Each year, the Buffalo Bills strive to positively impact those living in Western New York and around the country. The organization's unwavering commitment to community enrichment is evident through a variety of outreach programs. Through working with partners, the Bills made a significant difference in 2017. To relive some of the most memorable community moments from throughout the year, read below.
Play 60 Challenge & Fitness for Kids Challenge
The Buffalo Bills teamed up with the Independent Health Foundation and the Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association this season to support the Play 60 Challenge and Fitness for Kids Challenge. The programs, which took place in over 500 local classrooms, encourage children in grades two through five to get 60 minutes of physical activity per day and to maintain healthy nutritional habits. To kick off the programs, the Bills, with help from several players, held a pep rally and Play 60 gym class at Buffalo Public School 32 - Bennett Park Montessori on Oct. 3.
In celebration for those who participated in the challenges, the Buffalo Bills, Independent Health Foundation and the Buffalo Niagara American Heart Association, hosted a party for over 300 kids in the ADPRO Sports Training Center on Dec. 5. The Play 60 Fitness Party gave local children an opportunity to meet some of their favorite Bills players, while dancing and rotating through several activity stations. Eighteen Bills players attended the event, making it one to remember.
Crucial Catch Week presented by ECMC
In recognition of the NFL's "Crucial Catch" initiative, which seeks to raise awareness and encourage prevention and early detection of seven screenable cancers throughout the month of October, the Buffalo Bills teamed up with ECMC to hold several events during Week 7. Dedicating each day of the week to a specific cancer, the Bills worked with ECMC to take a stand against prostate cancer, pediatric cancer, breast cancer, head and neck cancer as well as to celebrate survivorship. Highlights of the week included the Crucial Catch Family Fun Night held in the ADPRO Sports Training Center for children with pediatric cancer and their families and a special pregame ceremony held prior to the Tampa Bay game honoring over 50 cancer survivors.
Salute to Service Game
In addition to Buffalo's year-round military support efforts, the Bills host a "Salute to Service" game each year to honor the selfless contributions made by United States Military members to ensure our freedom. This year's game was held Week 10, as the Bills hosted the New Orleans Saints at New Era Field. The awe-inspiring pregame ceremony, featuring all five branches of the military, also included a full-field flag and a flyover. During the game's first quarter break, the Bills had another surprise in store for a deserving service member. Fans cheered with excitement as Bills Owner Terry Pegula presented Master Sergeant James Kozma of the United States Marine Corps with a service dog. Bills players and coaches also got involved by wearing special military-themed gear on game day.
Bills players community outreach day
This season, Buffalo Bills players took an active role in the community by using their platforms to advocate for positive change. Spearheaded by Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander and his teammates, the Bills took part in a day of service on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The outreach featured 42 Bills players paying visits to five different events throughout the area, including the Belle Center, Northwest Buffalo Community Center, Matt Urban Hope Center, Hennepin Community Center, as well as the ADPRO Sports Training Center for the Crucial Catch Family Fun Night. The day proved inspiring for the players and those that they met.
Walter Payton Man of the Year Award
One of the NFL's most prestigious honors, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award highlights players who exemplify what it means to be a leader both on and off the field. Each of the NFL's 32 teams select a nominee and this season, the Buffalo Bills were proud to select linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. Although 2017 was just his second season with the Bills, Alexander, an 11-year veteran, quickly became a respected voice in the locker room and advocate in the community. Through his ACES Foundation, Alexander has touched the lives of many across the country. His leadership ability, values and commitment to making a difference, have inspired those around him to act.
During each home game of the 2017 season, the Bills hosted several different community groups and guests to celebrate youth football, Salute to Service, Crucial Catch, My Cause My Cleats, Play 60, and much more.
One Buffalo Organization of the Game
Another way Bills players got involved this season was through the One Buffalo Organization of the Game program. With input from the team, the Bills honored a different local organization at home games during the 2017 season for their commitment to serving the community. In addition to recognition on game day and tickets to a game, the selected organizations each received a commemorative game ball and a financial donation. This year's recipients were: Veterans One-stop Center of WNY, Family Justice Center of Erie County, Matt Urban Hope Center, the Northwest Buffalo Community Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNY and the Belle Center.
In Week 13, several Bills players will take part in the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" initiative. Each player customized a pair of cleats in honor of a cause they are passionate about, to wear during the game.
My Cause, My Cleats
For the second consecutive season, the NFL's "My Cause, My Cleats" campaign gave players a unique opportunity to showcase the causes that they're passionate about by allowing them to wear customized cleats during Week 13. More than 26 Bills players and coaches, including Head Coach Sean McDermott, as well as Owner Terry Pegula, sported their custom footwear on game day against the Patriots. Following the game, several Bills elected to donate their cleats to the NFL auction website where all the proceeds generated would be given to their specific charitable cause.
Play Football Month
August in the NFL is special for several reasons. Not only is the regular football season right around the corner, it also signifies Play Football Month – a League-wide initiative that celebrates the start of the youth football season. As a part of the program, the Bills teamed up with USA Football to host several events while at Training Camp, presented by Connors & Ferris, and throughout the preseason. While on the scene at St. John Fisher College, the Bills welcomed 50 local youth football moms for the Moms Football Safety Clinic. The educational event allowed the women to hear from a panel of speakers, which featured Bills Owner Kim Pegula, taught them about proper equipment fitting to ensure safety and gave them an opportunity to practice football drills. Additionally, at both of Buffalo's preseason games, the Bills hosted youth football teams for scrimmages.
From Training Camp visits to holiday surprises and everything in between, the Bills teamed up with several partners to make an impact in the community throughout the 2017 season.
