On the last day of 2017, the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. With the team in a locker room at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, just having beat the Dolphins, they needed the Cincinnati Bengals to beat the Baltimore Ravens.
With the Bengals down in the last minute of the game, Quarterback Andy Dalton’s pass to Tyler Boyd fit perfectly through the Ravens secondary. Boyd scored, giving the Bengals the lead, and putting the Bills in the playoffs.
It sparked jubilant celebrations from Bills fans all around the country. It made Dalton, who will return to the Nickel City on Sunday for a preseason game, a hero in Buffalo. What happened next made Buffalo a hero to Dalton.
“It’s why you play the game,” Dalton told News 4 about the touchdown pass from a locker room at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
That ended up being Dalton’s last pass of the 2017 season. He knew his season would be over at the end of the day. The Bengals were not going to the playoffs.
“We knew if we won, there was a chance Baltimore wasn’t going to get in,” Dalton said. “But then after the game, it’s like, ‘Okay, Buffalo is the one that got in.'”
The play sent Bills fans from Miami to Buffalo into a frenzy, much of which ended up being recorded by smart phones and posted to social media.
“Right after the fact, I saw several (videos),” Dalton said. “It’s passionate fans, passionate team.”
Then, the passion harvested something more. After the game, Dalton checked Twitter. He saw a Bills fan post that he was planning to donate to the Andy and JJ Dalton Foundation, which helps children with medical and special needs, as well as their families.
“Next thing you know,” Dalton explained, “later that night, people from our foundation called and were like, ‘Okay, we’re getting a ton of donations.'”
Those donations continued to come in waves through the first week of January, totaling more than $300,000. But interestingly, the generosity didn’t stop when the Bills season ended in a Wild Card loss to Jacksonville. Over the next several months, Dalton says donations continued to come in, now totaling more than $450,000. As a result, the foundation has been able to double the number of grants given to families this year, Dalton said.
“That’s a huge blessing,” the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback said. “Our ultimate goal is to never have to say no to any application, any grant that we receive.
“I think there’s a lot of people with our foundation and all over that are shocked by the generosity of so many people in Buffalo.”
Now Andy and JJ Dalton are paying it forward. On Sunday, hours before kickoff, members of the foundation will be at Roswell Park, presenting a donation of their own.
“JJ and our board are actually going to be heading up to Buffalo and they’re going to make a donation to the Roswell Park cancer center,” Dalton said in a social media post. “We’re really looking forward to it. You all supported us so much.”
“I’m just blown away by that,” said Phil Hubbell, who founded the Angel Fund at Roswell Park, which helps patients take care of non-medical needs.
Part of the Daltons’ donation will include a contribution to the Angel Fund. They will also be donating entertainment devices to Roswell’s pediatric units.
“This cements a relationship between that family and that city and our fine city,” Hubbell said. “It’s all in a positive way. I couldn’t be happier about it.”
Now, Hubbell wants to do his part. He is pledging $25,000 to help start an Angel Fund at a hospital in Cincinnati.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott is also impressed.
“What a strong moment,” he said. “It gives me chills just to think about it.”
Dalton has played at New Era Field twice before, winning both games. But when he walks through the tunnel this week, he expects to see and hear a different reception from Bills fans.
“Looking at my social media, I feel like there’s going to be some kind of ovation,” he said. “We’ll see. I’m very thankful for all the people in Buffalo.
“I think the good thing about all this, it is a preseason game. So, I am able to do a lot more than I would have done if it would have been a regular season game.”
Dalton says he’s learned something about Buffalo over the past eight months.
“You hear about their fans and how passionate they are,” he said. “I think not only are they passionate, but they’re generous.
“There’s a lot of good that came from a football play. I think their passion really carried over into giving. It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do.
“I think the big thing is one simple act of giving turned into something huge and affected so many people. Kevin Forrest, he was the first person to give, put it out on social media, put it out there that he’s giving. Next thing you know it goes viral.
“One little act of kindness, of giving really went a long way.”