HomeSportsNFLHow one player’s mistake led to the birth of the Bills Mafia

How one player’s mistake led to the birth of the Bills Mafia

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Have you ever wondered how the term Bills Mafia pierced all the NFL noise and became the nickname of one of the most passionate fan bases in the league?

The Bills Mafia, aka Buffalo fans, does everything now. They throw rowdy tailgates. The fans will support the charitable causes of their favorite players. Or, they’ll give to help other players they may cheer against. When Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a concussion on national TV, Bills fans gave thousands of dollars to his charity. They even show up to shovel snow for their favorite players.

When Damar Hamlin collapsed and nearly died in Cincinnati in early January, Bills Mafia posted his jersey No. 3 all over the city. Buffalo is the second smallest market in the NFL, so these players are super well-known in the community.

ESPN did a deep dive and discovered Bills Mafia probably was inspired into being after fans collectively embraced a player who dropped the winning touchdown pass in overtime against the Steelers. This was days after Thanksgiving in 2010. Steve Johnson was so devastated about the drop that he tweeted his anger at God. In all caps, too.


steve johnson bills
Steve Johnson dropped a touchdown pass in overtime. His reactionary tweet probably was the genesis of Bills Mafia (Karl Walter/Getty Images)

Bills Mafia unofficially got its start when fans went after an ESPN reporter

The tweet went viral. And it stayed in the sports/pop culture/media cycle for a day. Then as it seemed to be dying a natural, viral death, ESPN’s Adam Schefter retweeted it 24 hours later, giving Johnson’s pain a new audience. Bills fans went after Schefter for a perceived unnecessary pile-on. The ESPN reporter started blocking some of the users.

“That was their opportunity to either bash a player or build some type of love or strength, and they chose the love,” Johnson told ESPN. “I appreciate it so much, and it just shows, just from that negative moment, they created something positive even though that season we was, like, middle of the road at that time, too.”

Months later, Del Reid, a Bills Mafia co-founder, began sifting through the hashtags that got caught up in the Schefter block. He retweeted them. And one of the tags was Bills Mafia. Members of this unofficial group started spreading the tag on Twitter Follow Fridays.

It still needed some more push because the team, itself, didn’t like the term. Bills Mafia lists its creation date as July 31, 2011. That’s when Bills players started interacting with the group. Aaron WIlliams, then a rookie DB from Texas, was the first to communicate with the fan club.

Flash forward to present day. You can’t miss Bills Mafia. They even have their own anthem. You can go to the NFL shop and buy Bills Mafia-branded merchandise. The Bills eventually trademarked the group’s name.

And no one seems to care that the name had its genesis in one of the lowest moments of a season with only four wins. Now, if the Bills don’t go far in the playoffs, it seems like a disappointing season.