Community Tent at Training Camp
Hosted at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, Bills Training Camp, presented by Connors & Ferris, gives fans in Rochester an up-close look at the team. While players are working hard on the practice field to prepare for the season, the Bills Community Relations team is aiming to provide opportunities for organizations in the Rochester and Buffalo regions to engage with the players, coaches and staff. This year, the Bills hosted several groups in the Community Tent at camp. Guests from Buffalo and Rochester area Youth Football organizations, Stone's Buddies, Town of Pittsford, Do the Right Thing/Champions Academy, Special Olympics, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Rochester, Boys & Girls Club of Rochester, Veterans One-stop Center of WNY, Heroes/Fort Drum, Camp Good Days and more, watched practice and spent time interacting with the players.
The Bills annual Thanksgiving Blitz is a great opportunity for the organization to get out and give back during the holidays. Teaming up with the Food Bank of Western New York, over 30 players, Owner Kim Pegula, Managing Partner & President Russ Brandon, staff members, the Bills Women's Association and volunteers, came together to package and distribute meals to over 500 families prior to Thanksgiving. Made possible by generous donations from the Bills players and coaches, the special event ensured that Buffalo area families would be able to enjoy the holiday. In addition to the Thanksgiving Blitz, Bills players including Micah Hyde, Tyrod Taylor, John Miller, Preston Brown, Pat DiMarco, Lorenzo Alexander and many more, hosted and participated in Thanksgiving outreach events.
Bills Toyota Rookie Club
The Buffalo Bills Toyota Rookie Club helps bring Buffalo's newcomers together to get to know one another, while serving their new community. This season, the rookies participated in four Toyota Rookie Club events. From hosting a NFL Flag Clinic, visiting a local community center and taking a Halloween trip to Frightworld, the Bills rookie class quickly established a connection with WNY's locals. To cap an unforgettable season, the rookies hosted a holiday party for children at the Hamburg Fairgrounds Festival of Lights. The unique event brought in over 100 kids from 11 different community organizations to tour the attractions, visit with Santa and receive Bills-themed presents. Spreading holiday cheer, the rookies bonded with their young fans.
The rookies weren't the only Bills players to give back during the holiday season, however. Tyrod Taylor got into the spirit by adopting families and presenting them with presents from their wish lists. Additionally, Eric Wood hosted his annual holiday shopping event and dinner, LeSean McCoy and his foundation teamed up with the YMCA to provide 300 kids with gifts, Preston Brown donated tablets to a local Buffalo Public high school, special teamers Stephen Hauschka, Colton Schmidt and Reid Ferguson paid a visit to the Oishei Children's Hospital on Christmas Day, Lorenzo Alexander adopted families from the Belle Center and Buffalo Public Schools and Deonte Thompson, Pat DiMarco and Adam Redman took a group of children from the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County out for a night of shopping where many of the guests bought presents for their family members.
O'Leary family visits One Bills Drive
This offseason, through the Treasured Time program, the Buffalo Bills were able to grant a very special wish for longtime Bills fan and Buffalo native Jay O'Leary. Despite being diagnosed with colon cancer in March 2017, O'Leary, a proud father to three children and devoted husband, remained strong and focused on making memories with his family. A Bills fan for over 30 years, O'Leary, who had relocated to Connecticut, wanted to share his love for the team and the city with his wife and kids.
On June 6, O'Leary got his wish, as he and his family made the trip to One Bills Drive for a behind-the-scenes experience. Throughout the day, the O'Leary family toured the ADPRO Sports Training Center, took pictures at New Era Field, visited practice, spent time with Bills players and had the opportunity to meet Head Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane. The visit proved impactful for the O'Leary family and everyone they met.
After a courageous fight, Jay, who was 42 years old, lost his battle with the disease in July.
Honorary Captain signs with the Bills
On Aug. 4, the Bills hosted Garett Rumfola, a member of Stone's Buddies at Oishei Children's Hospital, for a fun-filled adventure. After signing a one-day contract with the Bills as a running back, Rumfola embarked on an unforgettable journey. Throughout the day, he got to speak in a team meeting, tour the facility, spend time with Head Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane, received autographs from his favorite players and even scored a touchdown with the team during "The Return of the Blue Red" practice, presented by Bud Light, that evening.
Bills & ADPRO Sports High School Coach of the Week/ Coach of the Year
In 2017, the Buffalo Bills proudly partnered with ADPRO Sports to celebrate some of the best high school football coaches in the Buffalo and Rochester regions. Throughout the season the program recognized 22 coaches for their standout work on and off the field (11 per region). In addition to the weekly winners, the program identified two coaches of the year – Mike Vastola, head coach of West Seneca West (Buffalo region) and Erik Werner, head coach of Hornell (Rochester region). The winners, who each received a grant for their football program, were honored on-field during a pregame ceremony at New Era Field Week 14.
In a pregame ceremony during Buffalo's Week 8 game against Oakland, the Bills honored local first responder and paid a special tribute to fallen Buffalo Officer Craig Lehner.
Hometown Heroes Ceremony
Prior to kickoff at Buffalo's Week 8 game against the Raiders, the Bills honored the region's first responders. The local heroes – men and women from the New York State Troopers, Erie County Sheriff's Department, Erie County Emergency Services, Windom Volunteer Fire Department, Orchard Park Police Department, Buffalo Fire Department, Mercy Flight, AMR and Badge of Honor Association – were welcomed onto the field to receive recognition for their commendable service to our community. The pregame ceremony also included a special tribute to fallen Buffalo Police Officer Craig Lehner. The heartfelt remembrance brought Lehner's mother, family, friends, fellow officers and K-9 partner together on-field. Bills Owners Terry and Kim Pegula showed their support by presenting Lehner's mother with a commemorative game ball. The Lehner family was also presented with a jersey in honor of Officer Lehner, as well as an invitation to Super Bowl 52.