BUFFALO - Del Reid will be the first one to tell you he’s no “super-fan.”
He’ll be the first to say every member of the Bills Mafia is a “super-fan,” stretching thousands upon thousands deep. In fact, he said, he’s sold tee-shirts to people across every continent except the Northern and Southern Poles.
Del Reid is the first one to say all he did was say the words “Bills Mafia” before anyone else embraced it, pushed a hashtag when fans and sports pundits mocked him and his friends for it.
But hey… He did coin the phrase before anyone else. And every “mafia” has its own “godfather.”
So who better to don the mantle than Buffalo native who first—jokingly—referred to Buffalo Bills fans as the Bills Mafia?
Reid might not like the attention, but I can tell you this much: Pancho Billa. Pinto Ron. Hannabill Lecter. The Chefs. Bills Elvis. All of those names have told me there would be no Bills Mafia without Del Reid.
And what’s the one thing the Godfather wanted most from his new “mafia family” when he coined the phrase back in 2010?
“It's always been about bringing fans together,” said Reid.
And that’s where it started, back in November of 2010; you may remember the 0-8 Bills that season, who had started to rally in a second half that brought them a 4-4 record.
Whether it was Stevie Johnson, Fred Jackson, or any number of Bills players, something was starting to form as a bond between the Bills and their fans that hadn’t existed in some time.
“Maybe this was just the advent of social media, but they became kind of mascots for the team in a lot of ways,” said Reid. “The interaction they had with the fans, it was really cool.”
Reid—working at Roswell Park at the time—watched Stevie Johnson on November 28th, as he dropped that infamous touchdown pass against Pittsburgh, and proceeded to “blame God” on Twitter.
As fans started to get behind Johnson’s dedication and love for the game, they backed him even more in his moment of suffering.
And that, Reid said, is when Adam Schefter retweeted Johnson’s the following day.
If you didn’t already know, waiting to retweet someone outside of 24 hours—for an NFL Insider, no less—is the equivalent of waiting about a year in Twitter time.
So Reid’s friend, Breyon Harris, came up with #SchefterBreakingNews, a Twitter hashtag to poke fun at “Schefty.”
Reid promises they were not being nasty about it. All in good fun, right?
"I think he just went through whoever used that hashtag and started blocking everybody, and so that’s where the joke came out,” Reid laughed. “I said 'Oh we're the Bills Mafia, we're out to get this guy,' or something like that… And several months later the players discovered it, and then this kind of movement was born."
A movement started in the years ahead for Reid as well.
With his growing audience on social media, the “Godfather” of the Bills Mafia took the words of Spiderman to heart.
With a great audience, comes great responsibility. (Okay that’s not exactly the Spiderman quote, Del and I are both aware, but you get the point…)
"I wanted to do more than just make jokes about the New England Patriots cheating... I wanted to do something productive with it,” Reid said.
And so he began promoting local fundraisers, highlighting raffles and events for people battling cancers and other diseases.
Promotions turned into a few of his own shirt designs here and there, all under the new banner of the Bills Mafia.
And then he found a new goal for himself. “I have this men’s accountability Bible study group that I've been going to for years,” said Reid. “I was just talking with some of the guys there… I said 'I have this idea. We could sell a different shirt and help a different family, maybe every two weeks.' My buddy Jake looks at me and said 'Dude, that’s like 26 shirts.'"
That would become the name of his own shirt company, based in Buffalo’s Tri-Main Center: “26 Shirts.”
Their goal: every new shirt would fund some kind of family, or charity, or even an individual in serious need.
Today, he’s raised over $520,000 for charities, and has opened new branches in Chicago and Pittsburgh.
But it’s the City of Good Neighbors that gave him his true start.
It’s Bills fans that snatched up his shirts week after week, month after month, charitable cause after charitable cause.
It’s the Bills Mafia that made 26 Shirts something tangible.
“At the end of the day, we help each other,” said Reid, clearly grateful to his supporters both in and outside of Western New York. “I think this is just the perfect marriage of peoples love for the team, and their love to help each other."
Some people might say the same thing about the Bills Mafia, too.