SALEM LAKES — Shawn Michaels served in the Navy as a damage controlman. He’s one of a number of folks from up north who got stationed here and stuck around.
“I retired out of Oceana,” he said. “I never felt like shoveling snow again.”
He’s from Buffalo. For football fans, that’s Bills country.
Around the world, fans have formed little settlements to wear the red, white and blue. Bills Backers of Virginia Beach, now in its 21st year, gathers on game day at Mike’s Break Room on Tiffany Lane.
Michaels was still wearing a uniform when he found the group.
“One of the guys in my squadron, the Red Rippers, we found out we were both Bills fans,” Michaels said. “He told me about it.”
About 70 people came to Mike’s on Sunday, Sept. 11, to watch on a massive screen in the back room while the Bills faced the Baltimore Ravens. It was a low scoring game, a Bills loss. But the fans kept the faith.
“We’re here when they’re 5-11,” Michaels said. “We’ll be here when they’re 12-4, too.”
The room at Mike’s, this time of year, is Bills heaven. Photos, helmets, footballs, a bar painted in the colors, even a piece of turf cut into the logo on a wall.
Amanda Carey, 26, of Kempsville, sold raffle tickets to the fans. Proceeds, the club is proud to say, benefit charity. She’s been coming for years. “Since I was five,” she said.
“Now that’s her daughter over there,” Michaels said, pointing out 7-year-old Kailyn nearby.
Carey had little say in her favorite team.
“My dad gave me one choice,” she said. “He could love me or not love me.”
Kailyn, too, wore the colors.
“What do we say?” Mom asked.
“Go Bills,” the girl replied.
“What do we think about the Steelers?”
Thumbs down from Kailyn.
“What do we think about the Bills?”
How did the game go?
Thumbs down, but the backers took it in stride.
Howard Rochelle, 57, originally comes from Buffalo. He’s been here since 1986. He was Navy, went home for a while, returned.
“Our club, last I estimated it, has given $50,000 to charity,” said Rochelle, a past president of a group that started with a handful of people watching a 27” TV. His wife, Frances Rochelle, was with him at Mike’s.
“We met in Buffalo through our sisters,” she said.
“They tried to stick us together to keep us out of trouble,” Howard Rochelle said.
Ponch Cabaday, originally from Erie, Pa., is the current club president. He was there with his son, Sean Cabaday, 32, attending his first game with the Backers after some years away due to work.
Ponch Cabaday said he’s been watching with the Bills Backers for 16 years.
“Longer than that,” Sean Cabaday said. “You came down in 1998.”
“I’m bad with math,” Ponch Cabaday said.
“We moved to Buffalo when I was still a baby,” Sean Cabaday said. “The Bills were good for a while back then.”
“I used to have season tickets back in the Jim Kelly days,” said Susan Czapla of Alden, N.Y., who finds her fellow Bills fans when her family vacations in Sandbridge. “That was exciting.”
That was the era of No. 12, including four back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.
All losses, but still.
Tim Riley, originally of Rochester, N.Y., served in the Navy as an engineman and then the Virginia Beach Fire Department. He said Bills fans are all over the world.
There are 200 chapters in 41 states and 11 countries, according to the team’s website.
“Did you see the Olympics with the Bills flags?” Riley asked.
“Oh yeah,” Czapla said.
“That was awesome,” Sean Cabaday said. “It’s the closest they’ll get to a championship.”
It is hard to say how bitterly.
“We do our part,” Riley said. “It always makes it better when the Bills do their part.”
That said, he added that being a Bills fan is in one’s DNA.
And it’s good to be with those who share it, even when you start 0-1.
Michaels, who had joined the table of fellow backers after the game, offered this:
“It’s better to be miserable in a large group.”
And another thing: “Go Bills.”
For information on the Bills Backers of Virginia Beach, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC