DETROIT – Buffalo’s newest folk hero has had his day in the sun and snow, and he’s ready to retire to the shadows.
Paul “Squirrel” Winter currently runs a construction business with his sons, and his family has run Winter’s Farm on Burton Road in Orchard Park for generations. He added to his resume on Saturday, when he helped Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen get out of his house.
Bills QB Josh Allen talks about his neighbors digging him out
When the story of the Bills’ 31-23 victory over the Cleveland Browns in Detroit is told, it won’t be complete without Squirrel Winter, without Marc Braun, without Mr. Dave, and without dozens of others.
The Bills had help from all sorts of people within the organization to get players safely to the facility on Saturday prior to their flight to Detroit. They also received critical help from their neighbours.
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But Squirrel Winter wasn’t interested in telling his side of the story.
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“No,” he said in a text message to The Buffalo News. “I’m just a kind-hearted farmer willing to help a neighbor.”
It’s an everyday tendency to watch out for others around a place called the City of Good Neighbors. And that tendency will likely be revealed on a CBS broadcast when your neighbor is the Buffalo Bills’ star quarterback.
“They came with a big, old tractor and dug me out,” Allen said of Winter and Braun. “I had a lane that was about that size, and the radars in my car were beeping all the way across my driveway, because it felt like I was about to hit something.”
Instead, Allen was able to leave his house, go to the facility, and eventually win a “home” game in Detroit.
Coach Sean McDermott made sure to acknowledge that Sunday at Ford Field.
“Anyone in Buffalo currently digging again, we’re thinking of you and that (victory) was for you,” McDermott said.
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While the bills were gone, snow totals in Orchard Park reached 80 inches. The “extreme” lake effect storm will continue to hit the area for the next several days. Orchard Park was still under a travel ban on Sunday. Ordinary people quickly realized that the Bills needed help, and those people will still have to deal with the snow themselves as the region recovers.
Defensive Ending Shaq Lawson even got help from his neighbors on other fronts, but it all came back to the same theme of reaching those around you and seeing what they need.
“They scooped me out and offered me food because I was hungry,” Lawson said. “They’ve been looking out for me.”
Left guard Rodger Saffold tweeted that he now knows what it feels like to be in a “Rocky” training montage after running through all the snow. He left his home, which began to look more and more like a cave as the snow piled up.
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“I had never breathed so hard in my life,” said Saffold after the game. “And I was like, ‘OK, am I ready for the game?’ But at the end of the day you saw the community, you saw the neighbors helping people.”
And Saffold heard them too. A day before the competition started in another city, he was applauded for his efforts.
“Guys are cheering me on as they walk through the snow trying to get to the car, which was great,” he said.
He would hear fans in Detroit. Players all praised the crowd Ford Field reached. Still, even with a solid crowd and many of the same songs and stadium programming as a home game, it was an unusual experience.
“To sit there and have to score in the Lions End Zone was just a bit weird for all of us,” said Saffold. “And essentially it feels like another away game in the end. But it also has an advantage to be able to play on this field twice.”
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When it comes to benefits, the Bills also believe that despite everything that happened to them this week, the team is getting even closer than before out of the snow and chaos and the surprise trip to Detroit.
“I’ve seen guys stay with other guys to be closer to the facility, so if we got that call, we’d be ready to go,” said defense tackle Ed Oliver, whose neighbor Mr. Dave was one of those helping him.
“Guys chilled and hung out. We talked on Zoom and relaxed and hung out and just sort of bonded.
One case of that involved tight ends Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney. The way the lake-effect storm changed first hit Orchard Park, but then moved north as the weekend progressed. Sweeney, expecting his neighborhood to be hit harder Friday night on Saturday, stayed with his buddy Knox.
“It was good. It was good,” Knox said. “It wasn’t that boring.
Knox bought a home closer to the Bills facility over the summer and said during training camp, ahead of an eventual contract renewal, that he knew he wanted to solidify his ties here. That was partly because of the team, but partly because of the community. On Saturday, he was reminded why.
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“They just showed up, without me asking or saying anything,” Knox said. “I looked out my front window and people are coming into my driveway, and I have a long driveway too.”
He also saw some new faces when he looked outside.
“I knew a few,” Knox said. “But for many of them it was their first acquaintance. So, big shout out to them.
A number of players pointed out that Devin Singletary and linebacker Tyrel Dodson had the most memorable trips to the game. Singletary had one of the longer walks.
“He had to walk to Main Street, but he had to walk through all the snow,” said wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie. “It was a lot. And Motor is kinda small.
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Singletary is listed as 5-foot-7 or 67 inches. Snowfall in some areas reached 77 inches before the team left, and was certainly even higher in places after shovelling piled up.
Dodson posted a video of his trek through near-middle-deep snow.
“I made sure to open the door for him and get his bag, and I was like ‘Are you okay?’ said Saffold. “He’s like, ‘I’m not OK.’ ”
But Saffold laughed as he told it, knowing that Dodson was already ready to make a fool of himself. Whatever Saturday looked like for the players, they kept it in perspective, knowing the rest of the town was also navigating the snow, even as they took their time scooping out the Bills.
“It’s called the City of Good Neighbors for a reason,” McDermott said. “You saw that in abundance on Friday and Saturday.”
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The Bills will return to Ford Field in a few days to face the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, as scheduled. But their next challenge is to just get back to all of their respective streets, driveways, and houses.
When asked about how they will get back home when the team returns to Buffalo, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips summed up the plan succinctly: “I have no idea.”
When Allen recounted his journey, he alluded to the snow on his upcoming return journey.
“I’m sure it will stay that way for a while,” Allen said.
Left tackle Dion Dawkins was ready for a full-scale operation.
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“I mean, literally, it’ll be exactly the same,” Dawkins said.
The self-proclaimed “Shnowman”, Dawkins knows there’s a chance some of it has already been cleaned up.
“If they don’t,” he said, “we’ll be home shoveling and getting that snow left and right of us.”