ORCHARD PARK, NY (WIVB) – Thursday marked the 50th anniversary of the very first game at what is now Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.
It was a preseason game against today’s Washington Commanders.
“It was a pretty impressive first game,” said ticket owner Jim Manhardt.
The 78-year-old from Hamburg was one of around 80,000 spectators in the stands when the Buffalo Bills first took the field.
“It was a beautiful Friday night playing the Washington Redskins. The Redskins were a very good team at the time and of course the game was a sell out,” said sports historian Greg Tranter.
“We walked through the stadium and people just looked around,” Manhardt recalled.
Tranter said similar to what we’ve seen recently, agreeing on the stadium details wasn’t an easy task.
“There was a group of people who really wanted to keep it in town. There was a group of people who really wanted a domed stadium because they thought it could be more than just football.”
Tranter said it should have been built by 1970, but it took several years for late owner Ralph Wilson and Erie County to agree. Finally, in April 1972, the groundbreaking ceremony took place. He said it cost $21.5 million to build and took 18 months.
From Rich Stadium to Ralph Wilson Stadium, New Era Field, Bills Stadium and now Highmark, it has seen quite a few changes over the years. But for fans like Jim Manhardt, the fun of playing with family and friends has remained the same.
“When the grandchildren are eight years old, they are there. So that’s the best part. the people behind me They were there for 20 years. You become friends.”
Ali Touhey is a presenter and reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2023. You can find more of her work here.