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Sean Kirst: After Bills pulled out victory, they pushed drivers free of snow

Peggy Manning, a manager at Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant in Blasdell, worked a long day Sunday. She arrived around 10 a.m., and parked her Chevy Cruze not far from the front door. It was the holiday season, which always means more customers, and people showed up for several celebrations and parties despite a big snowstorm.

Many of them kept asking about the score in a Buffalo Bills-Indianapolis Colts game being played 3 miles away in Orchard Park. Manning had tickets, but on this day she knew she'd be needed at work.

Twelve hours later, when she finally left to go home, she discovered her car was packed in with snow. It'd been buried both by the deluge from above, and by the plows that kept swinging back and forth to open up the road. Manning did her best to brush off the vehicle before she climbed in.

She hit the gas and tried to rock it loose.

No luck. The engine roared and she went nowhere.

Then she looked out the car window.

A group of Bills, tall silhouettes in the backlit mist, had hustled out of the restaurant to help her, the same thing they'd been doing for many customers for at least a solid hour. Manning recognized center Eric Wood, punter Colton Schmidt, long snapper Reid Ferguson, tackle Dion Dawkins, guard Ryan Groy and tackle Conor McDermott, who stands 6-foot-8.

And there might have been more.

That meant she had somewhere in the area of 1,800 pounds of human being helping to push the car, guys whose entire job is essentially to move the unmovable. A couple of them were shoveling and a couple of them were pushing and Manning, at their direction, hit the gas.

After a few seconds of back and forth she felt that sweet feeling we all know, that magnificent instant when your car bursts loose after being stuck in the snow.

Manning, free and clear, was on her way back to Angola.

"It says a lot about them, and we're just very grateful," said Manning, who's worked at DiPaolo's since 1982 and has seen generations of Bills players come and go. She believes she remembers players helping to push cars in the snow before — she thinks it was during the Super Bowl era in the 1990s — but she never remembers a situation, on a Sunday, quite as extreme.

Sean Kirst: A housecleaner, 2 boys, some Buffalo Bills and a car stuck in snow

Buffalo's 13-6 overtime victory over Indianapolis was the talk of the region, if not the nation, played in a snowstorm on a game day beyond anything even the hardiest Bills fans quite remembered. Dennis DiPaolo — whose late and legendary father Ilio founded the restaurant – said he went to Mass in South Buffalo early in the day and there was no snow on the ground.

Still, Dennis is a veteran follower of the Bills. In December, he goes prepared. He put on five layers of clothing before heading to New Era Field, where he drove into the heavy and relentless snowfall and figured it was just a band passing through.

"It stayed right there," Dennis said.

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The eventual result was kind of magical. There was something about the game, and the way the Bills pulled it out in overtime behind third-string quarterback Joe Webb, that left everyone feeling jubilant and in a spirit to suit this time of year.

"Christmas," Dennis said. "This will be a game no one forgets."

That whole crew of Bills, basically linemen, showed up at DiPaolo's afterward, as Dennis said Wood and his friends often do. They undoubtedly believed they'd have a few moments to thaw out and relax, but not on this particular evening in the Southtowns.

The restaurant was hosting an 80th birthday party for Flora Pasquale of Buffalo. Many of her guests were retirees, and as they left – one by one – their vehicles kept getting stuck in the storm.

Dennis, his son Ilio, several employees and that whole battalion of Bills would instantly throw on jackets or hoodies and roll as one out into the parking lot, where they'd shovel and push car after car — not long after these same Bills spent hours pounding and getting pounded against the Colts on the snowy turf at New Era.

"Flora's friends, these little old ladies, they're bringing them Italian cookies and saying, 'Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!" Dennis said.

A group of Bills head over to help push a car out of the snow at Ilio DiPaolo's restaurant after Sunday's game. (Photo courtesy of Rachael Martinez, a dance teacher at the Epic Dance Center)

In one of Dennis' favorite moments of the night, a few of the Bills also got stuck trying to leave — and a passing motorist, who had no initial idea about the identity of the people he was stopping to help, pulled over, got out, lowered his shoulder and started to push.

"He said he was in the Knights of Columbus," Dennis said, "and he was on his way home."

Speaking to reporters Monday, Buffalo coach Sean McDermott said he hadn't heard about any Bills pushing cars, but that "it doesn’t surprise me with our guys. We’ve tried to do things the right way, and the players know that this is what we do."

Lauren Kirchmyer, community relations coordinator for the West Seneca School District, happened to go to DiPaolo's on Sunday for the annual Epic Dance Center faculty Christmas dinner after the young dancers from Epic staged a holiday performance in Lackawanna.

Kirchmyer describes herself as a casual Bills fan. She's conscious of how the team is doing, but she doesn't follow the Bills closely enough to recognize any of the players.

Still, she tweeted out an image of the Bills pushing cars, as her means of saying thanks. What impressed her the most, she said, is how the players did it in the classic way of any seasoned Western New Yorker, keeping an eye out the window and jumping up to help before anyone even asked.

In the same fashion as just about anyone at this end of the state, Kirchmyer's glad the Bills came away with a victory.

Yet as she said in her tweet – and emphasized again in a conversation — what she witnessed, to her, carried higher importance.

"They're good people," Kirchmyer said. "That matters more than any win."

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive

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