STADIUM DUDE’S NFL STADIUM RANK: #29
- Location: Orchard Park, NY
- Opened: 1973
- Capacity: 71,608
- Weather: Uncomfortable (ranked the worst of the 20 outdoor venues)
- Games attended: 9
- Last visited: 2023
The Bills Mafia is certifiably nuts. The tailgate is among the craziest, booziest, and rowdiest in football. You want to see grown-ass men jump off RV’s in an attempt to smash through a flaming portable table? This is the place. I’m convinced the excessive pre-game binge-drinking numbed this dedicated fan base into repeatedly coming out in snowy weather for decades of mediocre football in the long years between Jim Kelly and Josh Allen.
Having come here several times, I struggle how to rank it, partly because most visits were very hazy. The Rich Stadium/ Ralph Wilson Stadium/ New Era Field/ Bills Stadium/ Highmark Stadium game plan usually involved a 2+ hour drive on a party bus (where we’d start drinking at 7am) before tailgating with the maniacs for a few hours. By the time the actual game kicked off at 1, we’d often be lubricated enough that all we wanted was a slice of Nova pizza and a chance to sing “Shout” (a Buffalo Bills version of the Isley Brothers’ classic) after a Bills’ score. God help you if it was a late afternoon or night game.
A Return Visit
I came back for the first time in 10+ years in early 2023 with a more sober approach (I was driving). I confirm what I originally thought: the stadium doesn’t match the fan passion. As one of the older stadiums in the league, it still feels rather ramshackle and minor league, despite several renovations. It’s as if you took a Division II stadium and plopped a large upper deck on it.
Lower bowl and club level between the end zones have proper seats, but it’s benches everywhere else. Given the size of the average Western New York sports fan, and the likelihood of everyone being bundled in multiple layers of winter garb, the seats are too small. Beer selection was decidedly meh with nothing but macro lagers and seltzers in 98% of the concessions. A halftime pee break can easily take the entire half. Traffic getting to the game can be bad given the relative lack of options. Getting out of the parking lots post-game is a nightmare. And while my recent January game was cold but not miserable, you risk sitting in a blizzard for half the season’s home games.
On the other hand, you can enjoy some good eats, albeit more so in the food trucks in the parking lots pregame than inside the stadium itself. (Last visit, I enjoyed me a traditional fried bologna sandwich smothered in provolone and fried onions at 10:35 a.m. and made my yummy noises whilst eating it.) Concessions inside are plentiful with shorter lines than other venues. And they can get around the lack of escalators because the place is dug into the ground, so you enter at club level and only have one section to navigate up or down.
Plus Bills Mafia is among the most passionate fan base in North American sports, meaning the in-game experience will be awesome if you get a halfway decent game.
My Overall Assessment
Even “sober”, it’s a hard stadium to rate. If the Bills are good and the weather cooperates, a trip to Highmark Stadium is a fantastic football experience; arguably, one of the most fun in the league. But the weather is often NOT good, and the stadium itself is underwhelming.
Everyone who calls themself a football fan should try to make a trip to Orchard Park while this relic is still standing. You’d be hard pressed to not have a good time unless you’re susceptible to frostbite. But given the quality of the “average” NFL venue, there are just too many shortcomings; hence, this low rating.