Del Reid can pinpoint the moment he realized he had helped create a community.
It was Oct. 9, 2011, the date of the inaugural “#BillsMafia Tweet up” tailgate prior to a Buffalo game against Philadelphia. The term “Bills Mafia” was in its infancy, used amongst a small group of fans who, to that point, had been connecting on Twitter. The tailgate was a chance to meet in person.
Some 70 people showed up that day. Breyon Harris – one of three Bills Mafia co-founders along with Reid and Leslie Wille – drove from his home in Virginia Beach to be in attendance. Reid recalls another fan driving in from Ottawa.
“That’s where family begins,” Reid said by phone Tuesday.
The origin of the term “Bills Mafia” has become a part of Bills lore. It began in a November 2010 when a small group of fans – including Reid, Harris, and Wille – teased ESPN analyst Adam Schefter for a day-late comment referencing a tweet from Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson. Johnson’s tweet had been directed at God following a dropped touchdown catch in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After being blocked by Schefter, Reid jokingly referred to the group as “The Bills Mafia.” It was an inside joke between fans thereafter, a hashtag that had begun to lose steam until it received a massive jolt in the form of support from linebacker Nick Barnett. Barnett, a high-profile free agent acquisition coming off a Super Bowl championship with Green Bay, embraced the term online and even went so far as to wear a custom mouthpiece bearing the hashtag during games.
From there, Bills Mafia never looked back. Other players came on board, from Johnson and running back Fred Jackson in the early part of the decade to those currently on the roster, many of whom cite the Mafia upon being drafted by the team or coming to town via free agency.
Reid’s annual tailgates were eventually attended by hundreds of fans, though they were hardly the only Bills Mafia gathering in town. By 2015, the moniker was being shouted on gamedays in parking lots throughout Orchard Park and backers bars around the country, a badge of honor for a fanbase unlike any other.
The Bills Mafia Twitter account (@BuffaloFAMbase) now has over 117,000 followers.
“It defines who we are as fans,” Reid said.
Recently, the organization itself began to embrace the moniker. Tweets using the hashtag “#BillsMafia” are now accompanied by the Bills logo. The team partnered with Nicholas Avery, a Buffalo-born designer currently based in Los Angeles, to create gear featuring the phrase.
During conversations with the Bills, Reid stressed that Bills Mafia is about community.
“When I talked to Del, he said it was like losing one of his children,” team owner and president Kim Pegula said. “I understand what he felt like. But it’s not about him losing a child. It’s about him gaining a much bigger family across the whole world. I think that’s what really kind of led into the conversations.
“What I love about Bills Mafia is it is authentic. It started with Del, it started with our community. … Even though it’s a phrase that we’ve been using over the last several years, it’s more than just the words. It’s the family aspect of it.”
Lead image—Del Reid, left, at a check presentation 26 Shirts did with Lorenzo Alexander, right, last year. It sold a design based on Lorenzo to support 4-year-old Andre Sanders’ fight with kidney cancer. Andre’s dad, Rich, is in the middle.