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Rocky Mountain Mafia

Fists pumping into the cool rocky mountain air to the beat of the shout song… this is still Buffalo country.

I’ve now been to Bills Backer bars in London, Budapest, Miami, Chicago, NYC, and LA… But I’m not sure I have ever seen a Mafia turn out like Denver.

Opening week 2020, the world is on fire. I drove past two separate mountain fires on my way from Wyoming to Denver. It was 90 degrees when I showed up in the Mile High City. The next two days it snowed ash and on the third day it snowed… well… snow. At least that was something I could relate to.

What a strange and dark ominous year this has been, I drove West in August dodging wild fires and plague, staying off of the path, in the forests and rivers, soaking in as much of the natural beauty of this land as I could while it is still here. But September was calling me back. It was football time. Time to, at the very least, feel a part of something positive and uniting. Having a deep respect for the game and its ability to give hope, cheer, and camaraderie, to large groups of diverse people, September has been a beacon of light in the back of my mind throughout this hellish reality.

September, and Denver did not disappoint.

On game day I threw on my Bills Jersey and made my way down to the River North or “Rino” part of town on one of those electric scooters – fun as hell by the way – I got two “Go Bills!” on my way (standard), and arrived to “Tracks” a massive night club that had been reserved by the Colorado Bills Backers. The neighborhood was swarming with Blue and White jerseys and the place was “packed” (the new packed being everyone sitting at tables 6 feet a part.)

Unfortunately, I had underestimated the Mafia. The entire complex was sold out. So I trudged begrudgingly around the corner to the “overflow” bar and watched the first half there amongst a handful of other latecomers.

When I made my way back to Tracks at the second half, a table had opened and I was in. The place was on fire, the good kind of fire – the kind we have been missing in our new world.

With three or four different rooms, a small back terrace and a massive lot that had outdoor seating under a few tents, all was perfectly ‘safe and distanced.’

The place was decked out in Buffalo gear. They were even serving Labatt bottles! Fans sat and cheered and safely enjoyed watching their hometown team on the big screens… it almost felt normal.

I walked around taking photos, inquiring as to how in the hell so many Buffalo fans ended up out here. Some of them were converted or long distant fans, but most were homegrown Western New Yorkers. It turns out Buffalonians love Denver. I guess that’s not too surprising being that Buffalo Bill’s actual grave site is just down the road.

Buffalo Bill’s actual grave site is just down the road.

After the game I sat down with Tyler Westbrook from Depew at “Lodo’s” which was the original backer bar and still hosts Bills’ fans after the game. Tyler has been in Denver since 1997 and is one of the organizers of the “Colorado Bills Backers.”

He spoke of how the group was already growing when he arrived and how before the days of social media it was all based on word of mouth and visual “call outs.”

“If we saw someone walking with a Bills’ jersey we would flag them down and tell them to come join us, and it just sort of grew bigger and bigger from there.”

The group is amazing. The size and organization of it all blew me away. They had 410 fans show up to the screening on that Sunday. Tyler spoke with pride about the group and all of the supporters in the area and all that they have done.

“We have the largest representation of a football club here in the Denver area and I would say that we have raised over $45,000 over the years to support first responders and families in need… it really is a special group we have here.”

They have had alumni players come through and even “Ketchup Kenny” made some stops in Denver. Tyler would like for more of the alumni players to get involved and to keep pushing the presence of the Bills fans outside of Buffalo.

For anyone looking, you can find them on all social media outlets under Colorado Bills Backers.

Now…

Fast forward a week.

I drove back to Wyoming where I have posted up for the winter, and come week-two Sunday, I was itching. Jackson Wyoming is not exactly an epicenter for wandering Buffalonians, but a friend of mine said he might know a spot.

Armed with that reliable information, I threw on the jersey and headed into town. Upon arriving at the back door of “Eleanor’s” I see a small group of blue and white jerseys having a full on tailgate in the alleyway! Im talking grilling, pumping music… they even had a piece of turf from “The Ralph.”

I honestly couldn’t believe it.

In true all-American Buffalo style, we were welcomed right into the group, and immediately offered a beer and a dog. Peter Elliott from Amherst moved out here as a student and has since been working in the area. He smiles as he remembers growing up in Bills’ gear back home, but that his first actual childhood Bills memory was the unfortunate “Music City Miracle.”

Similar to the old days of Denver, there hasn’t been an organized backer group, but Peter would see Bills’ jerseys around town and try to get people together for the games. This year they went “full send” on the tailgating in the alley. On game days, Peter shows up and starts grilling at about 8 am. Whoever shows up after that is welcome to a beer and a dog.

“We chose Eleanors because it has a lot of TVs and they are always showing the Bills’ games – they have been pretty receptive to our fan base. We also love getting it started in this alleyway. We would love to make this the first Bills’ Backer bar in Wyoming.”

Once again, for anyone looking, you can find them on Facebook @ Bills Mafia of Jackson Hole.

Dawn of the Allen Days.

It dawned on me as I walked up to the group and saw Peter’s jersey that we are in the heart of “Allen Country.” People here have started following the Bills because of Josh Allen, and the Mafia is spreading its wings to Jackson.

With that in mind, be proud Buffalo. They can hear us loud and clear in the Rockies.

Written by Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson moved from Melbourne, Australia to Buffalo, New York when he was 13 years old. After consistently relocating to different countries around the world, his family fell in love with the charm of the City of Buffalo and the people who call it home.

After high school, Evan attended Indiana University and studied politics. Upon returning to Buffalo he became an Adult Education Instructor for BOCES before teaching ESL to refugees in the Buffalo Public Schools. Evan then taught and volunteered abroad living in South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

He currently works in adventure tourism and plays music in local bands.

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