The Buffalo Bills haven’t had too many tough Mondays this season.
This past one, however, would qualify as such. A 31-13 loss will do that. Starting the work week the day after that is always a little bit tougher in Western New York. That feeling is only amplified inside One Bills Drive, where the high-stakes realities of life in the NFL produce an immense amount of pressure.
That’s where Rick Morrow comes in.
The 56-year-old Buffalo native has worked in the mail room at the team’s headquarters for a dozen years, but it would be unfair to limit his responsibilities to simply sorting and delivering packages. To hear Bills players and coaches talk about him, Morrow’s importance to the franchise goes far beyond that.
“He's just a special human being,” tight end Lee Smith said. “It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're around that guy. It's human nature sometimes as players and coaches after a loss or after a tough week, you're dealing with an injury, you can get down, but when there's a dude like that around – he's always just in the best mood like it's the best day of his life. He just brings pure and good energy to everyone who's around him.”
“Slick Rick,” as he’s know inside the team facility, always has a smile and a kind word for anyone he comes across.
“Always,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “Every time you walk past him, he’s just as happy as can be to be here. I’ve never had a bad interaction with him. Every time I talk to him or see him, I just come away feeling better about my day and myself, just because of how he attacks the day. It’s awesome.”
That type of positive energy can be infectious. It’s also the exact type of environment coach Sean McDermott strives to build.
“He's such an important part of us and does such a great job, I really can't thank him enough,” McDermott said. “We count on each other. My job is no more important than Rick's job. That's how we're trying to build the team – the team being the players in this case – but the bigger picture of that is the team that we have inside this building. We're all counting on each other.”
To be part of that team is something Morrow never could have imagined. Growing up on Cayuga Street in the 1960s, he lived in the shadows of the Rockpile.
“I can remember back when I was little. I would hear the loud roar of the crowd, and I would ask my mom, ‘what’s that noise?’ She’d say, ‘the Bills must have scored a touchdown,’ ” Morrow said.
A life-long obsession with sports in general and the Bills in particular took hold. Morrow was an accomplished athlete at Southside High School, where his warm personality won over teachers and fellow students alike.
Growing up without his father in his life, Morrow was close with his late mother, Frankie.
“I tried to do the best things I could, because I didn’t want to hurt her,” he said. “I had my little ups and downs, but she was the reason I tried not to get in trouble and do all that type of stuff. I really think she’s looking down on me, too.”
Morrow attended Erie Community College, earning an associate’s degree in recreation leadership. He wanted to one day run a club for youth in the city, but never got that chance. To make ends meet, he took a series of odd jobs. That included at Samuel’s Grande Manor and the old Holiday Inn on Delaware Avenue.
“It was always washing dishes. I thought I was the best dish washer in the world,” he said. “I used to scrub those pots to get the burnt stuff out. I had summer jobs. I tried to be the best at whatever I did – it didn’t matter if it was washing dishes. Like here, I try to make sure everybody gets their deliveries. If something’s missing, I try my best to find it. I get stuff that comes in with nobody’s name on it, and I try to find out whose it is. I take pride in it.”
Fullback Patrick DiMarco has noticed that during his three seasons in Buffalo.
“It's kind of perspective, seeing someone who is happy to be here,” DiMarco said. “Tough times after a tough loss, he's consistent. He's here every day, working his tail off. We talk about doing our 1/11th. That’s a big thing with Sean. He's here every day doing his job, not ever batting an eye. He epitomizes what the Bills are. Clock in, go to work and do your best.”
Morrow takes public transportation from his home in the city to Orchard Park every day. McDermott has watched as he makes the long walk across the boundless parking lots outside New Era Field, ready to clock in for another day.
“You respect that, the resiliency that he brings to our organization,” the coach said, adding that he hopes his players take note. “I think the message to the team with that is sometimes the most valuable player on the team isn't necessarily the guy that's getting his name in the paper every week. It's the guy behind the scenes who is there doing his job on a consistent basis week to week.”
Morrow does so for two reasons: Roderick Jr. and Derrick. Those are his two sons, ages 22 and 10. Roderick Jr. was an accomplished athlete at Burgard, making the All-Western New York first team for football in 2014.
Derrick may one day follow in the footsteps of his older brother and father.
“I've got to take care of my son,” Morrow said. “When I got here (to the Bills), I just made sure I was on the grind, doing what I'm supposed to do. I have to raise (Derrick) by myself. His mother is not in his life, so I had to step up to the plate. I'm just trying to raise him and teach him right from wrong.”
Dave Wheat, the Bills’ chief administrative officer, has known Morrow for more than 20 years. Wheat knows that whenever they cross paths, he’ll be able to catch up on everything else that’s going on in sports, from local high schools to the NBA.
“No matter what day you come across him, no matter what's going on, he's this high-energy, bubbly guy who brings a smile to your face every time you interact with him,” Wheat said. “Every day he gets up, he comes in and he loves the challenge of what his job is. It's great proof that no matter your role is on the team, if you're passionate about it, you get to enjoy your job on a daily basis.”
Smith first met Morrow during his first stint with the Bills, from 2011-14. The two formed a friendship that immediately rekindled when Smith returned to the franchise this offseason.
“Certain human beings, they just kind of have a gravity about them,” Smith said. “Rick's one of those dudes. There's a reason he's been around this place for years and years and years and is valued from the top down. It's based off the personality that he has.”
“I always think about when Lee Smith was here before he came back, he used to always say, ‘Rick, you're living the dream!’ I'd always be like, ‘yes I am!’ That's what it is,” Morrow said. “Getting up in the morning, coming here, it's like a dream.”
The loss to the Eagles woke the Bills up from their dream start to the 2019 season.True to his nature, though, Morrow didn’t let that deter him.
“I figure, ‘hey, you can't win them all,’ ” he said. “I'm the type of person, I start saying, ‘hey, 14-2 now.’ That's how I am.”
Sometimes, during a tough week, that’s exactly the type of outlook a team needs.
“When you're having a bad day and see you a guy that's living life and enjoying what he's doing, it picks you up and makes you realize, 'hey, there's no reason for me to be upset right now,' " linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “It helps to have those types of people who are able to have joy regardless of what's going on around them, to just pick guys up in general.”
The Bills’ injury report remains small for Week 9 standards. Linebacker Maurice Alexander (knee) was the only player not to practice because of injury. Running back Frank Gore received his usual Thursday rest day, while defensive end Shaq Lawson was excused from practice for a personal matter. He’s expected to be back in time to play Sunday.
Cornerback Levi Wallace was no longer in a red, non-contact jersey, although he was limited for a second straight practice because of a shoulder injury. Right tackle Cody Ford (elbow) and safety Kurt Coleman (hamstring) were also limited.
Dawkins to host fundraiser
Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins will host the inaugural "Shnow Gala" on Friday night, a black-tie fundraiser for Rooted in Love, a non-profit organization that works to provide necessities to the homeless. The event will take place from 8 to 11:30 p.m. at the BFLO Store Event Center at the Eastern Hills Mall. Dawkins, several of his teammates and other local celebrities from Western New York will be in attendance.
VIP tickets are sold out, but general admission tickets are available for $50 and include an open bar, hors d'oeuvres, desserts and complimentary valet parking. A 50/50 raffle will also take place. Attire is formal.