There are occasional moments in sports that transcend the universal fixation on not losing.
Call them feel-good flashes: Runners helping injured opponents cross the finish line, players extending hands to rivals on the floor, kids from Georgia giving high-fives to kids from Japan during the Little League World Series.
On Sunday in Buffalo, Bills fans stood and cheered Andy Dalton, a quarterback from the Cincinnati Bengals, during pregame introductions. All Dalton could go as he stood in the end zone at New Era Field was wave to say thank you.
There was a good reason this happened and is has to do with Dalton’s direct role in ending Buffalo’s 17-year postseason drought last season.
For the Bills to make the playoffs, two things needed to happen on the final day of season. The Bills had to beat the Miami Dolphins and the Bengals, who were already eliminated from the postseason, had to defeat the Baltimore Ravens.
Both games started at 4:25 p.m. and the Bills kept their end of the bargain first by topping the Dolphins, 22-16.
But things were not looking good for the Bengals. Down 27-24, the Bengals began a final drive with 1:23 to play. Dalton then threw an interception which was called back because of a holding penalty on the Ravens defense.
After a pair of incompletions, Dalton was finally staring at a fourth-and-12 with 53 seconds to play. With the Bills watching in their locker room, Dalton connected with Tyler Boyd, who broke a few tackles for a 49-yard touchdown that gave Cincinnati a 31-27 win.
The win meant next to nothing to Bengals. But its consequence obviously meant everything to the Bills and their fans. And what happened next was truly extraordinary.
So appreciative of Dalton were Buffalo fans that many immediately donated to The Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation, which supports families with seriously ill children in Dalton’s hometowns of Cincinnati and Fort Worth, Tex.
According to the Buffalo News, the movement was started by Bills’ fan from Nebraska, Kevin Forrest, who made an initial $30 online contribution to the charity and then urged other fans to “show Andy Dalton some love.”
“I gotta do something to show my gratitude,” said Forrest, who named his pet dog “Ralph” after Buffalo’s late owner, Ralph Wilson.
Within a week, 15,000 donors contributed $345,000. Eventually, $415,000 poured into The Dalton Foundation. Many of the donations were in the amount of $17, representing the end of the 17-year playoff drought.
According to Sports Illustrated, during the 2017 fiscal year, The Dalton Foundation had listed only 400 benefactors.
“The generosity of an opposing team, a fan base that’s not even ours – a team we beat this year, amazing,” Dalton said. “It puts it all into perspective. I mean, they made the playoffs not just because we won but they also had to win to get there. But it’s a crazy story — the impact a football game has on people. They were willing to donate to someone else’s charity. That shows you how big the game is, how you can use it for good.”
So touched was Dalton that he paid the favor forward by making his own personal donation to the Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center in Buffalo. He and Jordan personally presented the gift last week while the Bengals were in town.
And then, almost incredibly, Dalton threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to John Ross on the very first play from scrimmage in the Bengals 26-13 win. Ross did not catch a single pass in 2017, his rookie season. Dalton was 11-for-16 for 180 yards and two touchdowns before coming out of the game.
“I feel this is one of those cool stories you see happen to someone else,” Dalton told The Athletic. “You never think it’s going to happen to you. We just happened to be on the receiving end of it.”
And by the way, Bills fans also initially donated $65,000 to Boyd, who had to scramble to set up his own charity – the Western Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Association. Boyd told The Athletic that fund has now grown to $150,000.