Twelve seasons without the playoffs, with losing records the last seven, might have discouraged many a Bills fan. Not Kenny Johnson of Rochester.
Today will be the 300th straight Bills game, home and away, Pinto Kenny will have attended. As far as anyone knows, that’s a Bills and NFL record. If not, it’s still a remarkable achievement.
“My goal [in 1994 when the streak started] was 16 games in a row. I just exceeded expectations,” the 55-year-old software engineer said Saturday. Johnson, who drives a 1980 Ford Pinto to the games, was already on the scene in Orchard Park, near Ralph Wilson Stadium.
One of the precautions Pinto Kenny takes to keep his streak going is that he is at the stadium at least three hours before kickoff and always carries enough cash to purchase two game tickets at scalpers’ prices if arrangements should fall through: “I always make sure I’m pretty close to the stadium the night before.”
Johnson insists that reaching 300 was not his intention. “It sort of crept up on me,” he said in another bit of understatement. Crept up the way 16 games led to 20, the way 20 led to 30 and so on up past 100, 200 and now 300.
If a Bills game is more than 12 hours away, Johnson will fly. “I’m not stuck on driving,” he said, but he has turned in some amazing feats behind the wheel, driving sessions that are not recommended by the National Safety Council.
For example, Johnson claims that he drove straight through from Rochester to San Francisco in 42 hours two weeks ago for the Bills’ game against the 49ers. Then, joined by some other Bills followers, he made the trek to Phoenix and telecommuted to work. After last Sunday’s win over the Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz., he dropped his wife off at the Phoenix airport, and headed to Albuquerque, N.M., for a 5-hour nap before driving 28 hours back to Rochester.
Obviously, Pinto Kenny is a devoted Bills fan. And a rare Bills road win is fun and makes it all worthwhile. Usually he hooks up with Bills Backers and tailgates with them on the road.
“We have huge tailgate parties and a lot of times we overrun a hotel,” he said. “When the Bills lose, everyone kind of just goes back to their room; the weekend is over. When they win, the party keeps going on. It’s a fantastic environment. Too bad it doesn’t happen more.”
Johnson does not drive the Pinto, which has logged 186,000 miles, to every game from Rochester. He parks the Pinto in Orchard Park at the start of the season and brings it home when the season ends. Each game he drives his 1998 Buick Regal to a location not far from the stadium, then shuttles the Pinto to the Hammer Lot on Abbott Road, across from One Bills Drive. At 6 a.m. on game day, he starts preparing for a good old Buffalo tailgate party.
“I always say a Bills fan has to be in a constant state of denial,” Johnson said. “At the start of the season, I always find something encouraging, a new player or something. Halfway through, you kind of get crushed dealing with it.”
Pinto Kenny says he has set no goals for his streak beyond this season, but insists if it ends, it will not be on a whim or impulse.
“I won’t wake up cranky some morning and decide not to go to a game,” he said. “I will always give myself a year’s notice on whether I intend to make it to all 16 games again.”