I was overdue for a Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame weekend.
Back when Billy Shaw (1999), Marv Levy (2001), and Jim Kelly (2002) were inducted into the HOF, I was in high school. James Lofton and Joe DeLamielleure in 2003? A broke college student. I truly don’t remember why I couldn’t go in 2007 for Thurman Thomas’ induction, but there was a reason.
In 2009, I was ready to see Bruce Smith and Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. get inducted together into the HOF. I was getting married that year in the middle of July and was finishing graduate school. School pushed my honeymoon back to early August and my wife decided Florida was a better option than Canton, Ohio.
From the time it was announced in February that Andre Reed was being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I knew I had to go to Canton. My wife, who tolerates my Bills obsession, told me to find some buddies and have fun. Pretty soon, plans were made with Del Reid, Mike Sullivan… and Ollie. I was ready for a fun weekend and it lived up to the hype.
Now, I can’t give you a full play-by-play of the weekend. The column would quickly turn into a novel. Instead, I’m going to write about some of the best moments of the weekend.
Starting the Trip Off Right
Before we traveled to Canton, we headed to the Big Tree Inn. There’s no doubt that Andre Reed himself would have approved of this move based upon his speech where he mentioned the place by name. We snapped a quick picture in front of the Andre Reed statue and were just about to leave when a car stopped and the following conversation took place.
Man in Car: Hey, you guys should be heading to Canton!
One of Us: That’s where we’re heading.
Man in Car: Awesome, awesome. Listen, if you see Jim Kelly, tell him Vietnam Mel says hello. He knows who I am.
Vietnam Mel made quite the impression on us, but unfortunately we never saw Jim in Canton close up. That said, if anyone in the Kelly family reads this, please tell Jim that Vietnam Mel says hello.
Meeting Fellow Mafia Members
On Saturday and Sunday, two fantastic parties took place. The first was thrown at TD’s Tailgate Grill and was sponsored by Mike and his website The Kick is Good. It didn’t take long for the grill to be filled with Bills fans. I’d love to mention every and every member of the Bills Mafia that I met, but I’d be sure to forget a few people. At the event, an Andre Reed party was taking place in the other half of the grill. It turns out that Andre’s friends and family from Allentown rented a bus and also scheduled a party at TD’s Tailgate Grill.
Sunday’s party was held at Jerzee’s Sports Grille and sponsored by Rochester radio station WCMF 96.5. Much like TD’s Grille, it didn’t take long for Jerzee’s to be taken over by Bills fans. There were great giveaways, a DJ who played the Bills shout song at any chance he could and a chance to meet some fellow Bills fans. It was the perfect party before heading to the stadium for preseason football. Kudos to Duffy and the rest of the WCMF crew.
The Secret to Meeting Bills Legends? A Small Bladder
On Saturday night, Derrick Brooks started the night off with his induction speech. It was a great speech, but man was it long. After the speech concluded, I decided a bathroom break was in order.
After a quick stop to the restroom Del, Mike and myself found ourselves hanging out near our gate. Del, who should be nicknamed “The Mayor” due to his fame in Buffalo, had already said hello to Jill and Erin Kelly and was waiting for Jonathon Metzelaars, Pete’s son. As we waited, it happened… Bill Polian walked by and headed to the restroom. On his way back, I had to say hello. Buffalo’s next Hall of Famer was an absolute gentleman and took the time to take a picture with me as well as talk briefly before heading back to his seats.
Jonathon arrived and we all chatted for a while. If you’re on Twitter, give him a follow (@JMetzelaars). Jonathon is a great guy and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
As we chatted with Jonathon, my favorite of the 90’s Bills, Cornelius Bennett, strolled by on his way to the restroom. Luckily enough, he came in our direction again and was nice enough to talk and stop for a photo. Bennett seemed to know who I was as we follow one another on Twitter (humblebrag). Even better yet, Mike approached Cornelius and Bennett said, “You’re the guy who takes the helmet pictures!” A Bills legend was truly excited to meet Mike and while I cannot speak for him, I think it made Mike’s weekend.
Some singer named Usher walked by me a few times as well in that spot but he was surrounded by security. Usher, there to see Michael Strahan, is a very short guy, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
There is no secret meetup spot and I certainly didn’t have any connections to help me meet up with Polian and Biscuit. I was simply in the right place (outside of a restroom), at the right time.
Kelly’s Ovation, Reed’s Speech and the Hall of Fame Game
The ovation Jim Kelly received at the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was special. Fans of all teams and fellow Hall of Fame players gave Kelly a double standing ovation. It was a special moment that I’ll never forget. Jim tried to get everyone to sit down, but it didn’t happen until he knew just how much he meant to all of us. We’re all in Jim’s corner and he deserved every second in that ovation. Kelly looked and sounded great at the ceremony and there were two brilliant pieces done on him by ESPN and NBC Sports. Everyone in America learned about being Kelly Tough.
I know I’m biased, but Reed’s speech was the best of the evening. He was excellent and really drove home the special bond that exists between the fans and the team. His biggest cheer came when he promised the Bills would not be leaving Buffalo. I’m not sure how long Reed’s speech actually was, but I would have listened to him talk about his career for as long as he wanted.
As for the Hall of Fame game itself, it was rather uneventful. That said, it was very unique to see two NFL teams play at Fawcett Stadium. The stadium only holds a little over 22,000 people, so it had a real high school feel to it. At the game, I received one last thrilling moment in meeting Billy Shaw. Close to kickoff, Del was no where to be found. My phone went off and I saw he was calling. He simply said, “Want to meet Billy Shaw?” I quickly answered yes and he told us what section to travel to. Michelle Zumwalt, a die-hard Bills fan, NFL Films producer and all around awesome person, was with us at the game and she also wanted to meet Billy. Long story short, we met Shaw thanks to Ian Elrod (THANK YOU!) and were still able to get back to our seats in time for Jim Kelly’s coin flip before kickoff.
It was an incredible weekend that went by far too quickly. At the end of our trip, we took one last selfie and agreed to do it every time a Buffalo Bill was inducted. Something tells me we’ll be getting together soon as Bill Polian shouldn’t have to wait long as a contributor. If you’ve never made the trek to Canton, do it. Even if someone from the Bills isn’t inducted it’s worth the trip. From the actual Hall of Fame building, the induction ceremony and the Hall of Fame game, there is plenty to do.
As Mike, Del and I traveled back to Buffalo following the game, Mike said something that has stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but he said something along the lines of, “Don’t spend money on stuff. Spend money on experiences.” The guy in the Bills helmet has it figured out. The excitement over buying “stuff” fades, but the memories from experiences like this year’s Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame weekend will always be with me.