They collectively chanted 'We want Mario!' at a Buffalo Sabres game Wednesday that he didn't even attend. They tweeted a photo out into cyberspace of a pizza that spelled 'Come Mario' in pepperoni. Local businesses on Abbott Road, which runs past Ralph Wilson Stadium, had their electronic store signs with messages welcoming him to town. After just three days in Buffalo Mario Williams felt like he was at home.
"It's a family atmosphere here," said Williams of the impression Buffalo left on him. "I think the biggest thing is you go from a small city to a big city and then for this example, it almost feels like a big Richlands, (North Carolina) which is where I'm from. It feels like a big home atmosphere and I mean it was just like going back."
The Bills passionate fan base may not have been the main reason Mario Williams signed on the dotted line late Thursday afternoon at One Bills Drive, becoming the biggest free agent money signing in team history, but they left enough of a positive impression on the premier pass rusher to prompt a tip of the hat from Bills GM Buddy Nix.
"I want to thank our fans," Nix said prior to introducing Williams at Thursday's press conference. "You drive up Abbott Road and you see all the signs that made Mario feel like he is wanted in Buffalo. Once we got him here and got him to visit, not the people that heard about Buffalo but the people that live here then you find out what a unique place this is. He is going to help it even get better."
It's hard to match the loyalty of Bills fans and at times their passion borders on rabid, but there's a measure of respect Buffalo fans display at the same time that players appreciate.
"I think the number one thing was coming here and seeing them embrace me and definitely the comfort level of everybody that surrounded me when I got here," said Williams "This is what people bleed, breathe and live, so I am really happy for the opportunity to be part of it. I had to duck and dodge a little bit because there were a lot of people out there and I did not want to get run over by anybody, but that is great. That's what you want and you want a fan base like that. This great city definitely offers that."
Williams did admit seeing a lot of the welcoming messages as well as some of the more declarative signage, like the one hung by a fan at the entrance of One Bills Drive on the parking lot number post that read simply, 'Buffalo wants Mario.'
"I saw a lot of those," said Williams. "As far as seeing my name in pizzas that was kind of crazy but it definitely got the message across."
Williams was glad he took the time to see for himself just what Buffalo and its people were about as well as the Bills franchise.
"I heard so much stuff about this city and it's not fair to the simple fact that there are great people here," he said. "Caring and compassionate people that definitely have your back and I see that already. I just feel completely welcome and they look at me as a person and somebody that can come here and help out so that is what I want to be, the person to help out."
Williams was also told by passerby fans and some of his new teammates about the atmosphere on game day. He's looking forward to the experience. More importantly Williams has taken a liking to the city as much as he has his new team. Already appreciative of the support he's received has only made Williams more determined to deliver come the regular season knowing his best contribution will be helping the Bills reach the postseason.
"I feel like this is a great opportunity for me, the team and for us to succeed and get better," Williams said. "This city is looking for that and looking for the Bills to be where we need to be for the fans of this great city. I am ecstatic. I am excited and can't wait for the opportunity to get out there and make things happen."