When the Buffalo Bills franchise was in its infancy, playing at the old Rock Pile, there were no Buffalo Jills. The cheerleaders from Buffalo State College cheered from the sidelines instead. Joanne Gaulin saw the opportunity, and went straight to the top to get the Bills a set of cheerleaders of their own.
“Joanne went to Mr. Wilson and said, ‘Can I put together a team of women that would be the Buffalo Jills cheerleaders?” said Jills alumni president Lori Mammoliti. “Mr. Wilson said, yes, but he said they had to be married.”
And so in 1967 the Buffalo Jills were born through Gaulin’s persistence, beginning a rich history to accompany the action on the field. The ‘marriage’ rule would change during the 70s, but the Jills have stayed a sideline staple since their start at the Rock Pile.
Mammoliti said some of her favorite memories during her 13 year Jills career came during the early 90s as the Jills traveled with the team to each of the Super Bowl games.
“It all moved so quickly because you had to wait until the last playoff game to find out,” she said. Once we knew we were going to the Super Bowl we had to start preparing immediately.
“It made everything 100 times larger. If anything it was the most exciting time to be in a show that big. To see how the NFL puts on a show in that short period of time and makes it that big was amazing. We had to raise our own money to be able to get there. We made our own uniforms for them. It was all really exciting”
And what would the Jills be without their staple uniforms? They’ve changed over the years, from sweaters and a long skirt, to the two piece outfits the team currently wears. Check out our photo gallery of throwback Jills pictures for a look at some of the best uniforms in Jills history.
“In snowstorms we were dancing with plastic gogo boots, stockings and a dance skin,” said Mammoliti, laughing. “Still today some of the girls are frostbit in all kinds of places. If you were cheering in Buffalo, you froze!”
Mammoliti harped on the fact that the team was like a family, assuredly bonded by those freezing experience and trips to the Super Bowl and all over the world.
Though members of the team during different eras, as the longest ever Jill, Omarlla Barnett shares the same sentiments about her Jills teammates.
“When I first tried out I never thought about the endless possibilities and lifelong friendships,” she said, adding that many of the bridesmaids in her upcoming wedding are her former teammates. “You don’t expect to do that, you don’t really know what you’re signing up for. The last game was so emotional. I cried on the way to the stadium, I cried on the field, I cried on my way out of the stadium.”
Barnett had the chance to travel to Singapore to visit troops on behalf of the Jills, an international experience that mirrors the charitable appearances the team makes in the Western New York community.
Both agreed that while the team and the traditions have changed over the years, between the community appearances, the chances to travel the world, and the memories made on the sidelines and with their teammates, the squad is not so different from its early Rock Pile beginnings.