By passionate Buffalo Bills fan, Patti Bax
Original Date: 11/2/22
Hello sports fans, and welcome back to the IE Sports Radio Blog. It may come as a surprise to many in Western New York to learn there are actually two Buffalo Bills teams! One team, founded in 1960, made four Super Bowl appearances, continues to receive growing national recognition, and has one of the most dynamic and electrifying players in the National Football League in star quarterback Josh Allen.
The other Buffalo Bills team is in its second official year of organized football, and is comprised of players who aren’t yet household names. You won’t find many Bills fans wearing their jerseys. What you will find, though, is a team made up of players who compete with true grit, passion, and love of the game. These individuals may have entered the league as strangers, but now, as one of only eleven sanctioned teams in the country, the Greater Buffalo Adaptive’s wheelchair Buffalo Bills football team have become a family.
The team competes in at least two national tournaments each season against the other NFL-affiliated teams. The game is played in a 7 vs 7 touch-style format, outdoors on blacktop or indoors on a multi-purpose surface. Thanks to the support of donations, the program is run by and partially sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation, NFL Foundation, and Move United. Players don’t get paid, with grants and donations covering their expenses such as flights, food, and hotels. The team is always seeking donations to enable them to play in more tournaments. Scott Bieler, CEO of West Herr Automotive Group, philanthropist, and member of the Daemen College Community Advisory Board, generously donated ten specially designed wheelchairs made for heavier contact. These will be available for next year’s season.
The Greater Buffalo Adaptive’s wheelchair Buffalo Bills football team consists of 12 to 13 players, including five Army Veterans who all share the same desire, drive, and experience in what it’s like to struggle to achieve greatness. The team seeks to recruit people who are dedicated and show up for practices. About four people play defense and offense. It’s a physical sport where players are 10-15 miles an hour hitting into each other. As a player, you need to know how to read plays as well as learn defenses and offenses. Players are required to wear helmets, knee pads, and elbow pads. Shoulder pads are optional.
Head Coach Tim Wade cheers on the team from the sideline as a volunteer along with his two sons, Eddie and Andy, as well as Steve Castrogiovanni. Bud Carpenter, formerly with the NFL Buffalo Bills, shares his 33 years of pro knowledge with the coaches and players. The team’s first home game was on Saturday, October 1st, against the Adaptive’s wheelchair Cleveland Browns at Buffalo RiverWorks. Buffalo prevailed in a hard-fought game, winning 13-6. The support from the WNY community was overwhelming, giving players the fuel and fire to take the victory. The team traveled to Salt Lake City the weekend of Oct 22nd to complete their 2022 season. Although they only scored one touchdown the entire weekend, the team had several takeaways. They plan to use the lessons learned to help them re-evaluate roles and positions for next season. They also look forward to having better equipment to make them more competitive.
To really understand the players and appreciate what makes this team so special, it’s helpful to hear from the players themselves. Several players, and even a fan, were more than willing to share what inspires them on this journey to make this Greater Buffalo Adaptive’s wheelchair Bills team the best in the league. Team Captain Matt Daniels (@MrWheels101) plays all the Greater Adaptive Sports he can, but he’s especially fond of football. He will play any position his team needs, and admits to playing everywhere except center. He primarily plays quarterback; however, his favorite position is running back. He loves the blocking and hitting aspects of the game.
Matt leads a hectic life, with two young daughters (both cheerleaders) and 2 sons, one who plays football. As a self-described “driven” individual, Matt juggles his family of creation and his farm, comprised of goats, ducks and chickens. His newest addition is a goat he affectionally calls “Baby Josh.”
Matt shared how he is building a resume for life with everything he’s done so far. “Being that we are the Buffalo Bills, it’s about representing the Bills as best we can. I would play football all year round if I could.” Motivated by overcoming his disability and having the ability to play sports, Matts wants to show the passionate fans of Buffalo that his team is conquering disabilities. “My motto is “Whatever you do, do it 100% or don’t do it at all. Shoot for being the best!”
“To be able to play football again and bond with the team in general is rewarding. We are building a family bond and it feels comfortable.”
Matt shared that sometimes traveling to tournaments can be a barrier, with delays, lost luggage and even lost wheelchairs. “We learned a lot from our first game. With every loss, we have to understand what adjustments we need to make to be successful.” Matt has a message to all the fans. “A lot of people aren’t sure about wheelchair football. We hit as hard as we can and it’s really football, just in wheelchairs. I want people to see how hard this team is working to be part of the Bills.”
Ben Richard happily shared, “I just joined a couple months ago, and wheelchair football has brought us together.” Connor Gow related, “This team is a new family for me and there is a huge growing energy, which is super exciting. This is about community, love, and teamwork.”
