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His name isn't really Ron, it's Ken. 'Ron' was a misprint that stuck. When tailgating he cooks food on the hood of his 1980 Ford Pinto Wagon. So the fans call him Pinto Ron. Then they cover him head to toe in ketchup and mustard before every game.
How did you fall in love with your team? What is your first memory around your NFL team?
I always say when you are born in Buffalo you are already a Bills fan. My first actual memories were in the mid-late 1960's. On Sundays in the fall, my extended family on my father's side would meet at my grandparents to watch the Bills' games. Back in those days the Bills were not very good and I remember my family giving up on them as the team fell behind game after game. I remember getting frustrated and a bit angry at them for giving up, so I would follow the end of the game intently hoping for a comeback win just to shut them up. That was the origin of my emotional investment in the team.
How, when and why did you start dressing up, collecting or becoming more than a regular ordinary fan?
In the late 1980's, in addition to attending each home Bills game I began going on a few road trips. This in itself was not unusual for Bills fans, most Bills fans I know go on one or two road trips a year. Each year my count of road trips increased, and in 1994 I attended all 16 Bills regular season games (sadly no playoffs that year). Although I did not intend to keep this up, I continued to go to all regular season games.
When I hit fifty consecutive games in a row, I knew I was at the point of no return. That is when I began to think I was more than an ordinary fan. I knew for sure I was different when one year my wife, kids and I were on a vacation in Florida for 10 days and halfway through I had to fly back to Buffalo for a pre-season game, only to rejoin my family in Florida the next day.
What is your favorite NFL moment or team memory?
My favorite memory is the AFC championship game that led to the Bills' first Super Bowl appearance in January 1991. What made that game so great was that at halftime the Bills were leading 48-3 with an entire half to go, so you knew the Bills were going to the Super Bowl. The fans attending were celebrating the entire second half; it was an awesome experience.
What distinguishes you from other fans of your team?
A combination of my game streak, three hundred and fifty seven games in a row as of the end of the 2016 season, and an unusual and popular tailgate I host called the "Red Pinto Tailgate".
How did you develop your costume / get your nickname / develop your superfan persona?
The "Pinto Ron" persona was slowly developed over almost thirty years. The "Pinto" portion is from the 1980 Ford Pinto Wagon I use as my tailgating vehicle. The "Ron" portion can from an interview I did almost twenty years ago. The article came out with my name wrong. Rather than Ken the author mistakenly called me Ron. Somehow, the people in my immediate tailgate would not let that go, and anytime the media would come by they would talk them into calling me "Ron". After a while I just gave up and "Pinto Ron" came about.
What is your favorite keepsake or piece of memorabilia?
My favorite keepsake is a piece of a goal post. In 1988, when Buffalo clinched a playoff spot, the crowd stormed the field and tore down the goal posts. Given I had to get down there from the upper deck, I was a part of the "third wave". I managed to come away with an eighteen-inch piece of one of the goalposts.
What is your game day ritual? How do you prefer to watch the game?
For the last twenty-two years, I have attended every game live: home, and road. So I guess you can say that is my preferred way to watch the game. I am big on tailgating. In Buffalo I run the "Red Pinto Tailgate", a popular, but unusual tailgate which features cooking using various implements on or near my 1980 Ford Pinto Wagon. Some of the things we cook include: chicken wings in an army helmet, stir fry in a hubcap, hot dogs/burgers on a rake, bacon on a saw, pancakes/omelets on a shovel, ribs on a toolbox, pizza in a filing cabinet, pulled pork in an oil pan, soup in a watering can, and jerk chicken in a mailbox.
When I hit fifty consecutive games in a row, I knew I was at the point of no return.
One popular ritual we have is the "ketchup opening ceremony", performed ninety minutes before kick-off. I emerge from a crowd with a burger asking for ketchup, and get completely buried in ketchup and mustard. Fortunately, I have a quick cleanup routine, and am completely cleaned off in ten minutes.
On road trips, I also tailgate with various Bills Backers groups around the country. No Pinto nor ketchup, but good food, drink, and friends.
How does it feel to be known by your friends and peers as a die-hard fan?
I am surrounded by so many die-hard-fans that I really don't feel I stick out that much and I am quick to point that out. I will admit however, that I may be one of the more dedicated fans and I appreciate the support I get from my friends, peers, and family to continue.
What is the best thing about your team?
The Buffalo fan base is very blue collar: hard working, beer drinking, and chicken-wing-eating-kind of people. No wine and tofu here. Throughout the years the owners, coaches, and players have consistently recognized this and embraced this blue-collar nature. The players really respond to the passion of the fans. They want to win for the fans as much as they want to win themselves. They feel a part of the community not just a temporary resident.
All images by Peter Sutherland.
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