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After an offseason of sadness, Bills' DiMarco able to count blessings

The wave of sad events that came crashing down on Patrick DiMarco during the offseason was so large, so overpowering, he couldn't help but ask the obvious.

"Why me?" and "Can it stop already?"

Forget the emotional pain of Feb. 5 that got the offseason started on such a sour note for the Buffalo Bills' fullback. He was a member of that Atlanta Falcons team that will never live down blowing a 25-point lead in the third quarter and losing, 34-28, to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

Given most of what followed, that practically qualifies as a highlight.

A month later, just as he was about to sign with the Bills as a free agent, DiMarco's paternal grandfather, Richard DiMarco, died in his mid-70s from pancreatic cancer.

Then, in June, right after offseason workouts in Orchard Park ended and he was ready to enjoy some down time before reporting to training camp, DiMarco's maternal grandfather, Wayne Floyd, died in his early 80s from leukemia.

Losing two of the bigger influences on his life, men who helped shape him as a man and as a football player, should have been more than enough sorrow for one individual to endure.

It wasn't quite over yet.

In July, his five-year-old Golden Retriever died soon after suddenly taking ill during a neighborhood walk in Atlanta with DiMarco and his wife, Kirstin. He named the dog Brice, after William Brice Stadium, where DiMarco played home games at the University of South Carolina.

"It just felt like it was non-ending," DiMarco said. "When it rains, it pours."

Don't confuse those as the words of someone wallowing in self-pity. The 28-year-old DiMarco isn't doing that. He knows there are plenty of reasons to feel blessed, beginning with his wife and their 1-year-old son, Weston, as well as the rest of their family and friends.

He's thankful for an NFL career that is nearing the end of its sixth season and has provided tremendous wealth, including the four-year, $8.4-million contract ($4.8 million guaranteed) he signed with the Bills.

Most of all, though, DiMarco takes tremendous solace from having had Richard DiMarco and Wayne Floyd in his life. That was the motivation behind wearing cleats that recognized the American Cancer Society during the NFL's "My Cleats, My Cause" when the Bills faced the Patriots in Week 13. DiMarco donated his custom-made shoes to help raise money for the American Cancer Society.

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Grandpa Richard was from Long Island but lived in Orlando, Fla., DiMarco's hometown, so they saw plenty of each other while Patrick grew up. He was a standout basketball player at St. John's University, and also excelled at golf and tennis. Clearly, Richard's were the athletic genes that found their way to Patrick (Chris DiMarco, Patrick's uncle, played on the PGA Tour).

If you spent any time around Grandpa Richard, you could count on being involved in some sort of sporting competition.

"Whenever we had family functions, it was, 'Hey, let's go play softball in the backyard … Hey, let's see who can throw the football the furthest,'" DiMarco said. "There was always stuff like that going on with the DiMarco family when we were at grandpa's."

Richard DiMarco's final days of life coincided with the point at which Patrick was exploring his free-agent options. In fact, as he and his wife and son were with him during a two-day visit to Orlando, Patrick was getting calls from his agent to discuss his potential next employer.

Richard, who was intrigued by the whole process, said something that Patrick will never forget: "Wherever you end up, you're going to be a blessing to that organization and your teammates."

The day after leaving for the Bahamas to attend the bachelor party of a friend for whom he was serving as best man, Patrick received a call from his parents saying Grandpa Richard was in the hospital and "not doing real well." Patrick caught a flight the next morning back to Orlando. Five hours after arriving at the hospital, his grandfather died.

On March 9, the day after the funeral, DiMarco flew to Buffalo to sign his deal.

"The whole Bills organization knew about my grandfather and were super gracious. They told me, 'Pat, take your time. We understand, you need to mourn. But we're excited to have you.' "

Patrick credits Grandpa Richard's highly competitive spirit with allowing him to wage the valiant battle he did against a relentless disease. "He fought pancreatic cancer, one of the worst types, for five or six months, which a lot of people don't have the opportunity to make," DiMarco said.

Pop, which was what Patrick called his maternal grandfather, lived in Gainesville, Fla, about a 90-minute drive from Orlando. Wayne Floyd played football at Auburn University and Troy University. He also was a high school football coach and athletic director.

"So we talked a lot of football," Patrick said. "He called me after every game and gave me pointers. That was our passion."

Pop showed every bit as much strength and courage in his cancer battle. He also dealt with having to undergo open-heart surgery and an assortment of other ailments that caused him to be in and out of the hospital.

After the Bills' final minicamp, Patrick and his wife flew to Mexico to vacation with some friends. A day after their arrival, DiMarco's father called to inform him that "Pop made a turn for the worse." Patrick and Kirstin flew to Florida the next morning, giving Patrick just enough time to say goodbye.

"He wasn't all there, but I was able to hug his neck, kiss him and tell him how much I loved him," DiMarco said. "As sad as it was at the funerals, my comfort was having the whole family together and telling stories about the good times and the memories. Peace came from the stuff that they gave me, the legacy that will carry on through me that they taught me that I'll have forever, that I'll cherish, I'll teach to my son and hopefully he'll teach to his son.

"There was a lot of peace, also, in football. This is what I love. I started playing football when I was in third grade. As new as I was to being here, to the Buffalo Bills, (with the deaths of) both sets of grandfathers, I had several teammates call me, text me, 'Hey, I'm praying for you and your family. I'm so sorry about everything that's happening.' And that was just kind of awesome."

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