Bills fans raise funds to fly inspirational banner over stadium

Buffalo fans can't attend Sunday's game against the Rams, but they will be there in spirit when a banner supporting the team -- paid for by fans -- flies over the stadium. Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire

Joe Vaiana wants to be at Buffalo Bills games.

Prior to the 2020 NFL season, the central Pennsylvania resident and lifelong Bills fan was a season-ticket holder and frequently made the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Orchard Park, New York, on game days.

He can't this year, with Erie County and New York State prohibiting fans from attending professional sporting events or tailgating outside of stadiums, so he did the next best thing to make sure his favorite team felt his support: With the help of a couple hundred Bills fans, he hired a pilot to fly a banner over the stadium.

Vaiana started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a flyover sign, looking for $3,800. Six days later, the campaign had raised more than $4,700, with funds from more than 260 donors. The banner, which will be seen for a full two hours before the Bills' game against the Rams on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), will read "TOGETHER OR APART #BILLSMAFIA LOVES YOU."

Donations have continued to flow in, even after the campaign reached its goal. Extra funds will be donated to a local charity.

Vaiana said he came up with the idea last week and took to Twitter to see if anyone knew a pilot, and the request "blew up." He crowdsourced ideas for the message on the banner and officially made the reservation this week.

"We want to support the team," he said. "We want them to know that we've got their back -- and thank you for playing because there's a bunch of players who, for good reason, decided they needed to opt out of this season.

"And [the banner is] also for the fans, 2020 has been a rough year on everybody. If this can spread just a little bit of happiness and a little bit of joy, it'll be worth every penny."

Vaiana doesn't yet know if he'll make the drive to Orchard Park to see the banner himself, but he's confident he will get a glimpse of it one way or another.

"Obviously, with COVID-19, not everybody can be there to see the banner," he said. "With the power of social media, we're hoping a lot of people post pictures of it. This is for the fans and for anybody who can see it."