Earlier today the Buffalo Bills released my favorite player, longtime punter Brian Moorman.
I really started paying attention to the Bills shortly after the Homerun Throw Forward that cost them their last playoff game, which is probably the worst time to start following any team ever. Aside from maybe four games worth of Drew Bledsoe, and five minutes each of Trent Edwards and JP Losman, the most entertaining player on the roster was Brian Moorman for much of the next 12 years.
He is an easy player to like. A track star in college, he had the fastest 40 time on the Bills until the team drafted Lee Evans, having gone 3/7 for 68 yards and 2 touchdowns, he has the highest QB rating in Bills history at 117.85, and his speed allowed the Bills to utilize fake punts for years. His accolades as a player will never extend beyond those Pro-Bowl invitations, but it was his accolades as a person (including his 2005 NFL Humanitarian Award) that drew me to purchase his jersey.
As Moorman was rising in popularity, my best friend was a girl named Chelsey. One of the driving forces in Chelsey's life was caring for her neighbor Danielle who had been bed-ridden for most of her life with a type of cancer I cannot recall. Watching Danielle slowly slip away until her death in early 2005, and watching Chelsey slip away into depression and self-harm along the way was difficult. There is a reason I don't remember much from that period of time.
I started dating a girl named Samantha in February of 2006, just as her best friend's Neuroblastoma took a turn for the worse. Breanna would die a teenager one month later. One of the things that Breanna was insistent upon, and a sentiment even the younger Danielle echoed, was living life. Breanna played sports right up until her illness made her physically unable. I still remember the day my father and I received a call, as coaches of that year's softball All-Star team, that Breanna would be unable to participate. Even then, a few months before I grew to know Breanna or Samantha all that well, the call stuck with me.
In both cases, even though there was a degree of separation between Danielle and Breanna and myself, I felt for those girls, for the families that had to not only endure the sickness of their children, but clean up the medical bills after, and for everyone that lost someone special in their life. Whether anyone wanted to acknowledge it or not, there was always an invisible timer in the back of everyone's mind, counting down, especially when things took a turn from the worst. Breanna's and Danielle's deaths were tragic, and watching Chelsey's and Samantha's parents try to prepare their children for the deaths of their friends added an extra layer of awful.
The inevitability obviously didn't make it easier, nor did the fact that Baldwinsville is no stranger to such tragedy. One of the things that Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff talked about in the wake of the crash of flight 3407 in Clarence, NY, a crash that killed many homebound Buffalonians, was that while the team's 6-5 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks that night could never reverse what happened, they could provide a measure of distraction and at least some positive in the hearts of a reeling city.
For me, and for some of my friends back home who were also Bills fans, that distraction was Brian Moorman. As Breanna grew worse by the day, Moorman was in Hawaii attending his first Pro-Bowl. The NFL showed a clip of Moorman going to the Hawaii (or Honolulu, I don't remember) Children's Hospital on the day of the skills challenges. It wasn't a scheduled visit or an NFL PR event. He went because he wanted to go. I'm glad my friends were down the hall from my dorm room, cooking up god knows what on a George Foreman grill in the lounge. I cried.
That Easter I wrote a letter to the bills merchandise department requesting they carry Moorman's jersey in the team store. They responded, started carrying it, and I bought one shortly after.
Liking Moorman was always about more than football. Sure he was the lone bright spot on many terrible Bills teams, but it was his charity work that made him rise above. Watching someone devote time and energy, both personally and through his PUNT Foundation to terminally ill children struck a chord that earned my loyalty for life. I've been in and out of hospitals, both as a patient (to my knowledge, never for anything life threatening) and as a visitor. It's a shitty experience for everyone, and it's immeasurably worse when the patient is a child that is eventually going to die. Even as a writer, someone who wants to make a living describing the indescribable, I cannot put Moorman's contributions to words. I just can't.
I recognize that Moorman has had, and will likely continue to have little impact on any team in a football sense, but as I've said so many times, it goes beyond football for me. Good luck, I will sorely miss you in Buffalo Blue.