For a decade and a half, people have been pouring through the gates of Buffalo’s downtown ballpark on Labor Day weekend. They come hungry for wings, and leave happily satisfied. It’s been a long and successful ride for the National Buffalo Wing Festival, and it all began with a movie.
2001’s Osmosis Jones is a half live-action, half-animated movie that features comedian Bill Murray as a junk-food eating zookeeper named Frank Detorre, who is determined to go to the Buffalo Wing Festival.
“99 kinds of wings, 128 different dipping sauces,” Frank exclaimed to his daughter, played by Elena Franklin. “You love math. Crunch the numbers on that and tell me the possibilities aren’t infinite!”
But here’s the thing – the festival didn’t actually exist back then.
“Ironically enough, we didn’t have a Buffalo Wing Festival,” recalled festival founder Drew Cerza. It was long before he was known as Buffalo’s “Wing King.”
“So Don Esmonde from the Buffalo News wrote an article, ‘Why don’t we do one?’ I decided to put it together. I was a food promoter, but I never ran festivals or events. I just figured it out as I went along.”
Esmonde’s article came out the same August day that Osmosis Jones made its U.S. debut. Less than one year later, he’d write another article announcing the inaugural National Buffalo Wing Festival.
Here's a recap of the last 15 years: over 900,000 visitors, more than $325,000 raised for local charity, and 4.6 million wings consumed. And while the wing fest has been an ever-growing hit, there’s one achievement Cerza is still dreaming of: that the festival’s muse – Mr. Bill Murray, himself – will make an appearance. In 15 years, it hasn’t happened – but not for lack of trying.
“We tried it,” proclaimed Cerza. “You can’t reach out, you can try to reach out to Bill Murray, but you just can’t get to him. But Don Esmonde went to a baseball game in Charleston, South Carolina this past year, was in the gift shop and Bill Murray was there because he [co-owns] the team. He got a chance to talk to him about the wing fest and personally invited him.”
That invitation was extended about two months ago, but whether or not it works is up in the air.
“I’m not hoping he shows up, I’m praying every night before I go to bed that he shows up,” said Cerza. “It is my goal. If he shows up, I can throw down the mic and walk off the stage…done.”
So maybe 2017 will be the year. But until we find out, Buffalo is waiting on Bill Murray.