Story, video and photos by JOHN ANDERSON
When 35,000 fans show up for a Buffalo Bills practice, the rest of the country wonders why.
It’s the little things from the owner to the players, the support staff and the fun social media department that endear the team to the fans.
A prime example is the road that runs parallel to Lot 2 at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, home of the Buffalo Bills.
That quiet dead end road is where the team owner visited neighbors to talk about fencing. It’s also where star wide receiver Stefon Diggs played catch with kids and signed autographs with home owners and fans.
Shane Prouty is neighbors with Bill and Patti Larson. Prouty owns the famous “Bills Mafia House” which is featured during telecasts of NFL games and other features on the rabid fan base in Buffalo. The small house has a few Bills photos inside and there is a parking lot for fans on game day. The house itself is listed as an Airbnb.
The team put up a fence that blocks the view of the backyards on the road near the stadium parking lot. The privacy fence works both ways, and Bill Larson understood when it went up. The Larson’s and Prouty did not complain, but they didn’t expect what was going to happen next.
Bill Larson, a proud grandfather and great-grandfather, was home from work on a weekday when there was a knock on his door.
“Hi, I’m Terry Pegula,” the man said.
Larson countered, “Of course I know who you are!”
After exchanging pleasantries, Pegula told Larson the reason for the visit.
“He told me since they put the fence up, there were complaints from fans who park in the parking lot during games that they couldn’t see the Bills Mafia house. He wanted to know if I had any issues with the fence as well,” Larson said. “I told him, ‘Mr. Pegula, I see a lot of fancy cars and businessmen driving past my backyard a lot (to the security gate near the field house) and I don’t think anyone wants to see my fat (butt) sitting in my swimming pool!’
“So I told him the fence was fine at my house, but he said he was going to have employees cut into the fence at Shane’s Bills Mafia House so the fans could enjoy the iconic home,” Bill Larson said. “I could not believe the owner of the best NFL franchise cared that much and listened to the fans, and then all by himself, came over to visit and talk to use.”
After Pegula left, Bill Larson called his neighbor.
“They put the fence up and I said, ‘Well, ok, whatever, the fence is a little high and it blocks the house a little bit, but it’s still see it and it’s part of our tailgate experience.’ We didn’t think anything more of it, but then couple days later, workers came and started taking parts of the fence down in the places the view was blocking the house,” Prouty said. “Now you could see it.”
Prouty said he was lucky enough to get one of the old signs ‘section” signs with the Bills’ logo. They were replaced because the signs had a Coors Light logo and Labatt Blue was the new beer sponsor the the Buffalo Bills.
“An employee of the Bills called me and said, ‘Hey, just so you know, Terry was the one who requested that fence to be brought down behind your house because people couldn’t see it.’ I thought that was really cool for me, to find out why that actually happened,” Prouty said “We always played nice with the Bills, they have treated us great, they never get on us about anything and treat us well and they have from Day 1, which is super cool and we try to keep a great atmosphere here for the fans which is what it’s all about.”
HEY SHANE, WANNA HAVE A CATCH?
You probably won’t find cooler great-grandparents than Bill and Patti Larson. Years ago, they allowed fans to use their bathroom in the house. Today, he has a port-a-potty in the yard year-round. Visitors stop by, take photos of the stadium from his yard and talk to the family about the Bills like the family has part-ownership.
The Larson’s have a fan cave off the house with fun Bills items. Jim Kelly has visited and signed the wall. They have every box of Flutie Flakes and other Bills products made by PLB Sports & Entertainment. So their yard and family was the perfect fit for a video and photo shoot with Stefon Diggs to promote his expanded line of products that helps raise money for charity.
A day after Diggs leaped in the stands during a practice to celebrate with fans, like Pegula, he pulled up to Larson’s house and greeted everyone with a smile. Diggs has good reason to smile. His Diggs 14 Elite Hot Sauce and Buffalo Blue Cheese were top sellers in New York. Working with PLS Sports and Entertainment and Wegmans, he’s expanding his product line this year.
PLB Sports & Entertainment founder Ty Ballou created Flutie Flakes and works with Josh Allen on Josh’s Jaqs. Flutie Flakes has helped raise millions for the Doug Flutie’s Flutie Foundation (helping people and families affected by autism) and Josh’s Jaqs raises money for the Oishei Children’s Hospital, which has a wing dedicated to Josh’s late grandmother, Patricia Allen.
Diggs is giving back the same way. After taking photos of his new products at a tailgate party, he tried some of the Wegman’s chicken wings, cooked extra crispy by John Watt with his products.
But it didn’t end there. Diggs played cornhole with Larson’s family and others, then played catch with kids from the neighborhood and the families who were at the video and photo shoot. He visited Larson’s fan cave and signed everything in sight. As he was leaving, he wanted to see the Bills Mafia House.
Diggs came around the corner, saw the house and started playing catch with Prouty’s family. He posed for photos and signed some more autographs.
“I’m so glad I was around for the opportunity that was generated by PLB Sports for my kids … That was really cool. Not everyday you get that opportunity. But most importantly for my kids to play catch with him,” Prouty said. “We all grew up with the old generation of Bills and the new generation is just like them. Stefon Diggs has planted himself as part of that new generation, this is the new Buffalo Bills and these are icons to my kids. And to be able to play catch with them and be a part of that and play with them is something that is awesome.”
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
The preseason games are starting soon and the Diggs 14 Elite Hot Sauce and Buffalo Blue Cheese are being stocked for tailgate parties. Products for Diggs and Allen as well as other athletes are also available online (plbse.com). Wegmans will be launching new products, soon.
When the tables come out and the food and cheering begins, Prouty will be back in the spotlight thanks to Pegula and the fan base voted No. 1 in the NFL.
“We’ve been on every network at this point, CBS, FOX, ESPN, the NFL Network, all the local media from Buffalo, Erie and Rochester,” said Prouty. “They’ve all been here shooting video and taking photos. During the playoff runs, they came back here to shoot things for the pre-game show which was cool. Now, Bills Mafia fans are working with us hand-in-hand and they’ve helped my explode the tailgating experience.
“That’s what it’s about, right? Inviting the opposing teams and letting them tailgate, too,” Prouty continued. “For a couple of games, fans of opposing teams have rented the house for their tailgating. We have a DJ coming in from Cleveland for the Browns game (Nov. 20) … that’s what we’re looking to create, a fun tailgate experience for everyone.”
And you never know who will show up.
(John Anderson is a long-time Buffalo Bills beat writer and award-winning news and sports columnist. He can be reached at jandersondigitalmedia.com)