An unlikely hero emerged from the darkness to push the Buffalo Bills to their first playoff appearance in 17 years. The man who would help hoist the Bills to the playoffs didn't wear a Buffalo jersey, doesn't live in Western New York and certainly wasn't on the team's payroll.
In Week 17 following a win in Miami, the Bills needed help to clinch a playoff spot. They needed a Baltimore Ravens loss. That hope looked lost. The Cincinnati Bengals squandered a 14-point lead and faced 4th-and-12 from near midfield with 44 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts. All of Buffalo seemed to sense the dread.
Yet in the face of long odds, quarterback Andy Dalton danced in the pocket, stepped up, and looped a laser to Tyler Boyd who eluded defenders for an unlikely 49-yard touchdown to thwart the Ravens, making Buffalo an AFC Wild Card qualifier. Longest postseason drought in major sports: Over.
Then the outpouring started. Bills fans, in a show of gratitude to Dalton, began donating to the quarterback's charity, the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation, many of those contributions in the form of $17 -- for the playoff drought.
"I love that story because, as a club, we do a lot of things -- PR, marketing -- we do a lot of stuff, [but] that was totally fan-based," Bills owner and president Kim Pegula told ESPN's Mike Rodak. "I love how organic that was and how it represented our fans. We get a lot of flak for jumping on the tables and some of the craziness we do. But then for our fans to kind of turn it around and show that kind of respect and appreciation to an opposing team, I'm sure our fan base is going to be very appreciative and give him a very big welcome, for sure."
During the visit to Western New York, the Dalton family will make a donation to the pediatric department of the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo on behalf of the foundation.
While most visiting quarterbacks are heckled (even in the preseason) by the famously boisterous Bills fans, Dalton is likely to receive a different kind of welcome to Buffalo.
"Somebody said he could run for mayor in Buffalo and put up a fight against Byron Brown in an election if he wanted to," said Del Reid, the co-founder of the "Bills Mafia" fan group told Rodak.
Added Reid: "Not that it's possible after all that money getting donated, but I think [the Daltons] are going to be very surprised at the reception that they get even eight months later. I think it's going to be pretty cool. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm so glad it's a preseason game, too. It's going to have more of a lighthearted feel to it."