The October recipient for the 2021-22 Buffalo Bills Season Ticket Member of the Month Program is a symbol of strength for those in the Western New York community. Gary Powers, a stage IV brain cancer patient, is now back for a seventh straight season as a senior Pepsi Club seat holder with his wife Debbie.
A Depew native who's lived in Orchard Park for over two decades, Gary originally became a season-ticket holder in 1985 and was always following the historic 1990s Bills squad that won four consecutive AFC Championships from 1990-93. He took a brief hiatus after the team fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1996 Wild Card round before coming back in 2015.
Like many in Bills Mafia, Gary's favorite current Bills player is Josh Allen. The NFL's reigning Fantasy Player of the Year has many skills and traits to laud, but Gary is most fond of how the Wyoming product conducts his business as a professional.
"Just the way he carries himself, not only on the field, but off the field," Gary said. "It's important, I think, both ways. That's a key thing for me too."
Out of all the Bills football he's seen, Gary's favorite memory of the team comes from this past year when Buffalo earned its first AFC Championship game berth since the 1993 NFL season by defeating the Baltimore Ravens at home in the AFC Divisional Round. Getting a live look at Taron Johnson's pick-six of former league MVP Lamar Jackson to seal the win was a treat, but even getting to that day was a struggle for Gary and Debbie.
Gary was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2020 and finished with his final round of chemotherapy last December. There was a time where it looked like he and Debbie would be unable to attend any home playoff games as a pair—not only because of fan restrictions due to COVID, but because doctors also anticipated he may not be able to make it following the end of his treatment. But Gary gained enough strength to make his way to One Bills Drive on that January16th night.
"Just to be able to go there, first off, and just [to] do it with my wife, to go together and experience that, it was just awesome," Gary said. "Not only the game itself … but being able to enjoy it together."
Tailgates have changed a bit for the Powers since Gary's diagnosis. Although their go-to tailgate food remains charcuterie board platters, Gary and Debbie have had to amend how much they move around to accommodate for Gary's well-being. But they are steadfast in keeping their pre-game tradition of visiting friends who make their way to Orchard Park just for game days.
It gives the couple a chance to catch up with those they've met over the years and gives Debbie a chance to connect with her fellow Bills Mafia members. "I think she ended up turning out to be more of a huge Bills fan than I have been," Gary said. "She's always decked out with all her Bills gear and stuff, and I just sort of laugh."
Being Buffalo born and raised and living here for the majority of his life, Gary has always felt that Western New Yorkers were special people. Gary says he could not be more thankful of how helpful people are in the region, and the way they've come together for him in his most dire time while dealing with cancer,
"Right now, with what I'm going through, there's always somebody there for me," Gary said.
"Or just everybody's behind me and that's huge. Even though I might not know people, it might be a brother's friend or somebody from [outside], they'll say 'hey, I know what's going on, good luck.' … It's incredible how many people you don't know that know what's going on. And if they see me, they'll reach out to me, so that's sort of nice that way too.
"And that's the whole family atmosphere I think Buffalo sort of gives."