Have you ever heard of the term Bills Mafia? And if you have, do you have any idea what it means to be a member?
If you're into social media, you may have seen a #BillsMafia hashtag on Twitter.
Most die-hard fans of the Buffalo Bills caught on to Bills Mafia last summer, when a website was created to reach out to Bills fans nationwide.
But if you're new to it, keep reading and we'll do our best to welcome you to "La Famiglia."
According to the website that's conveniently named BillsMafia.com, the term Bills Mafia is not synonymous with organized crime or deadly chaos. Instead, it's considered a "movement that was created by fans and embraced by players."
Every Buffalo fan has felt the pain of the team's legacy. They have lived through the heartache of "wide right," the disappointment of four consecutive Super Bowl losses, and the agony of the Music City Miracle.
They have endured 12 playoff-less seasons and have heard their share of endless jokes about their city, its economy and its weather. They have even tried to make sense of how to view former Bills hero O.J. Simpson after his fall from grace.
But despite all of the adversity, Bills fans never give up hope.
As ESPN sports anchor Chris Berman likes to say:
"You can poison their food. You can put sand in their gas tank... But NOBODY circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills."
And nobody has their backs like Bills Mafia.
In its simplest form, Bills Mafia is like one, big, happy family, and it's growing by leaps and bounds.
"So here’s how it all began," states the Bills Mafia website, in what appears to a brief history of the group's birth in chronological order.
"Back in November 2010, Stevie Johnson dropped an overtime pass (against Pittsburgh). It was kind of a big deal, and he knew it.
He dealt with it in his own way, as everyone remembers. We all felt for him, we knew he was going through a lot. Come on, they talked about his tweet on The View…The View.
As all the commotion started to die down early the next evening, Adam Schefter of ESPN suddenly retweeted Stevie’s now infamous “God” tweet. In Twitter time, that’s equivalent to about a week.
Needless to say, we Bills fans pounced on Schefter, asking him “why would you do that?” “What’s a matter with you?” etc."
These fans then decided to hang Schefter out to dry, by tweeting old historical events (from the 1800's) with the clever hash tag, #SchefterBreakingNews attached to them.
- “Lincoln shot, police on trail of famous actor #SchefterBreakingNews”
- “Washington crosses the Delaware #SchefterBreakingNews”
- “Man discovers fire #SchefterBreakingNews”
Suffice it to say, Schefter got the message loud and clear and Bills Mafia was born, when he arrogantly blocked his new-found Twitter followers.
The fans ultimately created the hash tag #BillsMafia, because they considered themselves "bad guys" in the eyes of Schefter. And the rest is history...
Following the Schefter skirmish, Twitter initials began to materialize. OG was the label given to the "original gangsters" who confronted Schefter. Then in the Spring of 2011, #TeamBillsMafia was created for all Bills fans.
By July, Tweets were exchanged in an effort to lure free agent linebacker Nick Barnett away from the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers. Barnett took the bait and Bills Mafia took credit for the acquisition.
Barnett even paid his respects, by "hand-kissing" his fellow mafia members, in an interview with elitesportsandpr.com.
"After that, everything just BLEW UP. Buffalo was already pumped, after trending #BarnettToBuffalo all weekend. We wanted and got our man at ILB for our defense."
The social networking craze blew up too, as Buffalo's players started relationships with perfect strangers and started marketing themselves as "made men" in the Bills Mafia.
Bills Mafia welcomed another free agent to Buffalo, when Brad Smith joined the crew from the New York Jets. His ability to pass, run and catch was the perfect ammunition for attacking the enemy and early in the season, the Bills could not be stopped.
Young players like WR David Nelson came through big in high-pressure moments, and the excitement got so intense, a local musician named Matt Diddy put the madness into words with the rap tunes “Buffalo’s Back” and “Buffalo’s Back Remix.”
Bills Mafia understands the negative connotations of the term "mafia", which is derived from the Italian words Cosa Nostra. Its members also defend themselves, when it's suggested that their name is loosely based on the notorious mob families that have existed in New York State for decades.
