Count on the “Bills Mafia” to rally behind Damar Hamlin — Andscape
As a former top linebacker for the Buffalo Bills, Lorenzo Alexander knows firsthand the unique relationship between the team’s fans and its players.
The “Bills Mafia” is arguably the most passionate fan base in the league, and they rally around players when needed. Alexander expects nothing less from Bills fans as the organization and community await health news from safety Damar Hamlin, who regained his heartbeat on the pitch after suffering cardiac arrest during the team’s Monday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
With Hamlin in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital, Alexander’s thoughts turned first to the young player and his family, then to a community that encompasses all Bills players.
“The first thing is that I suffer for the young man and his family,” Alexander said by phone Tuesday morning. “Every time you step onto the pitch as a football player you know you’re putting yourself on the line, even if you never think about those things. [the threat of serious injury] event. What happened last night brings back a sobering reality about how violent our game is.
“But the other thing I think about is Buffalo, because it’s more than just football with the fans there. There’s kind of a slogan in Buffalo – ‘Football and Family’ — and it’s like a real living, breathing thing in Buffalo. There’s really that connection to the community and the team. A lot of teams have great fanbases that really support their teams. But in Buffalo, “It’s more than that. It’s unlike any organization I’ve been in. And if a player suffers, so does the Buffalo community.”
Formerly a defensive tackle and outside linebacker, Alexander spent 13 seasons in the league with the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo, then-Oakland Raiders and Washington Commanders. He had his greatest success with Buffalo in his last four seasons. In 2016, Alexander was selected to the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro by The Associated Press after finishing third in the NFL with a career-high 12.5 sacks.
From the moment he signed with Buffalo, Alexander recalls, he was welcomed by the Bills Mafia, the nickname of the team’s fans in Western New York and across the country. The group bonded in disappointment, having suffered the club’s four straight Super Bowl losses in the early 1990s.
And for the Bills Mafia, it’s all about supporting the players on the team.
“You see the images on TV of fans helping players out of the snow to get to the stadium or to get home, and it’s real,” Alexander said. “I had fans who helped me in this situation. They just come to help, but that’s only part of it.
“When I would [charitable events], I would never have to look for volunteers. There were so many people who wanted to come out and do something to contribute. People really feel part of the organization. There is an intimacy and closeness that is simply unique there.
Moreover, the mafia travels.
Many teams have fans outside of the cities in which they are based. On NFL game days, these fans often get together to watch their favorite teams on TV. Again, though, there’s something different about the Bills’ backers, Alexander said.
“I live in Phoenix now, and there’s a significant number of people here from Buffalo who are still going strong for the Bills,” he said. “It’s like you can take the person out of the community, but you can’t take the community out of the person. Who they are deep down travels with them, no matter where they go.
“Even though I’m not in Buffalo now, I can still get involved in support, which is really cool. I’ve played for Washington longer than I’ve played for Buffalo, and that’s by no means an affront to that fan base, but the way I engage with [Bills fans] even here in Phoenix at sporting events or just out in the community…it’s unlike anything else. Appreciation and gratitude are just on another level.
Although Alexander, who retired after the 2019 season, and Hamlin weren’t Bills teammates, Alexander said he’s only heard good things about the sophomore safety, who was a sixth-round pick from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021.
Alexander remains close with some Bills coaches and players, “and they all say good things about the young man,” he said. “They all really love him. Everyone is thinking of him and praying for him, and I know that includes Bills fans. Whether it’s in Buffalo or anywhere else in the country they’re in, he’s got a strong community. here for him. I know that for a fact.
For the Bills Mafia, it’s always a matter of family. And Hamlin is a big part of that.