Forget the 5-9 New York Giants and avert your eyes from the train wreck that is the 1-13 New York Jets (they can't even guarantee the number one draft pick at this point!)—instead, turn your gaze upstate toward the beacon of light that is the Buffalo Bills, who will be in the NFL playoffs after their successful season. Because of this, the Bills Mafia has managed to pressure New York State into figuring out a way for fans to watch the team's first playoff game at home since 1996 in person at Bills Stadium. (The date of the game has not been set yet.)
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that the state was currently considering plans to allow fans into the stadium "under strict COVID-19 protocols." The current proposal, which is being devised by both the Bills organization and state, would require fans to have a negative coronavirus test before being allowed into the stadium, and agree to contact tracing measures after the game.
Inside, fans would be required to wear masks and adhere to social distancing, or be ejected. Tailgating would be prohibited, with Cuomo's office explaining that "New Yorkers are being reminded to avoid gatherings and parties before, during and after the game as these events are prime for viral spread."
"Not only would strict mask and social distancing guidelines be in effect, but under the current proposal, this would be the first stadium in the nation to require that all fans obtain a negative COVID-19 test before entering," Cuomo said. "If a final agreement can be reached and the plan works, this could also serve as a model for reopening other entertainment venues across the state."
After the team's victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, a huge crowd of Bills fans—the Mafia—showed up at the airport to welcome the players home.
Quarterback Josh Allen said of the possibility of having fans in the stadium, "I know they’re chomping at the bit to get back in there. Whatever needs to get done to get it done, I know Bills Mafia would be willing to do it in order to get in the stadium. Fingers are crossed for that one."
He added, "Obviously that’d be a huge inspiration for us to have fans back in the stadium. And we know how much it would mean to those 6,700 fans that are there. We wish we had Bills Mafia in the stands and this is the year we would really use them."
However, Eric County Executive Mark Poloncarz questioned the plans, issuing a statement saying he had no idea what the governor was talking about.
"“My administration and the Erie County Health Department have not been a part of any discussions regarding the ‘demonstration project’ announced by Governor Cuomo to allow 6,700 fans into Bills Stadium to see a football game and we have no information to add on the proposal. Despite being on several calls with NYS officials for a variety of matters related to the COVID-19 Pandemic over the past few days, no such proposal was brought up and additionally, my recent conversations with staff from the Buffalo Bills indicated to me that while the Bills submitted numerous plans to return fans to the stadium in past months they were unsure whether any of the plans were being actively considered by the state," he said.
After pointing out that a decision would need to be made by the middle of next week for ticket sales and getting support staff ready, Poloncarz continued, "Finally, it must be noted Erie County does not have the capacity to do rapid testing on 6,700 individuals in either a pre-game or prior day setting – the county performs on average 1,450 COVID-19 tests per week for all tests (Abbot ID Now Rapid Tests, Abbot Binax Now Rapid Tests, and traditional PCR Tests) – and that NYS or the Buffalo Bills organization would have to conduct both these tests and the related contact tracing. While we will work with NYS if needed on this proposal, Erie County has not been a part of its formulation and we have no details on how or if it will occur."
Polncarz expressed his frustration with reporters asking questions about the stadium proposal during a Monday press conference. "If we can get fans in the stadium, great, but our priority should be on reducing the number of cases and deaths in our communities. I announced 60 people died unfortunately in the last few days and most of the questions have been about the Bills," Polncarz said. "Get your priorities straight."
Some NFL teams have allowed small numbers of fans attend games, but a few of those teams reverted to closing the games to the public as COVID-19 cases have surged. The season started with the home opener at Kansas City, where one fan later tested positive for the coronavirus and 10 people had to quarantine.
The seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate for western New York is 6.4%; Erie County's is 6.0%.
"Bills fans have been waiting decades for another home playoff game and after such a tumultuous year, they deserve the opportunity to be able to root for their team in person, as long as it can be done safely," Cuomo said on Wednesday. "Go Bills!"