ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Thursday marked 50 years since the first-ever game at what’s now known as Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park.

It was a preseason game against the now-Washington Commanders.

“It was a pretty impressive first game,” explained ticket holder Jim Manhardt.

The 78-year-old from Hamburg was one of some 80,000 in the stands the day the Buffalo Bills took to the field for the first time.

“It was a beautiful Friday night, they were playing the Washington Redskins. The Redskins were a very good team at the time, and of course, the game sold out,” explained sports historian Greg Tranter.

“We walked around the stadium and people were just like, looking around,” recalled Manhardt.

Tranter said much like we’ve seen recently, settling on the stadium details was no easy feat.

“There was a contingent of people that really wanted to keep it in the city. There was a contingent of people that really wanted a dome stadium, thinking it could do more than just be football.”

Tranter said it was supposed to be built by 1970, but it took several years for late owner Ralph Wilson and Erie County to agree. They eventually broke ground in April 1972. He said it cost $21.5 million and took 18 months to build.

From Rich Stadium, to Ralph Wilson Stadium, to New Era Field, to Bills Stadium and now, Highmark, it has seen some changes over the years. But for fans like Jim Manhardt, enjoying the game with family and friends has remained constant.

“When the grandkids get 8 years old, they’re there. So that’s the best part. The people behind me. They were there for 20 years. You get to be friends.”

Buffalo Bills

Ali Touhey is an anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2023. View more of her work here.