Even though the Bills' season has ended, Emmanuel Sanders is still finding ways to give back to the Buffalo community.
On Friday night, Emmanuel Sanders was at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo on Babcock St. He was there to unveil the new Emmanuel Sanders Game Area that was built in honor of his friend and former teammate Demaryius Thomas.
Sanders and Thomas were teammates from 2014-2018 in Denver and won Super Bowl 50 together. Thomas suddenly passed away on Dec. 9, 2021, due to a medical condition.
Once Bills Mafia found out of Thomas' passing, they wanted to give back to Sanders' Foundation to show their support. Since Thomas frequently gave back to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Denver, Sanders knew exactly where to spend that money.
"It just goes to show what Bills Mafia did and they made this happen," Sanders said before the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "With the 10/88 and the contributions that Bills Mafia made. They were able to raise money with the foundation and this is what we were able to do with it with the Boys and Girls Club.
"I know right now that Demaryius is smiling down from heaven because this is everything he loves. When it comes to kids and the Boys and Girls Club in Denver, he was always involved with the Boys and Girls Club always going there and making the kids smile. He was like me; we're making the kids' day, but the kids are making our day. So, to have this here is amazing."
Sanders gave the Boys and Girls Club a pool table, an air hockey table, a ping pong table, a foosball table, and cornhole boards.
Because of the snow day in Buffalo, there weren't as many kids there as usual, but Sanders still played games with four kids that were there. He also took pictures and signed autographs for the kids and club staff that attended.
For Sanders, this was important to him to make sure that Thomas' legacy lived on. Sanders and Thomas had such a close bond. Sanders reflected that Thomas had the biggest smile and a bigger heart and there were only a few moments that Sanders ever remembers him not smiling.
"He was one of those kinds of guys that would give everything, give the shirt off his back for anybody," Sanders said. "He had the biggest heart and I feel like I got a big heart. His could possibly be bigger than mine and I think that's why we got along so well. So, he definitely was a great human being. I tell people all the time, if more people were like Demaryius, the world would be a better place."
Sanders told a story of how in 2014 he was a Pro Bowl alternate and Thomas – who made the Pro Bowl roster – gave up his spot so that Sanders could go. The wide receiver duo was an electric pair together on the field. In their five seasons together, they each had three 1,000+ receiving yard seasons and had a combined 10,351 receiving yards and 56 touchdowns.
"… We called each other thunder and lightning, Sanders shared. "I used to always tell him, 'It's 88 + 10, that's the closest thing to perfection.' We had some great years with the Broncos, won a Super Bowl together and to do all that stuff is amazing. To have this wall back here is just a reflection. Seeing that back there brings back all the touchdowns and all the memories that we had, it's just amazing."
After Sanders spoke with the media, there was a surprise for him. Tina Thomas – Demaryius' mother – was planning to be at the event but couldn't make it due to the weather. She instead recorded a video message for him and she told Sanders how proud she was of him. She thanked him for honoring her son in this way and she was so grateful that Sanders was in his life. The wide receiver was touched by this surprise, and it made the entire that much more special to him.
Because of events like this and multiple other functions that Sanders has put on for the community, he has been named one of the five finalists for the 2022 NFLPA Alan Page Community Award. The winner will be announced on February 9 and will receive a $100,000 donation to the foundation or charity of their choosing.
"For me, it's all about the people," Sanders said. "I enjoy putting smiles on people's faces. We can all sit up here and act like everybody is good in the world, but people need help. And I'm out there trying to help. Demaryius was the same, he would go out of his way to help anybody. That's what my foundation is about and that's what we are going to do."
The CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Buffalo was in attendance for the unveiling of the game room. Shari McDonough introduced Sanders and thanked him for giving back to the kids. She said that the Babcock location was one of the only clubs in Buffalo without a game room of any kind. Having the games there is more than just keeping the kids entertained, it teaches them lessons about teamwork and sportsmanship.
To have Sanders do this for the Boys and Girls Club means so much to McDonough.
"First of all, to have somebody lose a very dear friend and the first thing they think about is doing something for someone else," McDonough said. "It's incredible. He's not from Buffalo, but he is now. He's just like all the people in Buffalo who make giving the very makeup of who we are. And the kids love the Bills, all of us support the Bills and we feel like they won't even know who we are. But look, it's the first thing he thought of, so it's beautiful."
Sanders will turn 35 next month and after completing his 12th season in the NFL, he is just beginning to decide what the future holds.
"I'm just trying to figure it out. But we'll see," Sanders said.
Whether he comes back to play in Buffalo or not, he is excited for Ken Dorsey to have the opportunity of being the Bills' offensive coordinator.
"Oh yeah, this offense is in good hands with Ken Dorsey, and Josh Allen, Diggs, Gabe Davis," Sanders added. "This city should … obviously how the game ended, you don't want the game to end like that. But at the same time, you got Josh Allen at quarterback. I believe that at some point a Super Bowl parade will be happening here. The Buffalo Bills are in great hands with Josh Allen."