Superfans envision a location for family-friendly tailgating
September is the time of year when the Buffalo Bills hold sway over an entire community. Demographic lines of race, wealth, religion, politics, and geography no longer matter. In our divided world, being able to rally behind a single cause — the Bills finally winning a Super Bowl — counts as something special, and fans embrace the energy until it is palpable.
This fall, a group of superfans are taking their love of Buffalo football to another level, opening The 12th Man Misfitz Manor.
The Manor is situated behind the Big Tree Inn along Route 20A in Orchard Park, within a Josh Allen Hail Mary pass of Highmark Stadium. It’s hard to miss with its bright blue exterior, accented with red and white Zubaz striping.
Since the spring, renovating the Manor has become a passion project for a group of die-hard fans, many of whom have assumed different superfan personas. People have volunteered
their time, money, and renovation skills to make the house a welcoming area for both Bills lovers and fans of opposing teams.
“There’s really nothing like it here in Buffalo,” said Clark Webster, who goes by the nickname “Bills Mafia Mando,” inspired by a character based on a Disney+ TV series. “We want to do it right. We’re like one big family, and it’s important to have a place for fans to come.”
Kurt Armstrong, nicknamed “Bills’ Slingshot,” purchased the house at 5204 Big Tree Road last May. Although he grew up and lives in Coral Springs, Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale, Armstrong has been a Bills fan for his entire life.
“I started liking football back in the 1990s,” he recalled. “The first Super Bowl I watched was when the Bills lost to the Giants.”
Armstrong, 42, works as a deputy sheriff in Broward County. He expects to retire in four years, with plans to move to Western New York then. Living close to the Miami Dolphins never impressed him.
“My dad and I latched onto the Bills,” he said. “Jim Kelly went to college here (at the University of Miami), which helped. Plus I met Dan Marino once, and he wasn’t super friendly.”
Armstrong first visited Buffalo in 2017 to watch the Bills play Tampa Bay.
“Tyrod Taylor was the quarterback,” he said. “It was an experience. Dolphins fans are dedicated, but Bills fans take it to a whole other level. Go up and down the street, and you see Bills flags. Everyone is wearing blue and red on game day. I knew this was something special.”
A few years ago, Armstrong bought a 3-wheeler and had it painted in Bills blue, accented with red and white to represent team colors. He achieved a measure of fame with the vehicle, nicknamed the “Slingshot,” and was interviewed on local TV when it was transported to Buffalo for several home games.
Becoming friendly with other Bills fans catapulted Armstrong into wondering what might be the next step. He wanted to move to Buffalo anyway, having scouted real estate in Williamsville. When a house went on the market near the stadium, he thought, why not?
Outside the Stadium
Armstrong isn’t the only Bills lover to feel such passion.
Robert Stallworth Jr. is co-founder of a fan base called “The 12th Man Mafia Gang.” A Buffalo native who grew up on the border of Buffalo and Cheektowaga, Stallworth, 38, uses the persona “Buffalo Wingman.” During the pandemic, he relocated to North Carolina, but still travels to all home and away games. At the 2022 draft in Las Vegas, he met up with other Bills fans.
“We call each other superfans,” he said. “We went to the draft and had a blast together. We decided to get people from our little crews and roll with a big mixture. How about we put our chapters together and do a tailgate thing?”
Webster, another superfan, was part of a group called the “Mafia Misfitz."
“There’s a story behind us,” he reflected. “We came on the scene a few years ago, but there would always be something that went wrong with our tailgates. At the end of the day, everyone still had fun, so we called ourselves the ‘Misfitz.’"
Last fall, the Mafia Misfitz and 12th Man Mafia Gang came together, meeting at the corner of Abbott Road and Glen Street, two blocks south of Highmark Stadium. Dressed in costumes, these superfans huddled around a TV to eat, drink, and greet other fans as they entered and left the stadium. Many superfans don’t hold tickets to a home game, but want to be part of the game day experience.
Dan Kline, a superfan known as “Buffalo Spartan,” rarely attends games. But he braves the elements in Orchard Park with his group of friends, high-fiving adults and children on their way to the field. With his mask and persona, Kline has a strong online following. The first time he did attend a game, TV cameras zoomed in on him, and he experienced a moment of national attention.
While it’s nice to be inside the stadium, anyone can enjoy the game from nearby, he insists.
