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The home of the NFL Buffalo Bills, Ralph Wilson Stadium, nee Rich Stadium, is now one of the deans of football venues and one of the oldest stadiums in existence. It opened its doors in 1973 with the franchise moving from old and decrepit War Memorial Stadium in the inner city. When this place opened its doors, local fans were pinching themselves with delight – a clean and sparkling new stadium, with a real dot matrix scoreboard, lots of parking in a seemingly safe neighborhood in the upscale suburb of Orchard Park.
Since those days just about every other NFL team has opened or refurbished their stadiums, but while “The Ralph” may not have all the bells, whistles, and revenue generators of its peer venues, it still remains an extremely functional and resilient football stadium even after 40 years of use.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The Bills have made huge strides in attempting to upgrade their concessions fare over the years, giving the stands themselves new canopies and a freshened up appearance. Keep in mind, however, this is an older stadium, so food service areas still have that 70s infrastructure, and that means plenty of standard hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and beer on tap, which is cut off at the start of the 3rd quarter.
Some specialty items include the cheeseburger basket, chicken finger basket or Italian sausage basket, complete with fries ($8.50). If you want to tap into the local specialty, forget the ubiquitous chicken wings, and go instead for a Red Osier beef on weck sandwich. This is a uniquely Buffalo treat, thinly sliced roast beef on a "Kummelweck" roll, a hard roll encrusted with caraway seeds and salt. Slather on some horseradish sauce and you have a piece of Buffalo Heaven. Cost is $8, and for the heartier appetite, order the ROBB, which is essentially double the meat, for $12.
Buffalo fans are blue collar, ragged and rugged, and love their football and are so passionate about their Buffalo Bills, and the game day experience here is not one to be missed. Where to start? The awesome tailgate scene.
The stadium is surrounded by three massive lots to accommodate 15,000 vehicles, and fans do up the pre and post game partying as good as any city in the NFL. Vendors hawk their souvenirs and wares along Abbott Road just west of the stadium, and food trucks assemble a "food court" of sorts just inside the stadium property right in that vicinity. Inside, fans sing and clap along to the signature "Shout" song, which has been the Bills anthem since 1986 and is not going away anytime soon. It is a great scene. Imagine what it would be like if their beloved team became relevant again.
Ralph WIlson Stadium is located in the bucolic and upscale suburb of Orchard Park, but is a distance away from the village itself, and approaching the stadium you will pass strip plazas and car dealerships, and with oceans of surface parking and a horribly sprawled and poorly designed community college a short distance away, there isn't too much of a "neighborhood" to speak of.
So what makes the neighborhood is the great tailgate scene, and the Bills have added gathering areas straddling Abbott Road right inside their parking lot, with a fan entertainment zone and a food truck court.
And that being said, the corner of Abbott and Big Tree has two pretty neat taverns - The Big Tree Inn and Danny's South, and both are pretty hoppin places on game day. For post game, and a short drive, Jack Devine's Pub on Southwestern in Hamburg is a great destination if traveling west, and if traveling east, Duff's on Orchard Park road is a Buffalo institution.
The season ticket base has its ebbs and flows, and is currently in the mid 40,000 range, but for the most part, the place sells out, thanks to cheap tickets, the draw from fans from nearby Rochester and Southern Ontario, and a loyalist mentality ingrained into the community.
Although there are luxury suites and indoor club seating, the fans here wear Zubaz pants and team colors, dress in costumes and paint their faces, swill their beer and wear their hearts on their sleeves.
The team has taken extraordinary steps to curb violence and binge drinking in and around the stadium, and it has netted positive results. While the alcohol and tailgate are still ubiquitous parts of going to a Bills game, banning of kegs, better policing of inebriated fans at the gates, and a zero tolerance policy for miscreants in the stands has gone a long way to making a game at The Ralph a better experience.
While public transportation to the game is not really a good option, it is easy to get to The Ralph and to get out after the game via car. There is a grid of expressways nearby (I-90 and Rte 219) with multiple ramp access points to the stadium environs. Good traffic management gets you into the stadium lots, and there are also abundant private lots in all directions of the stadium.
