By Tim Graham
The parking-lot scene around Ralph Wilson Stadium long has been a colorful cauldron. Thousands of fans -- some of whom have no intention of attending the game -- converge on Orchard Park to grill hot dogs, toss the football around and pound beers.
The way Bills fans tailgate is the reason HBO's "Real Sports" chose the Ralph as the place it would find the strongest footage for an unsettling 2008 segment on binge drinking at NFL stadiums.
In today's Buffalo News, reporter Gene Warner writes about an interesting proposal from two state senators, and the idea has struck a nerve. Mark J. Grisanti and George D. Maziarz want the beer to start flowing at the Ralph an hour earlier.
State law prevents beer sales before noon on Sundays, making parking lots the only places to drink from 9 a.m.-noon when the Bills kick off at 1 p.m. (six of their eight regular-season games this year).
Although cosponsors Grisanti and Maziarz didn't come out and say it, earlier beer sales would draw fans into the stadium earlier and perhaps draw them away from their unsupervised devices. Once inside, fans might be curbed by the lines and the prices and perhaps even get rejected by a mindful vendor. Oh, and it would bump concession and state tax revenues.
"People are hanging out, tailgating in these lots, at earlier times," Grisanti said. "If [teams] had the opportunity to open up their concession stands earlier, it could be more regulated."
As expected, Buffalo News readers have been opinionated on the topic.
Frank Daddario of Akron writes: "You want safety in the stadiums around the NFL stop selling beer in the stadium all together. It would give many fans a chance to sober up before they leave the stadium too. The overall violence in parking lots and inside the stadiums is an embaresment to the league."
James Kozlowski of Buffalo writes: "People are gonna drink anyway, might as well let it be in a slightly more controlled atmosphere than in the parking lot."
Jeremy Lewis writes: "I can't see people saying, "Hey, let's go in now so we can buy more expensive beer and sit around and do nothing for 2 hours."
Edward Parylo of Joppa, Md., writes: "Get real. Early opening of beer taps will do nothing. The price of beer is too high, and you will not stop drunks in the parking lots tailgating. It is all ways a few who spoil it for the rest."
Jeffrey Markowski of Round Lake writes: "Spending $10 a beer inside the stadium as opposed to drinking your own at regular prices outside? Which one do you think the average fan will choose? If you want to help with impaired drivng, how about leaving concessions open AFTER games so fans can get some food or coffee to help sober up?"
(Photo: Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)