Bills fans who came here from other locales.

More than half the crowd was Bills fans. Once the night wore on, it was a running joke among the presenters. Those Bills jerseys were everywhere — Smith, Thomas, Kelly, Smerlas, Flutie, Posluszny, Buffalo Soldiers, you name it.

It was a sea of red, white and blue.

When the present Hall of Famers were introduced at the start of the night, the Bills got by far the largest cheers. Both sides of the stadium rose in unison, dominated by Buffalo fans.

It truly was a Buffalo night in Canton, a dual celebration of the Bills' 50-year history and the only team in NFL history to reach four straight Super Bowls. Wilson and Smith went into the Hall as a pair, which gave the festivities an added touch for Buffalo. Walking around the stadium late Saturday afternoon, I was struck by how many fans had come to the induction in pairs.

Jackson and Cole became friends at a Bills home game. Pat Quinn and Shaun McEvoy began going to Bills games together in the early 1990s. They remember games in vivid detail, like all good fans. This was their first Hall of Fame induction.

Sowmya Varadarajan and Brian Battaglia shared a passion for the Bills when attending RIT in the mid-1990s. Varadarajan, a native of India, has moved all over the world since graduating from college. But he's a devoted Bills fan. He and Battaglia go to a couple of Bills games every year. Varadarajan traveled to Canton from New York City.

Battaglia came all the way from Phoenix. They wouldn't have missed the chance to see Wilson and Smith go into the Hall.

"It is very cool," said Varadarajan. "No. 1, Bruce going in in his first year of eligibility. And Ralph, for good or bad, he's kept the team in Buffalo. I'm thankful for that. I thought he deserved to go in long before this, and I'm glad he got the recognition while he was still alive."

No one can say how much longer Wilson will own the team, or what will happen to the Bills when he is gone. Chances are, Buffalo sports fans will never see another night quite like this one, when the town's love and devotion for its football team are on full display for the nation.

In the end, it's about the shared obsession, the way being a fan connects you to other people. How many Buffalo kids waited year after year for their parents to see the Bills in a Super Bowl? How many fans have developed a bond with other people who owned season tickets in the same section at the stadium?

In his speech, Wilson remembered his daughter, Linda, a Bills scout who died early this year. He talked about going to football games with her, and how much he wished she could have been in Canton to see her dad enshrined.

Wilson's speech wasn't terribly inspiring. He went over old ground, lingering on the early years of the franchise, and didn't say anything about the Super Bowl seasons. But he acknowledged the Bills' great fan support early in his speech. He had them at hello.

"It was a lucky pick," Wilson said of his decision to put a team in Buffalo a half-century ago, "because over the years they have supported the team beyond our fondest dreams. Without their support, I wouldn't be on this platform tonight."

This was their night, a chance for Bills fans to celebrate a great era and say thank you to Wilson, who made it all possible. It was a little sad, knowing it could be quite awhile before another Bill gets inducted, and that Wilson's time as the owner could be growing short.

Wilson saved his best remarks for last. He said his luck prevails and he still feels he has youth on his side, even as he approaches age 91. I suppose that's the one thing all good Bills fans want to believe, that Ralph might live forever.

CANTON — About 90 minutes before the ceremony, the rains began to subside over central Ohio. The late-afternoon skies turned clear and bright, as if the football gods — perhaps on notice from Tim Russert and Jack Kemp — were smiling down on the Hall of Fame inductions at Fawcett Stadium.

Outside a Bills party tent, Mildred Jackson held an old color photograph in her hands. It was a shot of Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, walking side by side at Rich Stadium in the early 1990s. The two Hall of Famers seemed so very young, bursting with life and possibility.

"I took it myself," Jackson said proudly. "I'm hoping to get it autographed. I'll give it my best shot. But we're just happy to be here at the Hall of Fame. Bruce Smith and Ralph Wilson? Oh, come on!"

Mary Ann Cole, her friend, nodded in assent. Cole and Jackson had season tickets in the same section for a decade in the Bills glory days. Jackson, a retired Roswell Park nurse, adored Smith. She and Cole loved cheering on the defense and feeling part of the 12th Man — or 12th Woman, if you will.

"I wouldn't miss this for anything," Jackson said. "Bruce Smith? No way. I was in that cold, hollering "Bruuuuuce' every week. I was a season-ticket holder for 15 years. That's how Mary Ann and I met. We met at a game and we've been friends ever since."

Evidently, a lot of Bills fans felt they couldn't miss it, either. Saturday's annual Hall of Fame inductions had a distinct Buffalo flavor. Hall officials estimated that 30 percent of the tickets were purchased in Buffalo, but that didn't include the innumerable Bills fans who came here from other locales.

More than half the crowd was Bills fans. Once the night wore on, it was a running joke among the presenters. Those Bills jerseys were everywhere — Smith, Thomas, Kelly, Smerlas, Flutie, Posluszny, Buffalo Soldiers, you name it.

It was a sea of red, white and blue.

When the present Hall of Famers were introduced at the start of the night, the Bills got by far the largest cheers. Both sides of the stadium rose in unison, dominated by Buffalo fans.

It truly was a Buffalo night in Canton, a dual celebration of the Bills' 50-year history and the only team in NFL history to reach four straight Super Bowls. Wilson and Smith went into the Hall as a pair, which gave the festivities an added touch for Buffalo. Walking around the stadium late Saturday afternoon, I was struck by how many fans had come to the induction in pairs.

Jackson and Cole became friends at a Bills home game. Pat Quinn and Shaun McEvoy began going to Bills games together in the early 1990s. They remember games in vivid detail, like all good fans. This was their first Hall of Fame induction.

Sowmya Varadarajan and Brian Battaglia shared a passion for the Bills when attending RIT in the mid-1990s. Varadarajan, a native of India, has moved all over the world since graduating from college. But he's a devoted Bills fan. He and Battaglia go to a couple of Bills games every year. Varadarajan traveled to Canton from New York City.

Battaglia came all the way from Phoenix. They wouldn't have missed the chance to see Wilson and Smith go into the Hall.

"It is very cool," said Varadarajan. "No. 1, Bruce going in in his first year of eligibility. And Ralph, for good or bad, he's kept the team in Buffalo. I'm thankful for that. I thought he deserved to go in long before this, and I'm glad he got the recognition while he was still alive."

No one can say how much longer Wilson will own the team, or what will happen to the Bills when he is gone. Chances are, Buffalo sports fans will never see another night quite like this one, when the town's love and devotion for its football team are on full display for the nation.

In the end, it's about the shared obsession, the way being a fan connects you to other people. How many Buffalo kids waited year after year for their parents to see the Bills in a Super Bowl? How many fans have developed a bond with other people who owned season tickets in the same section at the stadium?

In his speech, Wilson remembered his daughter, Linda, a Bills scout who died early this year. He talked about going to football games with her, and how much he wished she could have been in Canton to see her dad enshrined.

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