Geno Allport – ‘Fan of the Year’ – treasures friendships, family bonding in following Bills
Allport family has been passionate season ticket holders since 1974
ALBION – Geno Allport is the Buffalo Bills “Fan of the Year” for 2021 and he and his son, Tre, have been treated to attending the Super Bowl in Los Angeles.
Allport, 47, said the award should go to the Bills’ “Family of the Year.” His late father, Gene, bought season tickets in 1974. The Allports have had family tickets since, even expanding to six season tickets this past season for the first time. They sit in Section 135 in Row 12 with a great view of the 40 to 50 yard line.
In 2020, when no fans were allowed for most of the home games, Allport still was there – as a security guard. He said he has only missed two home games in the past four decades.
Allport’s home on East Park Street proudly displays his love of the Bills, from the red and blue porch lights, to many Buffalo Bills jerseys on the wall. There is even a year-round Buffalo Bills Christmas tree with Bills ornaments.
Allport and his wife Jami were married Aug. 24, 2020 – at the Bills stadium in Orchard Park. Moments after their daughter Hensley was born about three years ago, Allport played the Bills “Shout” song. Allport even convinced the doctor to wear a Bills surgical mask during the delivery.
The Allport home is full of Bills memorabilia and keepsakes from some other famous Bills fans, including signed ketchup and mustard bottles from Pinto Ron, a legendary fan who gets doused in ketchup and mustard while tailgating.
Allport said he has made tons of friends through Bills fandom, and connected with numerous players. Jim Kelly remains his all-time favorite, Kelly transformed a losing franchise into a team that went to the Super Bowl four times. Allport is high on current Bills star Josh Allen and the chances for the Bills to win that elusive Super Bowl.
If that happens, “I would bawl like a baby,” Allport said.
He has been youth football coach for more than 20 years in Albion and also helped start the football program in 2021 at the Vertus Charter School in Rochester. Ocie Bennett of Albion is the head coach for the team. Allport has worked at Vertus for nearly six years as a preceptor and alumni coordinator. He serves as a mentor and teacher for 22 students. Last month was presented with the “Golden Apple” teaching award from WROC in Rochester.
Allport arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday with his son, Tre. Kim Pegula, co-owner of the Bills, had a letter waiting for the Fan of the Year.
“Dear Geno, Welcome to Los Angeles and Super Bowl LVI! You’re going to have a great weekend, and we’re thrilled you are representing the Buffalo Bills. It’s fans like you that make Bills Mafia so great. We really appreciate your unwavering support and are looking forward to a great 2022 season. Enjoy the game and Go Bills!”
The following interview with Allport was conducted at his home on Tuesday evening.
Q: Why are you so passionate about the Bills?
A: Born into it. I mean I came home from the hospital (in 1974) with an OJ pin on. My grandparents told me the only time I wouldn’t through a fit when I was away from my mother is on Sundays when I’d go to the game. They would put me in the car and I’d go to sleep. They said the only time I was calm was on Sundays.
Q: Even when you were a kid what did you like about the team so much, especially with all the screaming fans around?
A: I could tell you everything about all the players, even then. I remember being in school as an elementary and middle school kid and being quizzed by the high school kids, and I could rattle off everything about who was who on the Bills, where they went to college, what position they played and their number.
Q: I’m assuming you’ve made a lot of friends through being a Bills fan, especially the people with seats near you?
A: Yes. A couple that were in front of us they moved up to the red seats. We were real good friends with them for years. The red seats are the Van Miller Club, the Pepsi Club, the seats up there. They were getting up in age and wanted to be up there where they could go inside if need be, or sit under the heaters.
The guys behind us have been there for a while. They are attorneys in Orchard Park. We were able to get the two seats next to us. They had belonged to two guys who had been coming for years been then the last two years they weren’t there and the seats became available. So we added those to our account.
It’s a good section. You see a lot of the same people.
Q: Is there a bond you feel with your dad by going to the game?
A: Oh yeah. We always stop by his brick before the game.
Q: That brick, what is the story behind it?
A: At one point in ’99 they started to sell the bricks you can out by the stadium. They used to be over by Gate 3 but they moved them in front of the store when they built the store.
It was November 1999 and we got it for him for his birthday and he actually got out there for a game, which was the Bills versus the Colts – the Rob Johnson game, and he was able to get up there and see the brick, that was in January 2000. He ended up passing away in March of that year.
Q: It’s necessarily a memorial then?
A: It has his name on it. It says Gene Allport from Albion, New York.
Q: Why did the team do the bricks?
A: That was when they were trying to raise money to keep them in Buffalo. It was part of the whole big pitch they were doing. They haven’t done it since and they won’t do it again.
Q: So, outside your house you have blue and red lights on the porch. Have you had those a long time?
A: Oh yeah, we do it just for that reason. It’s part of the Christmas decoration but it’s always Bills season here. That’s why we have the tree up. It’s always Bills season. It’s only got Bills stuff on a white tree.
Q: It’s interesting just how excited the community gets when the team is winning.
A: The kids will even say it when we walk into Walmart. They say they’ve never seen this much Bills clothes on people walking around.
Q: I do feel bad for the Fred Jacksons of the world, the team leaders during the playoff drought years that lasted 17 seasons. (Allport has Jackson’s No. 22 jersey in a frame in the dining room with several other Bills greats.) He didn’t get as much love because the team struggled. : You feel like a fan more when the team struggles. It’s a lot easier when they are winning.
A: Yeah, Kyle Williams played for many years too, but at least he did make it to the playoffs.
Q: Do you have a favorite Bills player of all time?
