Bills coach Sean McDermott approached Kyle Williams on Saturday morning and asked him to address his teammates the night before the game. The defensive tackle had eight minutes for his speech, but Williams knew it wasn't nearly long enough to deliver a heartfelt message.
How do you whittle 12 years into eight minutes? How to explain a love affair between a passionate football player and a passionate football town that shared so much pain and endured so much failure but never lost hope in one another? How do you put into words a mutual admiration that was understood even when unspoken?
Williams did what comes naturally to him. He took the floor, tapped into his soul and unleashed genuine emotion within. He told them how much he cared about the community, in part because they cared so much about him. He wanted them to understand what we all know: Buffalo wasn't just a snowy place by the lake but a state of mind.
"We play and live in a place that celebrates grit as much as they celebrate talent," Williams told his teammates. "It's not the case everywhere. I've been here a long time. You get guys that, oh, they may not want to come here in free agency or they may not want to get drafted here. The same people, when they leave in free agency or are released, they don't want to leave."
Buffalo does have that effect on people, but there's no escaping the shelf life of an NFL career. Williams may have played his last home game for the Bills on Sunday, a rousing 24-16 victory over the Dolphins at New Era Field that they sorely needed to stay in playoff contention. The Bills were inspired in the first half and outplayed the same Miami team that took down New England last Monday night.
"His speech was all about passion, it's all about heart, it's all about grit," Jerry Hughes said. "He embodies everything of a Buffalo Bill. When you have someone on your team like that who gives it all every play, every year, every snap, it's hard not to notice. You want to throw your head out there for him, too."
"Incredible," Ryan Davis said. "I was about shedding tears. Incredible. Energy, passion, it was all in that speech, and we just felt it."
True to form, Williams wasn't interested in talking about the possibility that he had played his last game in Orchard Park. He made a valiant attempt to focus on the victory while minimizing the impact it had on him. He tried sticking to football – "Two more games," he said several times – and preparing for the Patriots, but there was no ignoring the obvious.
Last week, after the Bills beat the Colts in the snow, he refused to answer any questions about the game without first saying how much he appreciated the fans who stayed for the entire game. There was a sense he wanted to properly thank them in case he never had another opportunity.
He reiterated his point Sunday.
"I don't think I've ever taken it for granted," Williams said. "They've always been in the forefront of my appreciation of what they do, what they stand for and who they are. Hopefully, I've been clear about that. If I haven't, I apologize. I should do better. Those guys are awesome. It's been quite the privilege to play for them."
Williams considered retirement last season before McDermott encouraged him to come back for the final year of his contract. Williams is still an effective player, but he's beat up at age 34. He played much better in the first half of the season before showing signs of wear over the past month.
It was no coincidence Sunday that the Bills played with the passion their leader displayed since the Bills selected him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, back when he wasn't built to last in the NFL. Critics suggested he wasn't big enough or athletic enough to become a dominant defensive tackle.
He was an underdog, a perfect fit for a hearty place like Buffalo. He survived all these years because he was tougher than a steelworker. He's a tireless competitor who always understood the meaning of earning an honest living and never cheated his employer. He appreciated every down he played in the NFL.
Imagine playing that hard and that long without ever playing in a postseason game. The reality is that he could be running out of time. He and his wife, Jill, have five children who are 10 years old or younger. He is deeply committed to his family. Plus, the Bills might not have a place for him as they continue building.
"Hey, I'll come and write him letters, everything, give him half my contract," Bills defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said. " 'Whatever you want, Kyle, to come back.' There's not enough things I can say about the guy. He's the best captain I ever had, the best teammate I ever had, just an awesome guy."
Indeed, Williams always did get IT.
His passion was caught on camera after the Bills beat Tampa Bay earlier this season. He was nearly moved to tears during an epic speech while telling his teammates how much he loved playing with them. The more he spoke after the game Sunday, the more you could appreciate why his teammates rallied around him.
By the time he was finished, I was ready to run through a wall for the guy. And yet for his gift to motivate others, Williams has said more with his actions. That's what fans see while watching him slug it out for all these years. That's not what he does, however. That's who he is, a class act and consummate professional who always put his teammates first.
Jill Williams knew more than anyone. She started crying during the national anthem and was bawling while videotaping her husband as he walked off the field. He arrived in Buffalo a 22-year-old single man and now he's the married father of five.
The kids were running around in the end zone afterward, as they do every Sunday. It may have been their last time on the field, too. Someday, they'll realize their father left a part of him in Buffalo, and they took a part of Buffalo with them.
"Just thinking about the last 12 years," Jill Williams said while fighting back tears. "Sorry, I'm getting choked up now. But I'm thinking about what this town has meant to us, and this team. He stuck it out. I don't know if it is (the end) or it isn't. I want to enjoy watching him play. I'm just praying for playoffs – for him."