“I have a friend I work with who is a Giants fan,” Kline said. “They don’t even play in New York state. I invited him because he’s never been to an NFL game. He looked at ticket prices and said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Let me give you the next best thing. You can have a Buffalo tailgating experience a couple blocks from the stadium. We can walk all around and check it out.’ He’d never get that opportunity anywhere else.”
Kline, 46, of Niagara Falls, retired in 2022 after 27 years in the Army. Distinctive because of his tattoos and a bright red mohawk, he has been a superfan for more than three years.
“To become Buffalo Spartan, I basically combined two of my loves: the Buffalo Bills, and video games, especially Halo. I came up with a new character that no one had ever seen. I wanted to do something that was bigger than what Dan could do.”
While celebrating the Bills, Kline also wanted to give back to the community. With his experience in marketing — he worked as a recruiter for the Army Reserves — he believed that donning a helmet and becoming a superfan would give him a greater platform to reach people.
“I started a toy drive and collected more than 200 toys my first time,” he said. “We donated them to Oishei Children’s Hospital.”
He hopes to start a Little Free Library and help increase literacy in Western New York. He has already collected three boxes of books.
Webster, 52, lives in South Buffalo and became a superfan after he added special colors to a Halloween costume from one of his favorite TV shows.
“I’ve always been a Bills fan, and loved The Mandalorian,” he said. “I knew that was going to be my next costume. I saw another superfan on TV, 'Bills Vader.' For fun, I put Bills colors on my helmet and threw something on Instagram. People reacted and invited me into their group.”
Being a passionate fan, Webster was already familiar with longtime characters who had been attending Bills games for nearly 30 years.
“To meet superfans from the 1990s, like Elvis, was a treat. I idolized these people watching them on TV. They greeted me with open arms. What an awesome group of people.”
Fellow superfans are grateful that Armstrong was willing to buy the Manor and open it up for them to use for tailgating.
“Kurt said, ‘I have the means and I want to do this,’” Webster said. “There were good debates on what to do with the inside. We spent half the summer getting it ready. It’s the perfect location.”
“It’s awesome,” Kline agreed. “When Kurt said he wanted to do this, we all had reservations. We didn’t want him to put all this money in when he doesn’t even live here. But he visits Buffalo a lot. This will ease him having to pay for hotels. We just didn’t want this to hurt him financially. Once he committed to doing it, I said I’d support him any way I can.”
The Manor has four bedrooms, and only Bills decorations are allowed inside. Each room will have a different decade’s theme: Bills from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
The house will be open to everyone on game days, especially visiting fans. The group plans to host a family-friendly tailgate — there will be food, and maybe bounce houses for kids. Crashing through tables, however, isn’t part of the plan. Because the Manor is so new, logistics have not yet been worked out, so in the future, there may be a charge for food.
On a Friday night in September, Kline was at the Manor, after dark, building a bar top for the garage, while planning the backyard layout containing grills, a smoker, and a fire pit.
“These guys are the ones doing all the work for free,” Armstrong said. “They’re paying for materials so we can create a spot for ourselves. I gave each of them a key, and trust them with everything. I know they’ll do a good job.”
Kline surveyed the backyard, beyond Abbott Road toward the construction site for the new stadium, where excavators and heavy equipment were parked for the night.
“When the team changes stadiums, it’s going to be right there,” he pointed. “We’ll be able to see the new stadium from the garage.”
text © 2023 by Jeff Schober
Special thanks to Jim Smerecak for the story idea.
Jeff Schober has a journalism degree from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in English and History from the University at Buffalo. He teaches English and Journalism at Frontier High School and is the best-selling author of ten books, including the true crime book Bike Path Rapist with Det. Dennis Delano, and the Buffalo Crime Fiction Quartet. Visit his website at www.jeffschober.com.
Steve Desmond is an award-winning photographer. With his son, Francis, he is the author of A Life With A Purpose, which raises money for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research. To view more of Steve's work, search Facebook under "Steve Desmond" and "Desmond's PrimeFocus Photography," or on Instagram at "Stevedesmond9."
Did you like what you read? If so, scroll to the top of the page and click “Login/Sign up" on the right. If you're social media savvy, we have a Facebook page. Join us and we'll be your friend. Or follow us on Instagram. About once each month, we’ll let you know about a new Buffalo-based story… for free. Check our catalog of past stories too, which can be read below, with more choices on the home page.