A: I grew up with (Jim) Kelly. During Kelly’s rookie year (in 1986), our family became friends with Van Miller (the broadcaster). He got a football signed for me during Kelly’s rookie year and I’ve had this since ’86. (It’s signed: “Merry X-mas, Geno – Jim Kelly”) I’ve always been a Jim Kelly fan. I was 12 years old when he got here.
I’m a big Josh (Allen) fan. My 3-year-old says that’s her boyfriend. She loves Josh.
Q: Was it hard to be a fan during the drought years?
A: Oh yeah. I remember going to the Bills-Colts game in ’84 or ’85 and there were 17,000 fans in the stands. They were 0-11 in ’84 and Dallas came to town in first place and we ended up beating them 14 to 3. So that was fun.
The 2-14 years were tough. Even when they went to the Super Bowl and I was in high school. I still went to school the next day in all my Bills clothes. I’m not going to hide from them. Just like when they just lost to the Chiefs. I went to work in my Bills clothes.
Q: How did you get Fan of the Year? Were you nominated?
A: My son, Tre, sent in a nomination.
Q: Is it about your love of the Bills or more than that?
A: It’s everything. He put in there a few things and I didn’t know anything about it until they came and surprised me at the football practice (in October with the youth football team). He put in there a few things about our family with the Bills. One of the guys from the Bills, my ticket rep, saw my name and pushed for it. I don’t know how the process works or who has a say in it.
Q: Since 1974 as a season ticket holder that’s impressive.
A: Jami and I even got married at the stadium. Just us and the kids went up.
Q: So you have contacts with the Bills. You know these people?
A: I do a lot of work with the Bills through youth football. I’m on the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance. I’ve been working with the people in community relations with the Bills for years.
Q: I think you’ve had the Albion youth teams play at the Bills stadium at halftime?
A: They used to. But since Covid started, actually the year before that, they kind of scaled it back but we’re trying to get that back, or even do the Punt, Pass and Kick or a different version of that because the NFL got rid of it. We went that back because it’s for the kids.
Q: So you’ve been the NOFA (Niagara Orleans Football Association) rep for a long time?
A: This will be coming up on year 22. I’ve been on the NOFA board for 15 years maybe. My son started when he was 6 or 7 years old and I was a coach. Tre is now 27 and he’ll be coming with me to the Super Bowl in Los Angeles.
Q: What does the schedule include for you as Fan of the Year?
A: We leave Thursday morning because we’re able to attend the NFL honors show that night. We get to do the red carpet. We get to attend the awards show at the YouTube Theater that night.
Friday we have Captain Morgan’s brunch, they are the sponsors of the Fan of the Year program. They put on a brunch for us on Friday. Saturday they gave us tickets for the NFL Experience so we get to do that whole thing. There will be different displays from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and I think they even have the Super Bowl trophy, and a bunch of different things for the fans to see and do. It covers all 32 teams so nobody is left out. Sunday we have the game.
Q: Well is this a big deal to you?
A: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve become friends with the other 31 Fans of the Year. We text. We’re in constant communication. I can’t wait to meet everybody. I’m thrilled. I wish our team was there, but it will be less stress. I’d rather be stressed though. It’s up and downs. It’s a rollercoaster.
Q: Your football passion goes beyond the Bills. Why do you keep doing the youth football?
A: I love helping kids. I love getting kids involved. I think sports are a big part of helping them grow and becoming a good teammate. The hard work, the dedication and the commitment is needed when it’s time to get a job. You’re already working hard, you’re already dedicated. If you’re going to college it’s the same way. It’s getting them to commit to something even if it’s not football. It could be soccer, or indoor track, outdoor track or baseball. It’s just keeping them involved in something. Plus, it keeps them off the streets. It keeps them busy.
Q: As a sport I wonder why you like football so much?
A: I actually played soccer until my junior year and never played football. I played flag football but I was a soccer player. But I always loved football.
My junior and senior years I played varsity. I was 138 pounds, and played kicker, receiver and DB.
Q: Did you play much?
A: No, I had Rayford Callicutt in front of me. Rayford and Lee (Froman) were phenomenal receivers and DBs. Rayford had Ohio State looking at him. He ended up at Bowling Green and then went to Edinboro.
Q: With the youth program in Albion, you’ve been a coach, the equipment manager, and other roles. You must be organized?
A: I’ve done it so long I know what to do. My garage is now the storage shed. I have Tim (McMurray) more involved now. My sister (Jaime Allport) has always been there and she keeps track of the birth certificates, the rosters, the check-ins, and all the stuff no one wants to do DJ Moore, Joe Fuller and Rocco Sidari are stepping up as well. It’s knowing people from Albion, the Lions, from USA Football. It all helps.
Q: A lot of the key players in the youth program don’t have kids anymore that are playing. A lot of times when people’s kids age out the parents don’t continue as coaches.
A: About 10 of us had dinner this past summer with Scott Hallenbeck, he’s the CEO of USA Football. We were talking about our head coaches and how many coaches you got. When he gets to me, I said we have four head coaches and now of them have a kid on their team. He said what do you mean? Three of them don’t have a kid in the program and one has kid on the team above him but he coaches the team under.
He (Hallenbeck) said are you serious. I told him it’s different out here. At the time I think we had nine coaches who didn’t have a kid playing for them. That’s hard to find, but that’s when you know they are there for the right reasons and not playing Daddy Ball, which is the big phrase out there. They are coaching for the love of the game and they love the kids. It’s tough to find but when you do they are guys you want to hold on to.
Q: You could have stayed home and just watched the Bills on TV. But your life really has been enriched by being such a passionate fan.
A: It’s the whole experience. For the 1 o’clock games we leave here at 7 in the morning, make a pit stop at Walmart and get the gas we need. We’re pulling in at the parking lot at 9 and then hanging out. I’ve met a lot of friends.