ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Charles Pellien is the kind of hard-working American who would make a good subject for a Bon Jovi song. He's a 49-year-old truck driver with a lifelong love story.
Pellien's love affair is with the Buffalo Bills, the team he grew up cheering for. And therefore he has a problem with Bon Jovi. The New Jersey rocker is part of a prospective NFL ownership group that has already scouted out possible stadium sites in Ontario, according to an AP report over the weekend. Although Bon Jovi has indicated he would not want to move the Bills out of the region, Pellien and many of his fellow Bills fans don't buy that line any more than they buy "Slippery When Wet" CDs.
"It's a big threat," Pellien said of Bon Jovi's possible bid. "He's aligned with guys from Toronto. They've got more money than everybody else. We don't believe they will keep the Bills in Buffalo. Why would they?"
On Tuesday, possible bidders must submit a "letter of indication" to Morgan Stanley, which will review the candidates and determine who gets to the next step in the process. Bills fans are counting on Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula to purchase the team and keep it in Western New York. The Bills need a new owner after the passing of legendary team founder Ralph Wilson earlier this year. His death began both a wave of mourning in the region and also concern about whether the small-market team would remain in Buffalo under new ownership. That concern has only ratcheted up in recent weeks.
So Pellien got together with some friends earlier this summer and came up with an idea: ban Bon Jovi music.
It was a way to galvanize the fan base and make a visible effort to keep the team in Western New York. And it's not like Pellien liked Bon Jovi to begin with. "I was always more of a hard rock, Metallica, Led Zeppelin guy," he said.
To his surprise, the ban caught fire. It began with a couple of bars and grew to a list of more than 200 places, including gentlemen's clubs and even radio stations in the area. A bar with the appropriate name "GFY" is on the list, and a server named Tammy picked up the phone on Sunday and was happy to talk about the situation. "Nobody wants to lose their team," she said.
Some, however, in the area aren't aware of the intensity of the issue. A little over a week ago, when a local cover band played "Livin' on a Prayer," it was lustily booed for most of the duration of the song.
Andrew Bergmann, a Toronto-based engineering consultant for Bon Jovi's group, told the Buffalo News last week, "It's the Buffalo Bills, and they will do everything they can to make that work there." Through a spokesman, Bon Jovi declined comment on the Bills to Yahoo Sports.
Pellien grew up next door to Ralph Wilson Stadium, parking hundreds of cars each Sunday for fans. As a kid, he snuck in on the first day the stadium opened in 1973 just to see the field.
"From the day we were born, it's all we've known," said Pellien, who runs the site 12th Man Thunder, which was founded to "give Buffalo Bills fans a voice during the sale of the franchise."
"My earliest memories were watching O.J. break 2,000 yards."
Pellien remembers the way the Browns left Cleveland and how the Colts left Baltimore, and he wanted to do something to fight what is still merely speculation but has felt all too real to him. He said the Bills leaving the area would cause "a psychological depression."
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Under the terms of the Bills' lease, the team cannot negotiate with any possible suitor with the intention of moving the franchise until 2022. Pellien would rather not wait and hope for the best. He also has a petition on his site vowing that, "We will not attend games involving this team in Canada or any other location. Any local [Western New York] fan base revenue will be non-existent to the relocating owners. Not one ticket – you can count us out."
The petition has more than 10,000 signatures. And the movement is gaining steam. New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy tweeted about the issue last week, warning the rock star:
Note to JBJ: You will lose fans/all of WNY- forever. Not worth it. AP Source: NFL stadium sites explored in Toronto http://t.co/IoRH0zRqk9
— Robert Duffy (@LtGovDuffyNY) July 25, 2014
He also tweeted:
I met/liked Jon Bon Jovi. A very nice guy. The Buffalo Bills need to stay in Buffalo. I received this shirt recently. pic.twitter.com/F97csU3rAl
— Robert Duffy (@LtGovDuffyNY) July 25, 2014
Gary Sawning, manager and drummer of the Wasted Whiskey Band, joined Pellien's ban. "People need to speak up," he said. "This is the first time the town can take a stand and keep jobs here."
Sawning said he prides himself on taking requests at events, but if a fan wants to hear a Bon Jovi song, he'll politely say, "We'll see what Bon Jovi does with the team first."
And if that fan threatens to walk out?
"We'll probably just let him leave," Sawning said.
This isn't directed against Bon Jovi himself. Sawning said he likes the music. It's more a show of defiance by a fan base that feels like greater forces may swoop in and leave it without one of only two major sports teams in the area.
A prospective owner could emerge as soon as next month. Pegula, a natural gas maven, is suddenly much more of a rock star than the well-coiffed Bon Jovi, who sang, "I guess this time you're really leaving/I heard your suitcase say goodbye."
Fans here hope that line isn't prophetic.
"It's nothing personal," Pellien said. "If Santa Claus was threatening to move the Bills to the North Pole, we'd ban him too."