Squirrel Winter and the neighbors who paved the way for Bill’s victory

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

“Squirrel” Winter and his family ran Winter’s Farm on Burton Road in Orchard Park for generations. He added to his resume on Saturday helping Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen leave his house.

Bill’s QB Josh Allen talks about his neighbors digging him up

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

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

But Winter Squirrel wasn’t interested in telling his side of the story.

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“No,” he said in a text message to The Buffalo News. “I’m just a kindhearted farmer willing to help a neighbor.”

It’s a common tendency to look out for others in a place that’s been dubbed the City of Good Neighbors. And that tendency is likely to show up on a CBS show when your neighbor is the Buffalo Bills’ star quarterback.

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

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

Coach Sean McDermott made sure Sunday was recognized at Ford Field.

“Everybody in Buffalo that’s back digging right now, we’re thinking of you guys and this (win) was for you,” McDermott said.

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While the Bills were away, the amount of snow in Orchard Park reached 80 inches. The “extreme” sea-effect storm will affect the area for days to come. Orchard Park was still under a travel ban as of Sunday. Regular folks were quick to realize that the Bills needed help, and those folks will still be able to handle the snow themselves as the region recovers.

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

“They scooped me out and offered me food because I was hungry,” Lawson said. “You took care of me.”

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

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

And Saffold heard her too. A day before the game kicked off in another city, he received applause for his work.

“The guys are cheering me on, running through the snow and trying to get to the car, which was amazing,” he said.

Next he would hear fans in Detroit. All players praised the crowd that made it to Ford Field. Still, despite 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 in the Lions end zone was kind of weird for all of us,” Saffold said. “And essentially it ends up feeling like another away game. But it is also an advantage to be able to play twice on this field.”

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When it comes to benefits, the Bills also believe that despite everything that’s been thrown at them this week, the team is even closer than before to emerging from the snow and chaos and surprise trip to Detroit.

“I’ve seen people staying in other men’s homes to be closer to the facility. So when we got that call, we were ready to go,” said defensive tackle Ed Oliver, whose neighbor Mr. Dave was among them to help him.

“People were chilling and hanging out. We were talking on Zoom and just chilling and hanging out and just kind of connecting.”

A case of this involved tight ends Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney. The way the sea effect storm shifted first struck Orchard Park but then moved north over the course of the weekend. Sweeney, expecting his neighborhood to be hit harder from Friday night through Saturday, stayed with his pal Knox.

“It was good. It was good,” Knox said. “It wasn’t that boring. A little overnight stay, it was great.”

Knox bought a house closer to Bill’s facility over the summer and said at training camp ahead of an eventual contract extension that he knew he would want to cement his ties here. That was partly because of the team, but also because of the community. On Saturday he was reminded why.

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“They just showed up without my asking or saying anything,” Knox said. “I was looking out my front window, and my driveway is getting people in, and I have a long driveway, too.”

He also saw some new faces as he looked out.

“I knew a few of them,” Knox said. “But for many of them it was a first encounter. So kudos to them.”

A number of players pointed out that running back Devin Singletary and linebacker Tyrel Dodson had the most memorable trips to the game. Singletary had one of the longer walks.

“He had to run to Main Street, but he had to run through all the snow,” said wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie. “It was a lot. And motor is kinda small.”

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Singletary is listed as 5ft 7 or 67 inches. Snowfall reached 77 inches in some areas before the team left and was certainly higher in some spots after the shoveling piled up.

Dodson posted a video of his hike through near-waist-deep snow.

“I made sure to open the door for him and grab his bag, and I just said, ‘You alright?’ ‘ said Safold. “He says, ‘I’m not fine.’ ”

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 an eye on it, knowing the rest of the city was also navigating the snow, even as they took their time digging out the Bills.

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

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The Bills will return to Ford Field in a few days for their scheduled Thanksgiving match against the Detroit Lions. But their next challenge is to simply return to all of their respective streets, driveways, and homes.

When asked how they will return home when the team returns to Buffalo, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips summed up the plan succinctly: “I have no idea.”

When Allen talked about his trip, he alluded to the snow on 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 action.

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“I mean, it’s going to be literally the exact same thing,” Dawkins said.

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

“If they haven’t done it,” he said, “we’ll be at home shoveling the snow on our left and on our right.”

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