One fan's emotional connection to Bills, WGR

John Hillenbrand and his family drove from Virginia to Buffalo to see the Bills and WGR morning hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White

Orchard Park, N.Y. (WBEN/WGR 550) - Short of a Buffalo Bills Super Bowl win, Monday night's trouncing win was a bucket list event for Northern Virginia fan John Hillenbrand.

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Hillenbrand took his two kids out of school for a couple days and, along with his wife, drove their customized Bills SUV from Northern Virginia to Buffalo to see the Bills home opener and "Monday Night Football" appearance. The family tries to make one Bills road trip each season.

In addition to the game's outcome, Hillenbrand made an emotional connection with the radio hosts who helped him pull through life-threatening bouts with both COVID-19 and stage 3 colon cancer.

Before the game Monday, Hillenbrand and his family stopped by the WGR Sports Radio 550 studios on a whim to see if they could meet morning hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White. Hillenbrand recalled that in 2020, when hospitalized, his wife and family were unable to see him, and his sole connection and human interaction came from his listening to WGR to keep up with the Bills. He even called-in to the show occasionally, speaking with Howard and Jeremy on air.

“I called in one time and I talked with Howard and Jeremy, because it was really all I had. They were there for me," an emotional Hillenbrand said in an interview with WBEN's Susan Rose and Brian Mazurowski on Monday.

Hillenbrand's wife, Maryelle, was helpless in not being able to be there physically for her husband, and she knew the connection to the Bills was a strong one for her husband. She appreciated the interaction her husband was able to have during two challenging health situations.

“The fact that he can listen to the Bills station and keep him company... it was a good feeling that, at least, somebody was there,” she said.

“It wasn’t a prenup or anything," joked Hillenbrand about his love for the Bills and his wife's understanding. "But she knew that Buffalo Bills was in my blood.”

Hillenbrand grew up in Catskill, N.Y. during the Ferguson years for the Bills and has been a fan ever since. Aside from his family and health, his passion for the Bills is his driving force.

“Everyday I think about my family and mortality, but I start my day with Howard and Jeremy,” Hillenbrand said.

While Hillenbrand checked a big box off his bucket list in meeting Howard, Jeremy, Sal Capaccio and the WGR team on Monday, there's a big item he's still waiting to see achieved in his lifetime: A Bills Super Bowl win.

“That’s the only thing that’s missing in my life," he said. "We’re going, no matter what the price is.”

And you can bet on that.