Adam Page, who is known for winning 3 gold medals in the 2010, 2014, and 2018 Paralympic Games for sled hockey, has always been involved in adaptive sports. “Our family is part of the foundation and we wanted to be involved in the community and give them an opportunity to see adaptive sports.” Adam also plays lacrosse, and he is working on downhill skiing. He never played football before this year, but he brings his competitiveness and all-out effort to the sport.
Sammy Ott (@samuelott), who plays TE and CB, is motivated by the fact he is considered a player. “I always wanted to be a player, as I’ve enjoyed lacrosse and sled hockey. My favorite is football.”
“Being a Buffalo Bills fan means more to me than I can even explain.” Sam shared that he loves being part of a team and enjoys the recognition that comes with it. “It’s an honor. I was above the moon excited and honored. It was like a dream come true.” When Sammy plays safety, he enjoys the feeling of being able to see the whole field.
“My family and friends know how competitive I am and how much I love football. They were all excited for me too when I joined the team. My message is to never give up and anyone can do anything they put their mind and dedication to accomplishing.” Sammy finds being a player exciting, especially traveling to different cities and seeing how they run tournaments. So far, his favorite cities to visit are Kansas City and Denver.
Carrie Frank is the only female (so far) on the team, and started playing this year. “I’m motivated to be with my fellow veterans and other players with disabilities.” Carrie enjoys the networking and socializing, and feels being so close-knit makes the team like family. Her message to fans, “We appreciate the support, and it touches my heart, as everything feels like we are all family. As the only female, we are breaking down barriers and now we need to get more youth involved.”
Matt Henry (@MattHenry92), who plays linebacker and center, was more than willing to talk about his experience. “I’m motivated by the ability to play football. I’m a huge Bills fan and I’m competitive. All this support we get from the Bills fans keeps me going.” He wants to be versatile and help the team improve in any way he’s needed. Matt was thoughtful in his responses when asked about the rewards he receives being part of the team. He shared that watching and understanding football on television helps him be better aware of what’s happening on the field.
Now that he is a team member, Matt has access to working out at NexGen Fitness, owned by the Gronkowski brothers and Gronk Nation. His trainers motivate him to be the best he can be, and his strength and conditioning are getting better. Matt goes to the fitness center twice a week, and his progress is regularly monitored. “My last scan showed I gained 7 lbs. of muscle in 3 months, which is motivating me to see what I’ve accomplished in such a short time.” Matt also tries to work out at home, and he wears a wrist band with words to motivate him. In addition, Matt is a brand ambassador for shock visors, a company which selected him to represent their product.
Matt’s primary motivation is to show everyone how he one day can become something in this game. “Before football, I didn’t care about working out. Now, I want to do this. It feels good to have a sense of accomplishment. I always want to beat my previous record and I never would have dreamed I could do what I’m doing.” He views playing with veterans who served this country as a reward of being on this team, coming together for the love of football.
Matt doesn’t view anything as a barrier. He was born a preemie and has fought all throughout his life. His left side is weaker than his right, but that’s not an excuse, and he’s continuously learning how to his strengthen left side. Matt is a perfectionist, who works at both the mental and physical sides of his game. “I have an underdog mentality and I’m competitive at heart. No one expects you to do it and then you do.” He wants to prove to others they are wrong if they doubt him, and believes anyone can overcome anything if you put your mind to it. His message to Buffalo, “Don’t give up, stay positive, have that underdog mentality, and that motivation to get better.”
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t share how one fan, Wayne, (@NorthernDutch on Twitter) recently traveled from his residence in Alaska back home to WNY to visit family, friends, take in a Bills game, and cheer on the Greater Buffalo Adaptive’s wheelchair Buffalo Bills football team during their Saturday morning practices. Wayne even brought family members, including his dad, to some of the practices. Wayne shared how inspired he was by the team and how welcomed he felt by their appreciation for his support. Thank you, Wayne, for being so special and making sure the team knew they had a new “cheerleader” supporting them.
I hope after reading this, you are inspired by the true grit, passion and love of the game displayed by the Greater Buffalo Adaptive’s wheelchair Buffalo Bills football team. If you too would like to become part of their family, would like to donate, or learn more about adaptive sports, please visit Greater Buffalo Adaptive Sports.org. Visit their website for updates of all their winter sports and to learn more about the start of the 2023 football season.
Thank you for reading, and I welcome your thoughts and comments. Please feel free to tweet me at @BuffaloHudl_IE. For more sports content, don’t forget to listen to our IE Sports Radio family. Be in the know and join in the fun by listening to all the podcasts. Huddle up with me on Tuesday nights at 7pm EST, for The Buffalo Huddle W/Patti Bax! https://www.iesportsradio.com. Shout out to our Patreon supporters and all the fans that contiue to help IESR grow. We will see you next time on IE Sports Radio; your direct feed for ALL that is sports.