It was all about the red, white and blue on the field of Ralph Wilson Stadium last Thursday night – on far more than just the Bills uniforms.
As part of the Salute to Service game honoring veterans and those currently serving, an American flag stretching from endzone to endzone was unveiled by 150 service men and women during the pregame ceremony. It was the Bills first primetime game since 2008, and the first time ever for a full-field flag at the Ralph – a memorable moment for players and fans alike.
Oddly enough, the makings of that memorable moment started in Salt Lake City, Utah, where six massive duffle bags stuffed with sections of the flag were packed up and sent to Buffalo days before the game.
They sat - quite unassumingly considering what they would become - in the underbelly of the stadium, until Topher Horman of 50 Star Productions arrived a few hours before the game to begin setup.
For a flag of the size of a football field, the assembly process took only a bit over 10 minutes. Sections of flag made of nylon parachute material were laid out on the field and clipped together by hidden backpack clips on its underside. No less patriotic than your standard American flag, this special flag is technically a "prop," because it's doesnt have the regular demensions nor abide to U.S. flag code. This enables Horman and his crew to lay the flag down for setup and rehersal before the game.
After some instructions on the basics - when to wave the flag, when to pull back or hold tight - Horman gave more emotional instructions, telling his flag holders to take in the moment when the flag was unfurled, on a field in front of a sold out stadium, held by fellow service men and women. Horman's done this for almost 20 years, and though the logistics are important, he knows it's more about the experience for everyone involved.
"We're focused on how to make the crowd cheer," he said, "and how to make it come together as an emotional event."
With showtime in sight, he rounded up the troops and their flag and had them lay it in the corner of the tunnel. As the stadium began to fill, the rolled-up flag was marched onto the Dolphins sideline before any players came out. The flag holders stretched themselves from one endzone to the other, and any unsuspecting fan could surely tell something special (besides the Bills win later that night) was about to happen on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The flag was pulled into place for the National Anthem, and without being asked beforehand, many Bills and Dolphins jumped in line to help the service men and women support the flag, and the cause.
"Knowing that you've just done something that has created such patriotic feelings for the fans in the stands, for everyone watching at home, for the participants of the game," Horman said. "That's just very, very exciting. That's what it's all about."
And that's how six pieces of parachute fabric clipped together to make an emotional impact on thousands and send an important message to our troops before Thursday night's game.