Therese Forton-Barnes was born to party, celebrate and spread the wealth of having fun. For her, the glass is neither half full nor half empty. It is overflowing. As the founder and owner of Events to a Tee her motto has always been “Go Big or Stay Home!”
“Tee,” as she is known by her friends, is also a “die-hard Bills fan,” who clearly could be “The Queen of the Bills’ Mafia.” A season ticket holder for the past 25 years, she has never missed a home game, regardless of the weather or the team’s record and she never heads to the exit until the game is officially over. She has taken clients to more than a dozen Super Bowls and she was front and center cheering on her beloved Bills during their four straight Super Bowl appearances some 30 years ago.
Like most “die-hard” fans she has her game-day rituals and in the pre-pandemic years it begins in the parking lot of the Big Tree Inn at the corner of Abbott Road and 20A and minutes away from Bills Stadium. In the lot next door, 97 Rock’s Dave Jickster and Rich “Bull” Gentzler host the station’s tailgate party which means the area is filled with Bills fans. Tee’s tailgate party is unique, as you might imagine if you know how she rolls. Years ago, her usual group teamed up with eight mutual friends from South Buffalo, who in true Bills’ Mafia fashion, pitched in 500 bucks each to purchase a used RV which they completely decorated and painted as a Bills’ party vehicle. The RV is called “Theo Shasta” and has its own Facebook page. The door leading into the RV’s restroom is its Wall of Fame with autographs from legendary Bills’ alumni and other assorted VIPs. “Theo’s Shasta’s” owners call themselves “Tailgate Specialists.”
For every Bills’ home opener Tailgate Party Tee announces her annual prediction— “The Bills are going to the Super Bowl this year.” “I am the eternal optimist and every year I give that prediction, everyone laughs at me,” she says with a laugh. Before each game, she puts on her party planner cap at the Tailgate Party and collects gameday dues to cover the cost of the amazing chicken wings and pizza from she orders from the Big Tree Inn to go with the extensive selection of beverages inside the RV. “I miss not being there this year but when we get back to tailgating, things will be so out of control,” she said. “I truly miss everyone.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began closing businesses in New York State and around the world this past March and continued through the summer, Forton-Barnes was concerned about the NFL being able to play at all this season, much less in front of fans. “I have been quite impressed with how the NFL has pulled this off during an unprecedented season,” she said. “I was happy they have been able to play and I have been so excited watching the team do so well winning the division and being the second seed for the playoffs.
“What I have missed most this season is being out there yelling and screaming for these players with the rest of the Bills Mafia,” she said. “The Bills Mafia is who we are as fans and our membership is world-wide and as the Bills continue on in the playoffs the fanbase is growing because of all the national publicity they are giving to our fans and the Bills Mafia.”
As the Bills prepare for Saturday’s AFC Divisional Round playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, Tee is impressed with what she sees on the field. “This team’s success brings back so many memories of the Super Bowl years with Jim (Kelly), Andre (Reed), Thurman (Thomas), (Steve) Tasker, Bruce (Smith), Biscuit (Cornelius Bennett) and everyone else. This is serious. It is not a joke anymore. These Bills are good,” she said with an emphasis on good.
As a season ticket holder Forton-Barnes was eligible for tickets to last Saturday’s wild card game against her pal, Frank Reich and his Indianapolis Colts. She could have opted out for this week’s game but that thought never crossed her mind.
“I was there for the last home playoff game 25 years ago which made this game historic, especially with the pandemic. There was no way I would miss it,” she said. After her and friend, Cathleen Hart-Franz tested negative, they were set to embark upon Bills Stadium last Saturday without any tailgating before-hand. This was strictly a football game and they were there to cheer on their Bills.
“I have never dressed up for a game before,” she said. “I left that to others, but I did not know if any of those amazingly dressed fans would be at the game, so I went onto Amazon and bought all kinds of stuff. We wanted a hat with Buffalo horns and when someone sent me the Fred and Barney photo of Yubba Dubba Do—Go Bills, I had Wilcro Signs create that sign for us.”
So off they went, dressed to the nines as Bills fans and carrying four rolled up signs they held up from their front row seats on the 200 level.
“It was a great experience, and the entire Bills organization did an amazing job inside and outside of the stadium,” she said. “You can just feel so much energy in the building even with 6,700 people. Everyone was so happy and as we left after the win, they were all flying high. It felt like 70,000 were in the stadium and I know the players felt the energy too. It was so cool.”
Forton-Barnes is also excited about what is going on in the city around the Bills’ playoff victory on Saturday especially with Mayor Byron Brown encouraging fans to take selfies in front of banners on City Hall supporting the team.
“Now we are really in the playoffs,” she said of the Bills being in the AFC’s final four. “I believe the team and the city will take it up several notches. Maybe it’s because of COVID but I have seen many more people, from little kids to grandparents, get behind this team.”
Forton-Barnes also believes this could be the year the Bills go all the way to the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay but this time, she believes they will come out with a victory.
“It would truly be appropriate for the Bills to be in Tampa Bay for a Super Bowl in a COVID pandemic year,” she explained. “That’s just Buffalo because as of now, all the big parties and celebrations leading up to the game have all been cancelled.”
As she envisions that amazing end to this season for the Bills, Tee could not help but put her event marketing hat on, which may or may not have Buffalo horns on it.
“Going back to when the Bills were in the four Super Bowls, I was all about working with the City and the team on a spectacular celebration back in Buffalo,” she said. “Last month after we defeated San Francisco on a Monday Night Game there to go 9-3, I really believed this team was on the road to greatness, so I texted Mayor Brown with my celebration plan when we win the Super Bowl in February.”
Taking into account the social distancing protocols required for gatherings, she knew jamming a million people into Niagara Square was not going to work nor would a parade down Delaware Avenue.
“The idea I gave to the mayor involved a five-hour, timed parade through Western New York so residents knew when our parade of flat bed trailers would be coming to their town so they could go outside and cheer the players,” she explained. “I would make sure we made the flat beds as comfortable and warm as possible for the players and their families, complete with refreshments and elegant portable rest rooms. We would work with all the police and municipalities to create a map that the media would promote so everyone knew when we would be there. We would go down the I-190 along the Niagara River and have the players wave across to their Canadian fans.”
Tee said the mayor texted her back…” Good idea. We will see.”
As for Saturday’s playoff game against the Ravens, Tee will not be in Bills Stadium, but she has passed her special hats to a friend who will wear them proudly with instructions to bring them back with a second playoff win in Buffalo.
As for Tee’s prediction on Saturday: Bills 34. Ravens 24. “I’M FIRED UP,” she screamed. And it is only Thursday.
Lead image: Tim O’Donnell, left, and Joe O’Donnell, who are 32 year Buffalo Bills season ticket holders. All photos from the Therese Forton-Barnes Collection