Ryan Fitzpatrick has played quarterback in nine NFL cities. And he loves Buffalo best.
He said so on an ESPN podcast a couple of years ago. And on Saturday night, he proved it.
A photo of a bare-chested Fitzpatrick at the Bills-Patriots game rocketed around the internet on Sunday. The temperature at game time was 7 degrees. The wind chill fell below zero. And the guy with a Harvard degree stripped above the waist, except for his hat and gloves.
Bills Mafia already loved him for his gunslinging years on losing Bills teams. And now? Well, now they see him as one of them. And love him even more.
There’s a young man in the photo posing with Fitzpatrick. He’s shirtless, too, and his smile seems to say, I can’t quite believe this is real.
“It just kind of happened,” Billy Fisher says by phone from his home in Syracuse, New York. “It was sort of heat of the moment.”
Uh, heat might not be the right word there. Or maybe it’s the perfect one.
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“I honestly didn’t feel the cold because I was just so happy,” Billy says. “The adrenaline rush got me through it.”
He is a 20-year-old engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who was sitting with his father in the 200 level. Early in the game, Billy’s dad had pointed out Fitzpatrick seated two or three rows in front of them. How did they know it was really him?
“He’s Fitzmagic,” Billy says. “I mean — that beard. Everyone around us knew who he was.”
As a kid, Billy had loved Fitzpatrick as a Bills QB, so it was fun for him to see his old hero in the flesh. He was about to find out just how much flesh.
The Bills scored their last points of a delirious night on a TD pass to a tackle: Bills 47, Patriots 17. The stadium rocked with joy. Frigid fans sang goodbye to the Pats, their longtime tormentors. And that’s when Billy saw Fitzpatrick shirtless in the madding crowd.
“I saw he had his off, and I saw guys on the video board with theirs off,” Billy says. “So I just started to take mine off.”
First he removed his Flintstones-style Water Buffaloes hat. Then his coat. Then sweatshirts and T-shirts and thermal undershirt. And then he bounced down the grandstand to ask Fitzpatrick for a photo together. He also noticed that Fitzpatrick had a couple of kids with him. He figures they were a bit older than his age when he was a Fitz fan. And the kids had their shirts off, too. This will not earn Fitzpatrick any awards as father of the year, although Bills fan of the year is not out of the question.
Tom Whelan, a friend of Billy’s father, snapped the photo. Billy can’t remember how long he was shirtless. It’s all a blur. Then he and his father went to stay the night at the Buffalo home of their friend, Therese Forton-Barnes. She is the Grand Poobah of the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, a subset of Bills Mafia that’s based on the club that Fred and Barney belonged to on “The Flintstones.”
The Bills iteration wears high blue hats with big white horns, just like on the cartoon show, but with a red buffalo on the front. The Bedrock club dates to the Stone Age. The Buffalo club is only three weeks old and already has more than 300 members, including ESPN’s Chris Berman — and, of course, Billy Fisher.
Therese, better known as Tee, is the one who put Billy’s photo with Fitzpatrick on Twitter Sunday morning. It got picked up throughout the day by sports websites everywhere. Now Billy’s shirtless self is forever a click away on the internet.
“It’s a fun picture,” he says. “I had a really fun time. I’ll never forget it, that’s for sure.”
Which brings us back to that ESPN podcast. Adam Schefter asked Fitzpatrick, who was then playing for the Dolphins, why Buffalo was his favorite NFL burg.
“It’s Buffalo,” Fitzmagic said. “That’s why, because it’s Buffalo.”
Now we can guess another reason: Shirtless guys in Miami are a dime a dozen. In Buffalo, they are God’s Frozen People.