You knew it was coming.
Andy Dalton received a standing ovation from the Buffalo crowd last summer when he took the field for a preseason game, for gosh sakes.
Yet when the capacity crowd of 750 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo stood to give Dalton a standing ovation Saturday morning, you could feel the emotion in the room, an outpouring of gratitude for the unique role the Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback has played in Bills history.
“The whole story is crazy,” Dalton said after receiving the Call to Courage Award. “Just the ovation that I got here, the ovation I got before the preseason game last year, the generosity of so many Bills fans all over to give so much to our foundation — Buffalo holds a special place in our life.”
The 31-year-old Dalton became the 18th winner of the award, created and handed out each year by former Bills QB and current Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich.
Reich described the award before introducing Dalton.
“The Call to Courage Award is given to an athlete who displays exemplary character through adversity and triumph,” Reich said. “At the heart of his character is a commitment to Jesus Christ that is reflected in every aspect of his life. On and off the field, he’s an impact player who brings out the best in those around him. He does not view his many achievements as a platform for personal gain; rather, out of humility, he sees them as an opportunity to serve the community and the world to the glory of God.”
Dalton, of course, was a slam-dunk recipient, and not just because he threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd on Dec. 31, 2017, to beat the Baltimore Ravens and put the Bills into the playoffs. Dalton also is a devout Christian who runs a foundation with his wife that supports seriously ill children and children with special needs, largely in the Cincinnati area.
Dalton spent a good portion of his 22-minute acceptance speech talking about trusting in God’s plan. That’s what he did in 2017, as the Bengals were wading through a disappointing 7-9 season.
“It was up, it was down, things weren’t going as well as we’d like,” Dalton said. “But we were being faithful that God has something bigger in store for us. We had these talks in October and November, saying something big is going to happen this year, and we don’t know what it is.”
When Dalton got to the locker room after the win over the Ravens, he wasn’t thinking about what the game meant to Buffalo.
“Then I checked Twitter and I see 17 years the Bills haven’t been in the playoffs; let’s donate $17 to Andy’s foundation,” Dalton said. “I’m like, oh, that’s pretty cool.”
“I have a lady who runs our foundation,” Dalton said, “and she called me that night and said, you have no idea how big of a deal this is. In the last five hours, we’ve gotten $25,000.”
“Then we wake up the next morning and it’s up to $75,000, $100,000,” Dalton said. “Everybody sees the Bills fans and how crazy they can be. But they use that craziness for good.”
Donations from Bills fans ultimately totaled more than $400,000, and Dalton’s foundation gave some of that to Buffalo’s Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center last August.
Dalton said his faith has helped him resist the temptation of being complacent in his life, content with his fame and fortune. He said the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11-13 guides him.
“The first part of this verse is God has a plan for us,” Dalton described. “The next part says you will call on me and come and pray to me. So the plan is in place, but now you have to take action. You have to call on the Lord to find out where he wants you, what he wants from you.”
“Your experiences, everything you’ve gone through, good or bad, it’s not for you — it’s for helping somebody else,” Dalton said. “It’s to relate to somebody else in need.”
Dalton also offered advice based on his experience of being the subject of nonstop scrutiny as an NFL quarterback.
“We’re in a business where everybody has something to say,” Dalton said. “One of the biggest pieces of advice I’d give you is: Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality. If you’re in high school, there are definitely things being said about you. Don’t let them determine who you are.”
Listen to Frank Reich deliver a closing, 10-minute sermon at the Call to Courage breakfast:
Bills quarterback Matt Barkley was in attendance to present the High School Call to Courage Award to Shayne Harrington, a senior quarterback and linebacker at Newfane.
Harrington came back from preseason knee surgery to lead his team in 2018. As a volunteer at the Faith Tabernacle Church, he traveled to Mexico on a mission trip. He’s also a volunteer at Salvation Army and the Buffalo Dreams Center with the Grace Chapel Youth Group. He received a $1,000 scholarship.