Known as the City of Good Neighbors, Buffalo, New York, doesn’t just talk the talk. It walks the walk − and not just for its neighbors. At a time when winning could have mattered most, the city’s football fans extended their generosity and kindness to an injured rival in a communal act of sportsmanship.
The catalysts for their collective soul were total strangers, Dan Konopski and William Burke. Each watched from home as their beloved Bills faced the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the NFL playoffs in January. As the third quarter ended, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was dazed following a tackle. Baltimore’s most dangerous weapon, Jackson left the game and didn’t return.
“Watching him go down in a scary way, I paused and reflected,” Dan said. His mind raced to the Bills Mafia, the team’s ardent supporters who flash a kind heart as well. In 2018, they donated more than $400,000 to the charitable foundation of then-Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, whose TD pass in an overtime victory over the Ravens secured Buffalo’s first playoff appearance in 17 years. They later donated $1 million to a local hospital in memory of the grandmother of Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
So as the game wound down, Dan researched Lamar’s charitable efforts and discovered he had donated $25,000 to Blessings in a Backpack, which provides meals on weekends to elementary school students and is based in Louisville, Kentucky, home of Jackson’s alma mater.
“It’s all about kids, and I said to a friend, ‘We should throw in $20 in Lamar’s honor to keep the good karma going,'” Dan said. “Almost immediately, I had the idea to share the information but wanted to wait until the end of the game. I knew that if we won, people would be in a good mood.”
Right after Buffalo’s 17-3 victory, he posted on the Bills’ Reddit feed, “hoping that 20 or 30 people would see it and contribute.” William had the same idea, did the same research and posted to Twitter, reasoning that a victory with an injured Jackson “is not how this should have gone down.”
The next day in Louisville, Nikki Grizzle arrived at the Blessings in a Backpack office, flummoxed at the notification of 1,500 donations. “That’s absurd for us on a Sunday in January,” said Nikki, the organization’s chief marketing officer. She was puzzled by the fact that most of the donations referenced the Bills Mafia, so she turned to her husband, a football fan, to explain the group’s background. The initial wave of donations continued for three weeks, she said, as she joined William and Dan for multiple remote interviews. By fall, more than 18,000 people had donated because of the duo’s efforts with a total surpassing $550,000.
The money raised from the posts has benefitted children beyond Louisville, including kids in western New York. Dan and William finally met in person when they distributed meals for the charity together in April. “We got to spend a whole day there volunteering, handing out to the kids,” Dan said. “It was good to finally meet but even better to volunteer.”
Blessings in a Backpack also launched a partnership with Lamar and a high school in Baltimore to provide packs to elementary students. “So, this has come full circle for him,” Nikki said.
Though he didn’t imagine that his post would touch more than a couple dozen people, Dan realizes that this act of generosity extends beyond Buffalo and football. “This is bigger than sports,” he said. “The only reason it succeeded is because a lot of somebodies who saw what we posted threw in $10. By itself, $10 doesn’t accomplish much. But when tens of thousands of people do it so that it becomes a massive movement, each of us ends up having a profound impact on many people’s lives.”