Spike and I made a pilgrimage last weekend to one of the most sacred places I know, and the destination for more than 70,000 people on half of fall Sundays.
That’s right. We went to New Era Stadium, the home of the Buffalo Bills.
This was an extra special trip, as we got to spend some quality time with a Bills captain — and legend — Kyle Williams. He’s been the anchor of the defense for thirteen years, a five-time Pro-Bowler, and an incredibly inspirational player for myself, my family, and just about all Buffalonians.
I was born and raised in Orchard Park, N.Y., exactly eight miles from the stadium. My family members are proud, lifelong Bills fans.
I remember exactly where I was when we lost the first of four Super Bowls in a row; when Frank Reich engineered the greatest comeback in NFL history against the Houston Oilers; and when we qualified for the playoffs last year, ending the longest playoffs drought in professional sports.
Kyle Williams, the heart and soul of the team, gave an epic post-game locker room speech that day.
Kyle happens to have the same name as my brother, in whose honor I’m raising Spike for Canine Companions for Independence. My brother Kyle was a paraplegic who died last year from complications from his disability. He spent more time in the hospital than out of it the last few years of his life, which was very difficult.
But one thing that always put a smile on his face was when his care providers would ask him about the Bills’ Kyle Williams — and whether he knew him or was related. And hearing his own name on the broadcast — “Kyle Williams made the tackle!” — really lifted his spirits. For these reasons, #95 holds an extra special place in my family’s heart.
"Kyle’s pre- and post- game locker speeches are notably inspiring. He fires up the whole team, and I’d argue the whole city."
On September 15, after the Bills’ practice, my family, Spike and I got to meet Kyle Williams and share my brother’s story with him. It’s a day I will never forget.
Kyle was incredibly gracious and humble about hearing the impact he has had on our lives. He was incredibly patient with my 77-year-old, post-stroke mom who just wanted to give him advice about the game. )I wanted to talk more about Spike, but my mom just kept going on about our “cute, baby” quarterback – a.k.a. rookie QB Josh Allen.)
Kyle’s pre- and post-game locker speeches are notably inspiring. He fires up the whole team, and I’d argue the whole city.
After winning the final game of the 2017 season against the Miami Dolphins, and with an assist from Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bills made the playoffs last year, ending the longest professional sports playoff drought. Kyle had this to say in the locker room:
“This is a start. This is not a finish. This is a start. Lets stay on it.”
As heartbreaking as it is to lose someone so dear to you — and it’s really hard some days — it is not a finish.
Now, with Spike in my life, I hope I can help provide a fresh start for someone with a disability.
Thank you, #95, for giving your teammates — and all Bills fans — advice and inspiration, every day. Let’s stay on it.
For more information about Canine Companions for Independence go to cci.org.