An hour after Andy Dalton threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to seal a win over the Ravens and send the Bills to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, Kevin Forrest googled the Bengals quarterback on his desktop computer at home in Grand Island, Neb. Now that he was past the initial shock over his beloved Bills making the playoffs, Forrest, 34, wanted to find some way to repay Dalton for this priceless gift. I hope he knows how much this means to us, Forrest thought. It’s hard to quantify the amount of frustration that we’ve had over the years. I wish there was a way we could show him our gratitude.
Dusty Stanfield, Dalton’s marketing representative, had a feeling his client’s popularity would soar after that touchdown pass, especially knowing the intensity of Bills supporters. Stanfield sent Dalton a text a few minutes after the game. I think you just earned yourself a brand new fan base.
Dalton texted back from the victor’s locker room in Baltimore. I’m trending in Buffalo.
One of the first Google search results Forrest found for Andy Dalton the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation. Forrest clicked on the link and read the mission statement. “To provide daily support, opportunities, resources and life-changing experiences to seriously ill and physically challenged children and their families in Cincinnati and Fort Worth [Texas; Dalton, a Texas native, attended TCU there].” Sounded like a noble and worthy cause, so Forrest quickly made a $30 donation. He then tweeted out a screenshot of his donation, encouraging other Bills fans to show their appreciation for Dalton in the same way.
Bills Mafia responded to Forrest’s call to action, and in the week of excitement following Week 17, from New Year’s Eve to Sunday, Jan. 7, 16,000 Bills fans (and donors inspired by the Bills fans) donated more than $360,000 to the foundation. How big was the wave of giving? Consider: For the entire year of 2017, the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation saw just under 400 individual donors.
Contributions in the name of the Bills came from all across the country, and as far away as Israel and Australia. Even Steelers fans got into the action, using the comment section to thank Dalton and the Bengals for eliminating their division rival from the playoffs. “It didn’t pick up steam because of me, it picked up steam because people felt the same way I did,” Forrest says. “The spirit of a Bills fan, it’s hard to measure that, and this was a good way of seeing if there was a way to convert the amount of frustration over the years and the gratitude that we have for what Dalton did.”
At home in Cincinnati, 13-year-old Brody Muskopf and his mom, Ric, followed the surge of donations closely. Brody, a redhead like Dalton, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He and his family attend several events put on by the Daltons’ foundation each year. Brody, his parents and his four siblings have formed a close relationship with Dalton and his wife, Jordan (JJ). Ric jokes that Brody and Andy share, “a redheaded bromance.” Brody’s wheelchair is painted orange and black and decorated with Andy’s signature. When Brody saw the updates on social media tracking the donations, Ric says he had a hard time wrapping his mind around why Bills fans would donate so much.
“I think the Bills fans should just know, boy, did they choose the right foundation,” Ric says. “To get hundreds of thousands of dollars, I can’t even imagine the number of families that they are going to touch with that.”
That $360,000 will help families like the Muskopfs. Brody first met Andy at the foundation’s Date Night event in April 2015. Andy and Jordan provide the parents of sick kids with a night off and a dinner at Orchids at Palm Court, considered one of the best restaurants in the country. The foundation provides a night of activities for the kids in a ballroom at the hotel where the restaurant is located, so parents are close in case of an emergency. Brody had always loved the Bengals, especially the quarterback who looked so much like him, so Ric jumped at the chance for her son to meet his football hero. Ric and her husband, Andy, are singularly focused on providing as many experiences for Brody as they can; there’s no cure for Duchenne, and patients’ average lifespan is in the mid-20s. “I always say that I am trying to throw a lifetime of memories into a much shortened life,” she says.
With five kids, Ric and Andy Muskopf rarely get a night to themselves, and with Brody’s complicated needs, they can’t just hire a babysitter to take care of him. The foundation provides one-to-one ratio of kids to caretakers, so Ric felt comfortable dropping off Brody and her other children while she and her husband went to eat. When they got home that night, Brody fell asleep cuddling a mini football signed by Andy. Just before he went to bed, he told his mom, This was the best night of my life.
When Ric signed up for the date night event, she assumed it would be a one-time experience. Brody would meet his idol and life would go on. But the friendship took off after that first date night when Andy was Brody’s personal babysitter. They two have since exchanged Xbox gamertags and occasionally play each other in Madden (Brody has beat Andy once. He insisted on playing with the Bengals and Andy played with the Seahawks.) Andy put Brody’s name on his cleats for the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign and sent Brody a video message for his birthday. The two redheaded pals have even shared a plate of french fries together.
“Unexpectedly, we really just formed a relationship with them, and that relationship means more to Brody than anything financially they could do for us,” Ric says. “We already know how Brody’s story ends, but we are just trying to make it a really good book. And so far, Andy and JJ have filled up several chapters.”
The Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation also offers financial relief for families struggling to pay a child’s medical bills. Noel Helton and her daughter Mariah Tucker were recipients of the foundation’s Pass It On grant in 2016. Mariah, 12, has systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA), an autoimmune disease that attacks her liver and her joints. Mariah was going into liver failure when she was first admitted into the hospital when she was nine years old. She has improved dramatically since that initial diagnosis thanks to infusion treatments once a month at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Each infusion lasts four to six hours and costs from $8,000 to $10,000.
Noel is an emergency room nurse and her husband is a store manager for Walmart, and together they make too much money to qualify for financial assistance to help with Mariah’s medical bills. “The bills continued to pile up, continued to pile up,” Noel says. “We worry—do we need to pick up more shifts? But then in picking up more shifts, you are taking away from your family.”
The Tuckers decided to apply for a Pass It On grant, through which the Daltons’ foundation pays a portion of a family’s hospital bill. “It was the biggest blessing we have ever received,” Noel says. “It’s the biggest relief for a family to know that a bill is taken care of. You can focus more on enjoying those good days that you do have with your kid, because there are some days that they don’t even want to get out of bed because they are in so much pain.”
Since late 2015, the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation has granted $465,000 to 208 families to help pay for medical bills. Like the Muskopfs, Mariah and her family are also Bengals fans, but Mariah, a seventh grader, prefers hanging out with Jordan more than Andy. “She is more obsessed with Jordan than anything,” Noel says. “We told Andy, sorry, I think she fell in love with your wife more than you! Jordan is a great role model for young girls to look up to.”
In addition to putting on several outreach events each year and assisting with hospital bills, the foundation also builds Andy and Jordan Hubs, spaces inside children’s hospitals that provide patients and their families with access to iPads, computers and gaming consoles to help pass the time during extended hospital stays.
Thanks to the outpouring of support from Western New York and elsewhere, Stanfield says that Andy and Jordan are thinking of ways they could use some of the money to help children specifically in the Buffalo community. That would coincide with a spike in Dalton’s popularity in Buffalo. Since the Bengals’ win on New Year’s Eve, Stanfield has received several requests from Buffalo-based companies with interest in doing marketing deals with Dalton as well as speaking requests from the Buffalo area for the Cincinnati quarterback.
One of the foundation’s largest donors organized five digital billboards in the Buffalo area last week, each featuring a smiling Andy and Jordan Dalton thanking Bills fans for their generous donations. Families like the Muskopfs and the Tuckers have their own thank you messages to share for fans who may not know the real impact of their donation.
“I don’t think the Bills fans actually realize how many families they are actually going to touch with that,” Noel says. “We are extremely grateful for them taking the time to make the donation to the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation. That simple 30-second donation is going to make an impact for a long time for families and is going to take a huge burden off of their shoulders.”
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