If you're interested in attending a football game in Buffalo then you need to experience an NFL game at "The Ralph," the stadium nickname from the fans. Ralph Wilson Stadium was originally named Rich Stadium when it was built to replace Buffalo War Memorial Stadium in 1973, which was nicknamed "The Rockpile" due to it becoming so rundown over the years. The stadium offers tickets as low as $25 a seat for season tickets ($45 single game) to club seats at $320 per game, which can include dinner and drinks. Premium boxes are available for lease as well.
Buffalo Bills fans are known for their ability to brave any weather in support of their team. Buffalonians have dealt with extreme weather their whole lives and have learned to thrive in it. They just party a little harder and act a little crazier when the weather turns bad and when you combine this with their love of their team it leads to an incredible sight to behold. The stadium has been known to be a nightmare for kickers since its design creates a unique swirling effect when the winds are strong. The stadium is the first to use A-Turf Titan for a playing field. If you have a seat near the playing field you can notice the curvature of the field which helps in draining water but it's less noticeable the higher up in the stadium you are. The exterior of the stadium features tributes to their former 2 AFL championships and their 4 consecutive AFC championships which no other team has matched. Inside you will notice the wall of fame featuring honored players from the past as well as honoring the Bills fans for their 12th man help during the '90s.
LOCATION: The Ralph was built outside the city of Buffalo in the suburb of Orchard Park, NY, part of the "Southtowns". The stadium's location in the Southtowns makes it a unique experience since you do not have to deal with many of the complications of a big city. It is located at the crossroads of Southwestern and Abbott Rd. The address is 1 Bills Drive Orchard Park, N.Y. 14127.
CAPACITY: The original design was impressive, boasting just over 80,000 seats, giving it the second largest NFL capacity at the time. In 1984 the addition of executive boxes swelled it's seating to it's all time high of 80,290. Future remodels would reduce this to the current level of 73,079.
YEAR BUILT: Construction for the stadium began April 4, 1972 and it was officially opened on August 17, 1973. The stadium was one of the first sports venues to sell naming rights. Rich Products purchased naming rights for 25 years at a cost of $1.5 million.
PARKING: Over the years road improvements have made getting to the stadium much easier. You can definitely save some money by opting for privately owned lots (as low as $5.00) but to have the best time it's worth the $25 for cars to park at the stadium and enjoy the tailgating. Of course, the best tailgaters are the ones with campers that arrive early for an additional fee. You will find the true fanatics here proudly displaying their team colors as well as all manner of cooking apparatus.
Parking is first come-first serve and only a single spot per vehicle is allowed. Paneled or windowless trucks or vans are prohibited. Tailgating is permitted except for the Administrative Lot, Training Center, Tunnel Lot, Lot 6 and Lot G. They ask that you be sure to extinguish all fires and clean up after yourself before entering the stadium. Be sure to bring trash bags. They have dumpsters available but you can leave tied trash bags near your tailgate area as long as it's not in the traffic lanes. The lots open 4 hours before the game and close 2 hours following the game.
They have a bathhouse available the day prior, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. and gameday 7 a.m.-10 p.m., which has showers, restrooms and changing facilities and is located in Lot 6 right across from the camper lot. My best advice is arrive early and try to get to lot 2 which is right next to the camper lot. You would actually be across the street (Abbott Rd) from the stadium but crossing near game time and immediately following is no trouble. The best route to get to this lot would be to take Interstate 90 West to exit 55(Route 219) and follow Route 219 to Route 20A West and follow it 1 mile until you get to Abbott Rd and turn right. Lot 2 will be on your left. This is the back way in and with the exception of passing a stadium entrance on the right as you approach it's usually quite easy. Most traffic comes from Southwestern Blvd, Milestrip, Route 5 and Route 20. Don't worry there will be great tailgate parties in all the parking lots and you will find people that are friendly and fun.
RESTRICTIONS: You are not allowed to bring any beverages into the stadium and they do pat downs. You are allowed additional clothing, binoculars, cameras shorter than 6 inches, seat cushions smaller than 15"x15" without metal arms or backs, small pocket sized electronics that must be inspected, bags no larger than 12" and food - unopened, single serve containers carried in clear plastic bags.
FOOD: The food inside the stadium has increased in variety through the years and now offers not only the normal ballpark staples but includes Italian sausage with peppers & onions, pizza and Beef on Weck (rare roast beef heated au jus and placed on a hard roll topped with kosher salt & caraway seeds, always best with horseradish). The tailgate food is the better option and better variety including Beef on weck and Buffalo wings on top of numerous other possibilities. Just be sure to bring more than enough food and drinks since you can always trade with your neighbors.
BEER: Drinking is permitted in the parking lot as long as you observe proper code of conduct. You may purchase beer/alcoholic beverages inside the stadium only during the first half of the game.
FAMILY FUN: The Bills Fieldhouse is home to the largest indoor tailgate party in the NFL. It opens 3.5 hours prior to kickoff during regular season games and includes entertainment for the whole family. Inside you will find interactive games, former Bills players available for autographs, the local pre-game show courtesy of WGR550 AM, youth football zone, kiosks featuring Bills history and concessions. If you are facing the stadium on Abbott Rd. the Fieldhouse is on the right hand side behind Lot A and across the street from the camper lot.
The biggest thing to remember is to have fun and be friendly. It is an open air stadium so be prepared to deal with the weather that day. Drink responsibly and be careful. It's hard to take in everything at the game so construct a game plan of what you really want to do that day. If you have kids I would opt to include the fieldhouse so be sure to set time aside for it. Getting there early is the key to a successful outing.
Theodore Benes and his family moved into a house just 1 mile south of what was Rich Stadium at the time. He attended many games since the late '70s. He still has many friends and relatives who live in the area and frequent the games.