The Buffalo Bills had plenty of support at their temporary "home" stadium.
The Bills drew a roar from the crowd when they scored an early touchdown Monday night against the New York Jets in a game moved to Detroit because of all the snow in western New York. Fans were offered free tickets, and although the upper level of the venue had some empty seats, the lower bowl was packed and many of the fans were rooting for Buffalo.
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"It really shows the spirit. I can't believe how many Bills fans are here," team president Russ Brandon said shortly before kickoff. "It should be a lot of fun, a little bit of a collegial-type atmosphere."
More than 67,000 tickets were handed out for what was officially considered a Bills home game. The price was difficult to beat — and fans snapped up all available free tickets. The official attendance was 56,044.
"I heard that these tickets got sold out in 10 minutes — 65,000 tickets gone in 10 minutes. I was hunting all over Facebook yesterday for four tickets," said Bills fan John McAllister of Dunkirk, New York. "Once I heard that it was here and the tickets were free, I was making plans. We've got to rent a car. We're going. We are going. This is my very first actual NFL game. I went to a preseason game like two years ago."
Fans in Michigan were also eager to take advantage of the opportunity.
"Being free definitely sweetened the deal," said Jennifer Trimmer, a receptionist who got four tickets. She was making the roughly 80-mile drive from the state capital of Lansing to Ford Field with her boyfriend, and meeting another couple there to tailgate and take in the game.
"It's an exciting thing to do, and not something that normally happens," said Trimmer, a self-described "regular watcher of all things football" but first-time visitor to Detroit's stadium. "Never again are we going to see the Bills-Jets at Ford Field."
It was the second time in four years Detroit answered the call for another NFL team in need. In December 2010, the Minnesota Vikings' home game against the New York Giants was moved to Detroit after the Metrodome's roof collapsed.
The Giants won 21-3 before an announced crowd of 45,910. Admission was free, with holders of tickets to the scheduled game in Minnesota offered opportunities to sit behind both teams' benches. The Bills worked with Lions staff to offer similarly preferred seating for Buffalo ticketholders willing to make the trek.
Yvette Abela, a Lions regular-season ticketholder, said she was among the "lucky folks" to receive an email notification the day before everybody else about the giveaway, so she picked up four. She, her husband Tony and two children were planning to "cook up some burgers" while tailgating, then head into Ford Field.
"My son, Anthony, is 6, and he's so psyched about going to a Monday night football game," the Dearborn resident said. "He's a big New York fan, but he'd never root against the Lions."
Follow Jeff Karoub at https://twitter.com/jeffkaroub