With the escalating costs of attending NFL games, coming to The Ralph is a bargain by comparison. Sideline lower bowl seats can be had for as little as $80, and "Rockpile Seats" (end zone under the scoreboard) as little as $30. Stadium lots run $25 for parking, although one can find satellite lots just a few minutes walk for as low as $10. On street free parking is not an option. There is no waiting list for season tickets and season ticket holders get all sorts of discounts on merchandise, parking, and a slight discount off face value of the tickets (but one has to buy the dreaded preseasons). Nonetheless, comparatively speaking, a Buffalo Bills game is an entertainment bargain.
The Bills Wall of Fame honors all the greats who excelled in the organization, and the team goes to great lengths to add to the Wall and honor the inductees with regular appearances. Still missing from the list? Buffalo Bills coach Lou Saban, who led the team to AFL titles in 1964 and 1965.
The "Shout" song, mentioned earlier as the anthem of the fans, was a marketing jingle rolled out way back in 1986. It is played whenever the Bills score, and is a great sing along and clap along song. A couple times the front office tried to phase the song out and replace it with something else. But fan outrage won the day every time, and it will most likely be the team jingle forever.
The Bills recently signed a new 10 year lease, and most feel it will be the last one for this aging but functional stadium. Coming attractions and improvements for 2014 will include two new scoreboards at the tunnel end zone, knocking out the stadium concourses to include massive new fan gathering areas inside the perimeter of the building, a new team store and a signature marquee entrance on the Abbott Road side of the stadium.
Make no mistake, this is an old place. A private company has floated plans and renderings for a retractable roof stadium on the waterfront. The community debate is already on in terms of what will the community need to do to keep the team in Buffalo in perpetuity, the team owner is in his mid 90s and has deemed that the team be sold to the highest bidder after his passing. So for now game day in Buffalo remains on solid footing. As for the long term future? Stay tuned.
Known affectionately as "The Ralph", the home of the NFL Buffalo Bills was constructed by the taxpayers of Erie County and opened in 1973. This is the second venue for the Bills, who played in their first 12 years of existence at the old War Memorial Stadium in the city.
Ralph Wilson Stadium is located in the suburb of Orchard Park, approximately 15 miles south of the city, and sits amidst residential subdivisions, and a local community college campus. There is ample road access to the stadium via I-90 and US Route 219. Gameday bus service is also available from downtown.
The stadium has over 15,000 parking spaces on the property itself. There are also a large amount of privately operated lots in all directions around the stadium, with fees running as low as $5 to park, depending on how far one wants to walk.
The stadium has undergone numerous additions and upgrades over the years to offer amenities comparable to today's NFL standards. In the late 90s, the capacity was actually shrunk from 80,000 seats to just over 73,000, with the space being devoted to new dugout suites, club seating and premium spaces. A new HD diamond vision scoreboard was added for the 2008 season.
The one time I was at Ralph Wilson, it was just average. The stadium is fairly old and doesn't feature any of the shiny amenities that you find at some other NFL venues. Food and beverage options were par for the course. That said, the Bills fans are rabid and truly love their team, and aren't afraid to show it. As the team continues to improve over the coming years I imagine the stadium experience will follow suit.
A stadium with a vanity name sucking up to the owner who hasn't produced a decent on-field product since Doug Flutie was QB.
High parking rates and long traffic jams upon exit are atrocious.Drunken tailgaters and the in-seat fights are common place and just part of the "charm" of going to the game here.
Also, lets not forget the frequent and interminable TV commerical breaks which totally destroy any flow and leave you wondering why you bothered to spend the cash for this fiasco.
For the most part I found Ralph Wilson Stadium itself underrated. The building is fine. The sightlines are great. I even found the fans to be much better than I expected. There is not much surrounding the stadium, but having a downtown stadium and a fantastic tailgating scene are just about mutually exclusive. Tailgating in Orchard Park is the best I have seen in my limited NFL experience. Getting out is a real problem. I love the ring of honour, and the infernal Shout song, although annoying, is uniquely Buffalo.
I had a real enjoyable time when I visited "The Ralph". I thought the fans were great, and the stadium was very adequate for the NFL. Sure there wern't a lot of bells and whistles to it, but I thought it represented Buffalo well. Traffic sucked though.
A true old school stadium that makes you appreciate how football used to be played and watched. Fans tailgate from the day before the game. There were a few drunks, but nothing out of control that I noticed. Little around the area, but there is some beautiful forest that you can drive through and appreciate the foliage in the fall. Pay $15 for parking along Southwestern Blvd - easy out after the game. Lots of historical touches for a franchise that has been around for over 50 years.
4360 Milestrip Rd
Blasdell, NY 14219
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