Orchard Park, N.Y. (WBEN) - Excitement was in the air for the Buffalo Bills' home opener on Sunday, as they ended up earning a statement 38-10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.
The 2023 season will be the first of three years in the region that will see game day experiences altered quite a bit as a result of the construction of a new state-of-the-art football stadium across the street from the current facility along Abbott Road.
Because of the ongoing stadium construction, many lots that once existed are now lost for Bills fans, forcing a number of changes to the game day experience for many members of "Bills Mafia".
As a result, it saw a large number of Bills fans making their way to Orchard Park much earlier than usual.
"We left our house at about 7:45 a.m., we planned to leave about a half hour earlier. We got in just fine, everything was good, and we had no problems," said Bills fan Nate from Lewiston.
"I got here about 9 o'clock, the roads were not bad then," said Bills fan Mark from Grand Island. "It's a little different with the parking now, but nothing too terrible. Now we're just ready for the game."
For some Bills fans, though, they managed to luck out by arriving a little later to Orchard Park, not having to deal with much of traffic on the way to the stadium.
"We're some of the senior fans, so we typically get here much later. We find that if we actually leave Rochester at 9, 9:30 a.m., we can just walk right in," said Bills fan Mark from Rochester.
However, many of the fans entering Orchard Park for the game did have to wait in bumper-to-bumper traffic for some considerable time.
"I don't know, probably took about an extra half hour, 40 minutes or so. It really wasn't too bad," said Bills fan Lane from Adams Center near Watertown. "We parked down the road here just in someone's yard, and it wasn't terrible."
"We were about an hour, we had to get through the traffic at the end there. But I usually come early," said Bills fan Jim from Rochester. "So if I were to come earlier, usually I buy the tickets and I come earlier, but it wasn't that bad."
Heading into Sunday, the start of construction at the stadium had some Bills fans uncertain about what to expect heading into game days in Orchard Park.
"I'm not gonna lie, we were nervous. It kept me up a little bit at night. I didn't know after coming in for 10 years," said Nate, who is has been a season ticket holder since 2014. "We thought we got right in, and I thought we were gonna have a little bit issues, but it was actually smooth sailing. So it worked out."
Meanwhile, other Bills fans were just taking what the experience gave them, and they just made the most of what they could.
"I wasn't expecting traffic to be too bad. It wasn't bad at all. I think the later it got, though, people started having a little more trouble, just not being prepared for how much more volume was going to be in different spots," said Mark from Grand Island.
"Realizing that most of the construction's on the other side, the Western side of the stadium - when you're coming in from the East, you don't really expect that - we were able to get down the 219 and drive around some of the back roads without any problem," added Mark from Rochester.
Another big concern heading into Sunday's home opener was parking around the stadium, whether it'd be the availability of parking or the cost to park in surrounding lots.
"On the way in, I was surprised at the price of the private lots and it went up a little bit," said Nate. "But as a season ticket holder, I get a parking pass and pay about $22 a game. I park in parking Lot 4, I was worried about the reduced capacity there, but we got right in and we got lucky today."
Some Bills fans were able to get close enough to the stadium and find decent parking. Others were just fine parking further away to either avoid the higher prices, or get easy access out of Orchard Park following the game.
"We're parked about a half mile away, it was $30 for parking. We could have parked a lot closer, I guess, but I'm hoping for an easy out at the end of the game," said Lane. "So walk a little bit, maybe we'll get out a little bit sooner."
When it came to pricing for parking, many Bills fans were expecting a bit of a price hike from the year before.
"I think people that, especially if you have a private lot by the Mud Lot or East of the stadium, they don't know if they're going to actually have parking much longer. They're trying to [jack] up the prices to cover the costs before the new stadium opens up," said Mark from Rochester. "I wonder what's gonna go here once they take this stadium down. It'll be a really interesting discussion."
As for Mark in Grand Island, he's been parking in the same lot for quite a few years now, and was informed of an impending change in parking prices during the Bills' only preseason game in August.
"We had parked there in the preseason, and he told us it was going to be going up. So it wasn't too much of a shock," he said.