But as one fan suggested on the popular Bills Forum, The Stadium Wall, Bills Mafia is a metaphor for the close connection between Buffalo's football organization, the city, and its nationwide family of fans.
"This started as a very noble thing -- the idea that too many people rag on Buffalo, its team, its players. Instead of absorbing the negativity and either letting it go (or worse, echoing it), these guys decided to defend the city and the players. Some team members picked up on the vibe, on the sense of camaraderie, and used it to bond, and to build a oneness with the community.
I just can't see this as bad. To me, it feels like a beautiful thing -- one of the many aspects that makes Buffalo a special place, and the Bills a unique team to root for. It's not about "thug life" or anything, but about unity."
As the Bills improved to 5-2, the popularity of Bills Mafia skyrocketed. Current players Andy Levitre and Aaron Williams joined the fray and some of the team’s all-time greats (like Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed) began to publicize the movement through social media.
Bills fans are not the only ones to make use of the mafia moniker. Several years ago, a number of Steelers fans from Tennessee started Steel City Mafia, after "assuming occupancy" of a local bar that used to cater to fans from all 32 teams.
According to the group's website:
"Those fans began to dwindle and the few that remained vented their frustration, by comparing the Steeler fans to the mafia, since they had taken over their place. The next week, the club responded, by proudly displaying a banner stating, 'Welcome to the Home of the Steel City Mafia'."
Stevie Johnson has single-handedly spread the word about Bills Mafia. He also has said great things about the city, the organization and Bills fans, far and wide.
“The fans actually make us cool,” Johnson said, in a conversation with ProInterviews.org.
“Think about that one for a second. The fans are the ones spreading our names. They pay their hard earned money to see us. They look up to us for strength and inspiration.
I think it’s important to connect with the fans because I am a fan myself... Why not though. Its way cooler being a people person.”
Johnson cleans up nice too, and when he’s out on the town, he likes to send a message.
Recently, he stopped by a store in Buffalo named Mafia Meeting Apparel and tried on some tees with his good friend Ya Boy.
Retweeted by Stevie Johnson
Another current Buffalo Bill has become a fan favorite within the Bills Mafia organization. His name is Drayton Florence and dinner and drinks are “on him.”
Back on March 23, Florence was cruising around his hometown near Tampa, Fla., when he decided to send a Tweet to Bills Mafia members who lived in the area.
Dinner is tomm 630 columbia cafe 801 old water street #1905 in Tampa. First 50 bills mafia on me!! See ya… Must have on bills gear or bills tattoo
Florence later changed the meeting time to 9 p.m. and only nine Mafia members showed up, but he made their night a memorable one.
This is what Dan from Tampa said about Florence’s generosity:
“Total class act. It was a Spanish menu, we ordered whatever we wanted and he got 3 rounds of patron shots for us. He said when Mario (Williams) got signed, he wanted the season to start the next day. He made a lot of Tom Brady-type jokes that we are not playing around this year. He asked us a lot about ourselves too. Seemed very genuine.”
Like Drayton Florence, Mario Williams is a genuine guy. So after signing a six-year mega-deal to chase quarterbacks for Buffalo, he defended the city and thanked Bills fans for helping him make up his mind.
“I heard so much about this city and it's not fair, for the simple fact that there (are) great people here and there's caring and compassionate people that definitely have your back…I just feel completely welcome. “
Williams made fast friends in the city of Buffalo. He even has a rib-eye steak named after him already. But the one guy that may mean to the most to him is former Bills QB Jim Kelly, who has never left the city he once shunned as a rookie.
Kelly was the team’s last savior, who rose to great heights, only to suffer the game’s most crushing defeats.
Maybe Mario’s the one who will help Kelly erase the demons of the past, with a Super Bowl title that has eluded the franchise and its 93-year old owner, Ralph Wilson Jr.
But if he does accomplish the task, he won’t be alone.
As the team’s closest followers claim:
“#BillsMafia is more than just a hashtag. It’s more than one person. It’s a mindset and a family endeavor. It alludes to a society of people united for a single purpose, who will be ruthless in reaching that goal.”