The boycott was in its eighth week and going strong. “We had a band last weekend that was playing Bon Jovi at a bar, and people were booing and throwing our posters at them,” Charles Pellien, one of the Bills Fan Thunder founders, told me at a rally at the Buffalo Sports Grill, a few miles southwest of Ralph Wilson Stadium. The bar’s jukebox had 28 Bon Jovi songs, but no one played them. This was a Bon Jovi–free zone.
The protest seemed to have gotten Bon Jovi’s attention, and by July, it almost felt like he was playing mind games with the city. Proxies—first Ron Jaworski, a former NFL quarterback and friend of Bon Jovi’s, then a Toronto Sun reporter quoting anonymous sources—stepped forward to declare that he had no intention of moving the team. But Bon Jovi remained silent, and the Bills Fan Thunder viewed the reports suspiciously. (“I can say I’m not gay, but if I’m going to gay bars …” Pellien said of Bon Jovi’s association with the Toronto group.) So for now, the protest would continue. “We’re gonna play a beautiful song by Buffalo’s favorite artist,” said Michael Bly, the lead singer of the in-on-the-joke cover band at the Sports Grill that night, before jumping into the opening lines of “Wanted Dead or Alive.” He got two lines in before being drowned out by boos.
The city’s saving grace, for now, is that the Bills’ most recent stadium lease includes a clause, negotiated by Cuomo, that prevents the team from leaving until after the 2018 season. The NFL has an obvious incentive to expand into Canada, but would it be worth the grief it would catch for moving a team from a traditional football town like Buffalo? On a practical level, would Jon Bon Jovi dare show his face at Bills games with fans knowing he is prepping to move the team elsewhere? “Let me tell you something, dude,” Caputo said. “Fucking snowballs at the Ralph? They hurt. And every one of these people here, they throw snowballs.”
Toward the end of the night, I walked out front with a man calling himself Billsfoot, who had his face painted red and blue and his arms covered in Bills-colored fur, and Billsman, who wore a blue Batman costume with a utility belt made of Bud Light cans. “The Bills aren’t going anywhere,” Billsman said. “They don’t have fans like us in Toronto.” I showed him the Bon Jovi pen that Jovilynn had given me, which he promptly grabbed and tossed into the middle of the street. Both men roared at their latest act of protest, and we stood, cameras on, waiting for the moment when a truck would come by and exorcise the city’s well-coiffed demon. A dozen passed, but none hit the mark. So while Billsman held up his hands to stop traffic, Billsfoot ran into the street, picked up the pen, carried it back to the curb, and dropped it into a storm drain. The pen hit the grate and bounced harmlessly to the side. Determined, he tried again, and Bon Jovi disappeared into the sewer system, where Billsfoot could only hope he would flow out to the river and over the falls for good.