A group of Buffalo Bills are getting a lot of attention for pushing out many motorists Sunday who were jammed up in the snow, and Ruth Mendofik said it's absolutely justified. She was one of the drivers they helped. Mendofik's car became stuck as she tried to leave Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant in Blasdell with her 73-year-old father and her 12-year-old twin boys.
It was the Bills who bailed her out.
Yet a great Buffalo tale becomes even greater when you hear Mendofik's account. She works two jobs and she doesn't have much time to watch the Bills - unlike her twins, devoted fans who remain stunned at what happened Sunday - and while she was thrilled the players helped, she also had a question:
She wondered how she could thank a waitress from DiPaolo's, the one who shoveled without wearing a coat.
Mendofik is a single mother in South Buffalo, raising two sets of twins; the older twins, Arianna and Alex, are 18, while the younger ones, Owen and Gaven, are 12. Her full-time work involves housekeeping at St. Teresa's Church, and she also cleans houses on the side, a second job that often means working seven days a week.
Through the parish she became friends with Flora Pasquale, whose 80th birthday party was Sunday at DiPaolo's.
"Flora is awesome," said Mendofik, using a favorite adjective. "Once you meet her, you just love her."
So Mendofik and her family were invited to the party. She went with the younger twins and her dad, Ed Mendofik, and the snow kept getting worse while they were there. Finally, Ruth Mendofik decided it was time to go. She managed to get the car out of its parking spot, but she got stuck at absolutely the wrong place, between the lot and the road.
She revved the engine. She tried to rock it. No luck.
"I'll get out and push," said her father, described by Mendofik as "an awesome dad," the kind of guy "who always goes out and shovels for neighbors who can't do it."
Even so, she tried to talk him out of pushing her car. He had heart bypass surgery in his 60s, and she knew he shouldn't be pushing and pulling. He basically ignored her and went at it, as fathers will. Gaven also jumped out to help, and Mendofik's father shouted at her to hit the gas while they pushed.
The car didn't budge.
Suddenly, the waitress was at the car window.
The waitress wore no coat. She had a shovel. She told Mendofik to stay put while she did some digging, and she began carving furiously at the snow. She had to be freezing. The tires just kept digging in a little deeper.
"She was trying so hard," Mendofik said, but the waitress had an idea.
"Wait a minute," she said. "Let me go get the Bills."
Here is the answer to Mendofik's question: The waitress turned out to be Tammy Stafford, who – like Mendofik – works two jobs and was covering a second shift at DiPaolo's for a co-worker who couldn't get there in the snow.
Stafford, one of several employees who went outside to help, came back a couple of minutes later with a platoon of Bills players who'd been eating dinner at DiPaolo's after their 13-6 overtime win over Indianapolis, in the storm. That included a good portion of Buffalo's offensive line, as well as punter Colton Schmidt, to whom Gaven cheerfully remarked, "Couldn't you just kick us loose?"
Schmidt took it in good spirits, and the twins were thrilled he liked the joke. They watched with awe as the Bills dislodged an elderly couple whose vehicle was also stuck, before the players turned their attention to Mendofik.
Another guy, a customer none of them had never seen, offered to get in and drive while the players pushed, and it didn't take the linemen long to shove Mendofik's car out of the snow.
The driver barreled into the road and turned the corner, which led Mendofik to remark to the Bills – in classic Buffalo humor – that they'd probably just helped a car thief make an easy getaway.
In reality, the guy was finding a clear place to park. Mendofik told the story by phone late Monday while she was doing her Christmas baking, after her boys were in bed, because it's a good time to get things done – in this case, making peanut butter cup cookies, which she said "everybody loves."
Yes, she said, she is glad her sons witnessed the way famous football players, exhausted after a hard game, put down their dinners to bail out everyday people in a parking lot.
But she is also glad the boys saw how their grandfather insisted on pushing, when he had good reason to say no, and how a tired waitress, doing an extra shift, ran outside to dig in the snow without a coat, and how a stranger Mendofik might never see again jumped in to help.
Sure, Mendofik loved how the twins looked back Monday when she dropped them off for school, how they told her, if she gets stuck, just to call the Bills.
Mendofik laughed, but she defines the tale in a slightly larger way.
In the big picture, when she's stuck, she counts on Buffalo.
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or read more of his work in this archive.