BATAVIA — Andre Reed seemed to express the sentiments of many on hand for Monday’s Jim Kelly Celebrity Golf Classic with his thoughts on the future of the Buffalo Bills in Western New York.
“As long as the team stays here, they can put it right in the middle of Lake Erie, I don’t care. You can float it right on the water,” said Reed, the former Bills receiving great who is going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this summer.
Reed is a member of the Buffalo Bills Fan Alliance Board, with former Bills James Lofton and Steve Christie and others.
“We’re just showing the fans that we care and we want the team to stay,” Reed said prior to teeing off at the annual event at Terry Hills Golf Course & Banquet Center.
The future of the Bills staying in Western New York has been discussed for years. That has come up in a big way since the death of Bills owner Ralph Wilson in March.
The Bills have essentially an iron-clad lease to stay at Ralph Wilson Stadium through 2019. In addition, the stadium is currently undergoing $130 million worth of renovations.
“What they’re doing to the stadium in the offseason, it’s phenomenal. It’s really, really transformative what they’ve done to the stadium,” said former Bills special teams great Steve Tasker, now a broadcaster for CBS. “The fans aren’t going to feel they need a new stadium. I think that’s going to be an issue going forward.
“The people that go there week in and week out aren’t going to think they need a new stadium. Now that may change. But I’ll tell you what, the things they’re doing to the stadium now are going to change a lot of people’s views on whether they need one or not.”
Despite that, it is believed by many that the Bills will need a new stadium in the not-too-distant future to remain viable in the NFL.
“Whether they need one or not is kind of beside the point. None of the questions can be answered until we know who’s going to purchase the team,” Tasker said. “None of the questions about where the new stadium is going to be, whether the team will stay here, if it’s going to continue as we’ve all known and loved it for the past 50 years, nobody knows that yet. There’s a lot of uncertainty. But I do know there’s a great foundation laid.”
Ed Rutkowski, a former Bills player in the old AFL, served as Erie County Executive from 1979 to 1987, following his former Bills teammate Jack Kemp into politics. He doesn’t believe the Bills need a new stadium.
“Personally, I don’t think so. The stadium we have in place right now has got great sightlines. It’s very stable, and (it’s undergoing) $130 million in renovations. You don’t want to put a new stadium on an owner or the taxpayers,” Rutkowski said. “Somebody should take a look at what they’re doing at (the University of) Notre Dame. Notre Dame was going to build two new buildings on campus, a total of $400 million. They just don’t have room, so they’re building them right on the site of the stadium.
“You can do the same thing at the stadium at Orchard Park. You can make it a convention, entertainment center. It’s in place, people know where it is, and you can utilize it every day and alleviate that burden on the taxpayers and the new owners.”
He knows what he would do if he were still county executive.
“I would look at that stadium and see how we could renovate it and keep it where it is. Everybody likes it, everybody knows where it is, it’s got a great reputation. And then you don’t have to burden the taxpayers or the new owners ...” Rutkowski said. “Maybe eventually you can put a rail spur into it so you can connect to Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and you can take the train right into Buffalo.”
Legendary ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman became well-known as a backer of the Bills during their run of four straight Super Bowls in the early ’90s.
“What should happen is the easiest. The Buffalo Bills have been here since 1960; they should be here in 2160. That’s the easy part,” Berman said. “What will happen, it seems like there’s a fast track for potential buyers. It’s not going to take a year. They’ve already said, they’d like to discuss it at the owners’ meeting in October, who the No. 1 or 2 suitor is.
“Whoever that will be, they’ll find, because maybe they’re not from here, that the Bills are such a part of this city and Western New York, taking them out would be like getting dressed without underwear and socks. You just can’t do that.”