ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Though he technically never left his normal parking spot a few football fields south of Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo Bills super tailgater Ken Johnson couldn't help but be relieved about returning to where he belongs.
Sporting a Donte Whitner No. 20 jersey, Johnson had plenty of reasons to smile Sunday despite his favorite team's 0-3 record. Three weeks after an NFL official threatened to close Johnson's exotic tailgate after witnessing numerous people line up to have shots of Polish cherry liqueur out of the thumbhole of a bowling ball, Johnson, a 21-year fixture in the Bills main parking lot, no longer felt welcome in his Sunday home away from home.
Following the encounter that occurred before Buffalo's season opener against Miami, Johnson began plans to move his party to another lot. But Bills director of security Christopher Clark talked to Johnson last week, and persuaded the super fan to stay.
"The Bills have been perfect," said Johnson a few hours before Buffalo hosted the New York Jets. "They told me that they didn't want me to go anywhere, and to stay right here. We had a good conversation and resolved the issues of the parking and stuff like that."
In agreeing not to migrate away, Johnson is keeping his bowling ball plugged, but had it on display with a "Staff Only" sign on it.
"The bowling ball's not going to operate," Johnson said. "Even if (the Bills) told me I could do it, I have a big target on my back."
The NFL has grown increasingly concerned about rowdy fans and alcohol abuse. The Bills have joined the Oakland Raiders in a pilot program promoting responsible alcohol use in partnering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
The bowling ball is just a small part of Johnson's colorful and popular tailgate, which has been featured on The Food Network, by NFL Films and numerous other media outlets.
Johnson cooks meat and eggs on the hood of his red 1980 Pinto. He's converted a filing cabinet into a pizza oven. And, most recently, he's began cooking chicken wings in a mailbox.
But not all was well on Sunday with another band of popular Bills tailgaters called "Illegal Motion." The group, co-organized by Scott Hunsinger of Rochester, N.Y., was not allowed into the main stadium lot because they were told by Clark that their 1977 Chevy delivery truck exceeded the 9-foot height limit.
The party was forced to move to an adjacent unpaved lot.
"It's disgusting," said Hunsinger, who had been parking the truck in the same spot for each home game since 2004. "It took the air out of the balloon."
Despite disagreeing with the measurement — Hunsinger's calculation was 7-foot-7 — Hunsinger obliged and immediately began texting his regulars about the new location.
"Regardless of what's happening on the field, we know we are going to have a good tailgate," he said. "It's medicine for the fans."