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Squirrel Winter and the neighbors who helped clear a path to Bills victory

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Knox charges ahead

Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox (88) dives for extra yards as he is hit by Cleveland Browns safety Grant Delpit (22) during the second quarter at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022.

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DETROIT – Buffalo’s newest folk hero has had his moment in the sun and in the snow, and he is ready to retreat to the shadows.

Dave “Squirrel” Winter and his family ran Winter’s Farm on Burton Road in Orchard Park for generations. He added to his resume Saturday, when he helped Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen get out of his house.

When the story is told of the Bills’ 31-23 win over the Cleveland Browns in Detroit, it will not be complete without Squirrel Winter, without Marc Braun, without Mr. Dave and without dozens of others. 

The Bills had help from all sorts of people within the organization to get players safely to the facility Saturday ahead of their flight to Detroit. They also had critical help from their neighbors.

But Squirrel Winter was not interested in telling his side of the story.

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“Nope,” he said in a text to The Buffalo News. “I’m just a good-hearted farmer willing to help out a neighbor.”

It is a commonplace tendency to look out for others around a place dubbed the City of Good Neighbors. And that tendency is likely to be revealed on a CBS broadcast when your neighbor is the star quarterback of the Buffalo Bills.

“They came with a big, old tractor and dug me out,” Allen said of Winter and Braun. “I had a lane about this big, and the radars in my car were beeping the entire way down my driveway, because it felt like I was about to hit something.”

Instead, Allen was able to get out from his house, get to the facility, and eventually win a “home” game in Detroit.

Norm Marshall, another neighbor, also was involved in helping Allen. 

Coach Sean McDermott made sure to acknowledge that Sunday at Ford Field.

“Everyone back in Buffalo who’s currently digging out again, we're thinking of you guys and that (win) was for you,” McDermott said.

While the Bills were away, the snow totals in Orchard Park reached 80 inches. The "extreme" lake-effect storm will continue to impact the area for days to come. Orchard Park was still under a travel ban Sunday. Ordinary people were quick to realize that the Bills needed an assist, and those people will still be dealing with the snow themselves as the region recovers. 

Defensive end Shaq Lawson even got help from his neighbors on other fronts, but it all came back to the same theme: reaching out to those around you and seeing what they need. 

“They shoveled me out and offered me food because I was hungry,” Lawson said. “They looked out for me.”

Left guard Rodger Saffold tweeted that he now knows what it feels like to be in a “Rocky” training montage after walking through all the snow. He left his house, which was starting to feel like a cave as the snow piled higher.

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“I'd never breathed so hard in my life,” Saffold said after the game. “And I was just kind of like, ‘OK, am I ready for the game?’ But at the end of the day, you saw the community, you saw the neighbors that were helping people out.”

And Saffold heard them, too. A day before the game kicked off in another city, he was getting applause for putting in the work.

“Guys are cheering me on, walking through the snow trying to get to the car, which was amazing,” he said.

He’d hear fans next in Detroit. Players all praised the crowd that made it to Ford Field. Still, even with a solid crowd and many of the same songs and stadium programming as a home game, it was an unusual experience.

“Sitting there and having to score on the Lions end zone was just kind of weird for all of us,” Saffold said. “And, essentially, it does end up feeling like another away game. But there’s also some type of advantage of being able to play on this field twice.”

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When it comes to advantages, the Bills also believe that despite everything that was thrown at them this week, the team is coming out of the snow and the chaos and the surprise trip to Detroit even closer than before.

“I've seen guys staying at other guy's houses to be closer to the facility, so when we did get that phone call, we'd be ready to go,” said defensive tackle Ed Oliver, whose neighbor Mr. Dave was among those who help him.

“Guys chilled and hung out. We talked on Zoom and just chilled and hung out and just kind of just bonded.”

One case of that involved tight ends Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney. The way the lake-effect storm shifted, it first pummeled Orchard Park, but then was moving north as the weekend continued. Sweeney, who was expecting his neighborhood to get hit harder Friday night into Saturday, went to stay with his buddy Knox.

“It was good. It was good,” Knox said. “It wasn’t as boring. A little sleepover, it was great.”

Knox bought a house closer to the Bills facility over the summer, saying at training camp, ahead of an eventual contract extension, that he knew he wanted to solidify his ties here. Part of that was because of the team, but part of it was because of the community. On Saturday, he was reminded why.

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“They just showed up, without me asking or saying anything,” Knox said. “I looked out my front window, and there's people going in on my driveway, and I got a long driveway, too.”

He saw some new faces when he looked out, too.

“I knew a couple of them,” Knox said. “But it was a first introduction to a lot of them. So, big shout out to them.”

A number of players pointed to running back Devin Singletary and linebacker Tyrel Dodson as having the most memorable journeys to the game. Singletary had one of the longer walks.

“He had to walk to the main street, but he had to walk through all the snow,” wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie said. “It was a lot. And Motor’s kinda small.”

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Singletary is listed as 5-foot-7, or 67 inches. The snowfall in some areas reached 77 inches before the team left, and surely was even higher in spots once shoveling piled on.

Dodson posted a video of his trek through nearly waist-deep snow.

“I made sure I opened the door for him and grabbed his bag, and I was just like, ‘You OK?’ ” Saffold said. “He’s like, ‘I'm not OK.’ ”

But Saffold laughed as he told it, knowing Dodson was already ready to poke fun at himself. Whatever Saturday looked like for the players, they kept it in perspective, knowing the rest of the city was navigating the snow, too, even as they took time to shovel out the Bills.

“It’s called the City of Good Neighbors for a reason,” McDermott said. “You saw that in full effect on Friday and Saturday.”

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The Bills will return to Ford Field in a just a few days, to take on the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, as planned. But their next challenge is simply getting back to all their respective streets, driveways and homes.

Asked about how they will get back home once the team returns to Buffalo, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips summed up the plan succinctly: “I have no idea.”

When Allen recounted his journey, he alluded to the snow in his upcoming return trip.

“I'm sure it's going to be like that for a while,” Allen said.

Left tackle Dion Dawkins was ready for a full-scale operation.

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“I mean, literally, it'll be the exact same thing,” Dawkins said.

The self-proclaimed "Shnowman," Dawkins knows there’s a chance that some of it has been cleared already.

“If they didn't," he said, "we're going to be home shoveling and getting that shnow to our left and to our right."

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