Mix a bar owner from Cleveland, a bartender from Erie, and 10 die-hard Bills fans in the middle of Chicago, and you’ll have a recipe for what would become one of the proudest Bills Backers Chapters there is.
From that humble beginning in 2002 - when those die-hard Backers had to convince that Cleveland bar owner to take a chance on fans from up the Lake - there have been weddings, podcasts, plenty of beers, and what Bills Backers of Chicago President Sujit Janardhan says was the founding of a new family, brought together by Buffalo Bills football.
“It was undeniable. The Bills fans just started to take over this bar, week after week,” Rochester-native Janardhan says of the club’s early stages. “After a year of us loudly yelling the Shout song after each score, the owner finally got annoyed and figured out a way to play it over the loud-speaker.”
The group of 10 grew to what’s now a solid 200 Backers each gameday, flooding both sides of the split-room bar at Lincoln Station. It should be noted that they’re not the only incredibly active Backers group in Chicago, with their counterpart less than a mile down the road at Delilah’s – a much smaller venue that’s always packed on gamedays. Janardhan says Chicagoans often wonder how two active Bills Bars have such a presence in their city, Bills flags flying outside of the bar and all. His explanation: “There’s just something about the Bills.”
He says emotions ran so high among his Backers during the 2011 win against the Patriots in Orchard Park that the whole group was screaming, crying, and kissing. “I told my wife, that day we beat the Patriots was the best day of my life since we got married!”
Their dedication runs beyond gameday. One of the original founders of the group, Bill Nichols, and a team of Chicago Backers produce a weekly podcast called “Bills and Beers.” And beyond just weekly dedication, one Backer met and married one of the bartenders at Lincoln Station after meeting her through Bills gamedays.
In that same vein, though not quite as literally, Janardhan stressed that these Backers have become more than just Bills fans who watch games together, but a real family. As fans who can’t just drive to the Ralph on Sundays, he says they bond over games because they’re a piece of Buffalo they can hold on to wherever they are.
“There's a pride in being from Western New York. Whether the economy is down or the weather is rough, we will always believe in Western New York and in the Bills,” Janardhan says. “We’re more than just a bunch of fans watching together. It’s a friendship. It’s a family.”