Area Bills’ Fan Plays Prominent Role With Mafia
Even though the team is labeled as Buffalo and plays in Orchard Park, the Buffalo Bills are a major part of communities across all of Western New York.
On Monday night, football fans across the nation were given a glimpse into our region’s support of the team from a member of our own community. Leslie Wille, co-founder of Bills Mafia and treasurer of the Bills Mafia Babes, was featured in a pregame video during the Monday Night Football broadcast on ESPN this past Monday.
“Cheering for the Bills, it’s always been a family thing,” Wille said to ESPN in the video with her children on the playground at Russell Joy Park. Wille is also the community engagement coordinator at Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation.
“It was important for me that if we were doing this, that we were doing it locally here in town,” said Wille, a Fredonia resident.
Wille was at the game Monday night, so she didn’t see herself on the screen at the same time as the national audience. Still, that didn’t stop her from receiving an immediate response when her face appeared on the screens of millions across the nation.
“I knew it had aired because I was sitting at the game and all of a sudden my phone was blowing up with messages,” Wille said.
Wille said ESPN reached out because of her charitable work in the community with the Bills Mafia Babes and the work she previously did with the initial Bills Mafia non-profit organization, which is no longer operational. She was instrumental in the formation of Bills Mafia Babes and serves as a board member in the organization’s goal to promote, support and welcome female fans of the team and the sport of football, while also supporting the community through charitable work.
“I wore my Bills Mafia Babes shirt because I wanted to represent that organization and female fans in the NFL,” she said. “Bills Mafia Babes started out as an online community, just as a space for female fans, because a lot of times for women speaking about the sport it can feel like a hostile environment, especially online.”
The Bills Mafia Babes partner with a player every month throughout the year to support a charity or cause they feel strongly about. The initial Bills Mafia group began more than a decade ago, and now that the phrase has been adopted by the team, the charitable work continues through the Bills Mafia Babes. “It was a grassroots movement that picked up steam very quickly once a couple of the players caught wind of it. Then it just snowballed into this,” she said.
Having ESPN in town was nothing new to Wille, who has been televised before with ESPN and with Pepsi for a commercial. She was also shown Monday before the game on ESPN standing atop a vehicle with a group of fans tailgating as a fan known as Pinto Ron was doused in ketchup and mustard.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been involved in something like this, so it wasn’t a huge shock to the system, but it is still completely surreal. I don’t think it will ever lose that excitement,” Wille said.
To Wille, the bright lights of prime-time television were just another platform for her favorite team to show off its talents for the nation to see.
“Everyone’s gonna get to see what we’ve seen all along,” Wille said to ESPN in the video that aired near kickoff.
What everyone did see that night is one of the most dominant performances on a national stage the league has had in years, a 41-7 blowout victory by the Bills over the Tennessee Titans — the team with the best record in the AFC last season. With a statement like that, it won’t be the only time Western New York is highlighted on a major national stage.
“We’ve been looking forward to bringing home that trophy for a long, long time,” Wille told ESPN.