Paolo Miranda (second from left) and his Bills Backers of Italy.
There aren't many football fans like Bills fans, and there aren't many Bills fans like Paolo Miranda.
He'd never been to Buffalo before he became a fan. Where Paolo is from, it's not even cool to like football – at least, what we call football. In his native Italy, "football" is soccer, and soccer is life.
A Bills fan and Rochester native in Italy temporarily, an ex-girlfriend of Paolo's named Erin, turned him on to the team and the sport. When he traveled to Buffalo with her for the 2004 home opener against Jacksonville, he was hooked.
"In soccer," Paolo said through a pleasant Italian accent, "there are so many fights between fans that you cannot even imagine [opposing fans] sharing a beer together. Bills fans do something that couldn't happen in Italy."
And thus, a die-hard Italian Bills fan was born, impressed not only by the tailgating and the game itself, but by the camaraderie and spirit he saw in Orchard Park that day.
"I was amazed at the party and the sporting event," he said. "I felt like a king in Wonderland."
Back home in Venice, Paolo went to work improving his fandom. American football was so new to him – and he knew to be a good Bills fan he had to learn the game – so he purchased the Madden Football game for his PlayStation and studied the intricacies of the NFL as he played.
Feeling isolated as a Bills Backer in a country of soccer fanatics, Paolo soon became what he called a "football teacher," recruiting friends to play Madden in the off-season and watch real games during the season.
"Every time somebody wants to enjoy the game, we have beers, I make chicken wings in the oven, and we try to explain the rules," he said.
With a handful of friends made Bills fans in Venice, he registered the group as an official Bills Backers chapter, and was soon contacted by fellow Bills fans throughout Italy, whom he never dreamed existed. Now, the Bills Backers of Italy is a group of about 15, with its core in Venice and an active email correspondence to keep connected despite their geographic spread. From Rome to Milan, these Backers cover a surprisingly large area.
Not only did Italian Bills fans contact him, he began to hear from American travelers interested in the fact that a Backers club existed in Italy and excited to watch their team overseas. Paolo meets them at the Gallo Negro, and shows them what watching the NFL in Italy is like.
"We sit down at 7 for the kickoff," he said, "and at halftime you get a pizza for dinner, so you have 20 minutes to get a pizza and be seated to root for Buffalo for the second half."
Paolo's had his fair share of games in America though, as he said he plans his vacations around the Bills schedule. He's been to a few games in Buffalo after his love affair with the Bills football scene began, and even traveled to San Francisco this season and Miami last season by himself to watch his team.
"The San Francisco fans said 'You came from Italy all the way here for the Bills?' and I said yes."
There might not be many like Paolo Miranda, but his pride for the Bills and love of the game isn't that different after all.