The NFL season kicks off tonight, but Ontario fans will have to wait until Sept. 17 to catch their favourite team at home.
The reigning AFC East Champion Buffalo Bills kick off the 2023-24 NFL season on the road on Monday, Sept. 11 (8:15 EST) in a primetime matchup with Aaron Rodgers and the new-look New York Jets.
So, if a trip to East Rutherford, NJ isn’t in the cards, Bills fans in Ontario will have to wait until the Las Vegas Raiders come to Orchard Park, NY for a Week 2 showdown.
According to PointsBet Ontario, the Bills made up 24% of bets in the outright Super Bowl LVII Winner market, more than any other team last season. Further, 13% of MVP bets in Ontario were on Josh Allen, the third most in the NFL MVP market.
This season, the Bills have the third-best Super Bowl odds, trailing only the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
For fans looking to witness a potential Lombardi Trophy run from the confines of Highmark Stadium, PlayCanada has the inside scoop to make your next trip to Orchard Park a resounding success.
From travel tips to tailgating to wings and more, Bills Mafia veteran and season ticket holder, Garnet Barnsdale (below with son Nicholas), has you covered.
Be early – gameday starts hours before kickoff
If there’s one piece of advice to walk away with it’s this: always be early. For Barnsdale, who’s been attending Bills games since the late 1970s, that tip is non-negotiable.
“You have to leave early no matter what,” Barnsdale said. “That is key because if you don’t, you will have a hard time finding parking anywhere near the stadium. Typically for a 1 p.m. game, I like to be at the border by 9:30 a.m. at the latest.”
Before we get into the best border to take, let’s build a timeline to reach that 9:30 a.m. cut-off.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s pretend everyone’s starting destination is downtown Toronto (near the aforementioned Rogers Centre). According to Google Maps, the trip is about an hour and 40-minute drive, regardless of the bridge you choose. Therefore, to meet Barnsdale’s deadline, you should be on the road no later than 7:45 a.m.
Once en route, Barnsdale tends to opt for the Peace Bridge, as opposed to Queenston-Lewiston or the Rainbow Bridge, because it’s the most direct shot to the stadium.
He also mentioned the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission website, which tracks wait times at each of the three border crossings. Whichever you choose, just remember, “the earlier you leave, the smaller the line will be at all of them.”
Once in town, plan a few stops
Wings and things
Naturally, the amount of stops you can make in town is directly tied to the time you arrive. So don’t dilly dally, otherwise you might miss out on some of the best wings in town.
Viewed by many as the chicken wing capital of the United States, there is more to Buffalo’s wing scene than its homegrown flavour. There is one spot, in particular, that Barnsdale says is unequivocally the best in town.
“Without question Bar-Bill Tavern. You must order the Cajun Honey Butter BBQ wings. Simply the best flavour ever created. Also, make sure you get a Buffalo staple, the roast beef on weck sandwich. Bar Bill makes it really good and with a bountiful amount of roast beef.”
Bar-Bill’s East Aurora location is only a 15-minute drive from Highmark Stadium.
Not a wing person? Try Abbot Road Pizza or Imperial Pizza (also on Abbott Road) for some authentic Buffalo Cup ‘N Char pizza. Both joints are within 10 minutes of Highmark.
If you didn’t leave enough time to get to the tailgate or sit down for a meal, don’t panic. Wegmans, an American supermarket chain, is an “absolute must stop to get some pre-game food for tailgating” according to Barnsdale. The beauty of a Wegmans stop is that it allows you to prepare for both the tailgate and the game.
Barnsdale says the grocery store far exceeds any Canadian competition. It has an extraordinary range of snack selections, along with delectable prepared items.
Don’t feel like cooking at the tailgate? Grab a meatball parm sub. Only feeling peckish? Grab a handful of your favourite snacks to enjoy during the game. That’s right, you can fill up a clear bag with snacks and bring it into Highmark Stadium. Barnsdale, who’s sampled the venue’s various concessions, prefers this alternative to anything available inside the stadium.
If you follow this plan, drinks are the only thing you will need the concessions for, as no outside beverages are allowed inside. That said, you are allowed to buy alcohol at duty free and bring it to the tailgate. The only caveat, however, is that you can’t bring it back over the border, so purchase accordingly.
The best part about gameday, no matter the stadium, is parking. Well, if you’re the one collecting the permits, that is. To avoid the hassle and heartache that comes with parking at the stadium, Barnsdale has a simple tip: don’t park there!
There are many reasons, including inflated pricing, over-crowding, and bumper-to-bumper crawling out of the lot, to try your hand somewhere else. Although he may have been reluctant to share, Barnsdale made sure to look out for his fellow Bills Mafia members.
“There are plenty of private lots off Abbott Road which is across from the stadium. You can take a straight run north to the border from there. That’s where I usually park. They will only accept cash, so make sure you have some American greenbacks in your pocket. Expect to pay between $20 and $30 depending how close you park to the stadium.”
For reference, day-of parking at Highmark costs $40 and is only payable via credit card.
The clock is ticking down and we’re in the late stages of the game, but there’s still a few last things we need to share.
Number one – Make a full day of it. Trust us, it pays off in more than one way.
“Arrive early, enjoy the tailgate, watch the Bills win, then go for some wings later. I find that if you hang around and eat dinner after the game, that time that passes allows some of the lineup at the border going back home to die down.”
Number two – Embrace the atmosphere. And no, you don’t have to vault through a table to embrace the atmosphere. Wear your Bills sweater, toque and jersey loud and proud to cement your status as a member of Bills Mafia.
Number three – Get those bets in early. There is a Caesars Sportsbook Lounge on site, but if you don’t want to leave the comfort of your seat, like Barnsdale, remember to place your wagers while still in Ontario. Your favourite Ontario sportsbook app is not legal in New York.
“Make sure you get your bets down on Dawson Knox to score the first TD before you cross. Go Bills!”