His first order of business after getting dressed following the game was removing his sunglasses. Marcell Dareus made sure his supporters watching his postgame interview Sunday could see his eyes as he expressed sincere gratitude to the people who offered their deepest sympathies last week.
Dareus wanted the sellout crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium to know that he heard fans giving him the loudest, warmest welcome when the Bills were introduced before the game. He could feel their open arms and extended hands after an incomprehensible, horrifying week in which his younger brother was shot to death.
In a hushed tone barely above a whisper after the Bills' 35-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, he was sure to acknowledge them.
"I felt like Buffalo fans were the greatest fans in the NFL," Dareus said. "They support us whether we're up or down, it doesn't matter. There's extended family here that made me feel welcome today. I really, really enjoyed it and I really needed it. Thank you. I want to thank my fans so much."
The death of a family member is always difficult, but it's infinitely easier to digest when the victim passes of natural causes or a car accident or even some other unexpected catastrophe. Dareus lost his father when he was 6, the grandmother who helped raise him when he was 13, his mother two years ago of congestive heart failure when she was 47.
But there was nothing natural about an alleged burglary gone wrong, escalating into violence and another senseless tragedy. How do you get your brain around murder?
Simeon Gilmore was 20. He was one of three victims gunned down last week in Pelham, Ala., just outside Birmingham. Authorities were still piecing together the details of the case, which police said started with a burglary. Another 20-year-old was charged with capital murder. In a flash, three lives were lost and countless others ruined.
"I have a brother, so I can't even imagine," veteran linebacker Bryan Scott said. "For Marcell to be back here today, my heart bleeds for him and his family. We let him know that he had 53 other brothers that are here supporting him and surrounding him. It was tough for him to come back."
It couldn't have been easy, but Dareus' mother, Michelle Luckey, long ago prepared her six children for life. She told each of them that the world owed them nothing. She reminded them to appreciate every day. She wanted her kids to overcome issues that didn't always make sense. Dareus was her second-youngest child. Gilmore was the baby.
Dareus returned to Alabama after the shooting and spent a few days with his siblings before coming back to Buffalo. They were there for him when he was growing up poor but ambitious, there for him when he blossomed into a dominant defensive tackle at Alabama, there for him when the Bills selected him third overall in the 2011 draft.
And they supported his decision to play Sunday. He will travel back to Alabama for funeral services later this week.
"Honestly, we're a close-knit family," Dareus said. "My mama raised us that way. No matter what, we're a unit and keep it together. I just want people to remember that my brother was just a good brother. He was a great guy. He was humble. We're just good people. We don't try to hurt anybody, but things come about that you can't control."
Dareus was a beast against the Chiefs, a key reason Buffalo recorded five sacks and played the kind of defense many expected before the season. Dareus had the first sack after running a stunt with Kyle Williams and dropping Matt Cassel for an 8-yard loss in the second quarter. Williams finished with two sacks. The D-line dominated.
The Bills would have understood if he stayed home and missed the game, but he was intent on being with the people who have been there for him since the start of his NFL career. He wanted to be with his teammates Sunday against the Chiefs. Football isn't life and death, but it's a major part of his life.
If there's one place that provides him with an escape from reality, it's the football field. Dareus didn't perform as if he carried the weight of the world Sunday. He played as if he was intent on channeling his emotion and unleashing his rage. He couldn't control what happened, but he could control the line of scrimmage.
"This is my relief from whatever is going on in the outside world," Dareus said. "I can go to the football field and take it out there, have fun and be myself. Just focus on the field and take everything out of my head. There are a lot of things going on in life that you just got to overcome. Football has always been my release."