By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Patrick DiMarco had to deal with football life and real life all in the span of a few months earlier this year.
Coming off a Super Bowl appearance with the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, the fullback out of the University of South Carolina signed a four-year, free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills, on March 9th.
Later that same month, his paternal grandfather, Richard DiMarco lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. Three months later, his maternal grandfather, Samuel Wayne Floyd, lost his battle with leukemia.
“It was pretty dark times,’’ DiMarco said. “I spent a lot of time with both of them growing up. I was pretty close with both.’’
Floyd, who was 84, battled several health issues, including a heart transplant. He fought the leukemia for a year before it eventually took his life.
“Yeah, it was pretty tough,’’ DiMarco said. “I was away on vacation when he made a turn for the worse. My wife (Kristen) and I were in Mexico with some friends. We were supposed to get back Friday and drive down to Gainesville (Florida), Saturday. We got a call Wednesday in Mexico, that Pop made a turn for the worse. We got on the next available flight out, noon that day. I was able to see him. He wasn’t all there. The morphine was super high. I couldn’t really interact with him, but I was able to see him and hug him.’’
Three months earlier the Bills’ new fullback had been through a similar circumstance with Richard DiMarco, his father's father.
“His was pretty severe,’’ Patrick said. “His fight didn’t even last a year. He was diagnosed during last football season, around November, and he died in March.
“Again, it was tough. I was the best man in a wedding, and my best friend’s bachelor party was down in the Bahamas. I got the call that my grandpa had taken a turn for the worse. Same situation, I got on the first flight back (to Orlando, Fla.), and almost exactly like Pop, I got back, but he was so morphined up. Although, I think he knew I was there. When I touched him, I felt him move and felt life still there.’’
As the NFL gets involved with October as Cancer Awareness month, DiMarco and the Bills are getting involved as well.
The week after their bye week, and before they hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 22nd, the Bills hosted between 50 and 60 children battling cancer at their practice facility in Orchard Park, N.Y. as part of the NFL’s Crucial Catch.
“It’s hit almost everyone in this locker room at one time or another, or if it hasn’t it likely will,’’ DiMarco said. “Anything we can do to raise awareness, or raise money, I’m all for that, 100 percent. Just to see the smiles on the kid’s faces that night meant a lot.’’
DiMarco paid honor to both of his grandfathers during the Bills’ game against the Buccaneers by writing each of their initials on his pink cleats.
Later this season for the My Cause, My Cleats game he is going to wear one purple cleat, which is the color for leukemia and lymphoma and one orange cleat, which is the color for pancreatic cancer.
“I went to South Carolina and I’m going to be wearing Clemson colors,’’ he said with a laugh. “But I’m doing it for my grandfathers.’’
The DiMarco family will also host a golf tournament in Orlando in late October to raise money for cancer awareness. Patrick is going to donate the orange and purple cleats for auction.
It’s not the first time he’s gotten involved. While with the Falcons, his community involvement in and around the Atlanta area earned him the team’s 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
“I’m super blessed and have this amazing stage,’’ DiMarco said. “I’m a Christian as well. Knowing that God put me here for a reason, not just to play this game but to affect as many lives as I can, while I have this amazing platform.’’