Brian Moorman left Buffalo to punt for the Dallas Cowboys, but he wants fans and others to know that his heart is still here.
The senior member on the Buffalo Bills roster was cut Sept. 25, a Tuesday, the day off for the football players. That’s also the day when Moorman would usually make his way to the pediatric unit on the sixth floor of Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
On Friday, during a bye week for the Cowboys, Moorman was back in Buffalo at the cancer center to assure patients, their families and the staff that he intends to maintain the connection he built with them regardless of what happens with his football career.
Moorman started with the Bills in 2001 and immediately got involved at the cancer center. He was touched by the stories he heard and wanted to do more with more children.
“I wanted to give back to the community,” he said. “But as time went on, I got to know more families and created a bond. I thought I could make a difference.”
So, in 2004, he and his wife, Amber, created the PUNT Foundation, their own charitable organization focused on children with cancer. Among other things, the group tries to grant young patients’ wishes, offers financial support to families, brings disabled kids to Bills games, and provides gift cards to patients’ families at Christmas.
“I want to put a smile on their faces,” Moorman said. “I’m a punter, not a star quarterback. But I had a platform, an opportunity. I was blessed.”
PUNT stands for perseverance, understanding, encouragement and triumph – all words that come to mind in the pediatric unit, where a visit from a celebrity or athlete can make a big difference in the lives of patients.
Moorman spoke modestly about his charitable work.
“I don’t feel any different from anyone else,” he said. “There are other athletes in Buffalo who do a lot. There are a great group of guys on this [Bills] team.”
But staff and family members tell a different story.
They say Moorman didn’t just make guest appearances or donate money. He dedicated himself to the effort.
In a text to the unit the day Moorman was cut, he wrote, “Don’t worry about us. We’re fine,” one staff member recalled. “Keep those kids smiling.”
Brandee Aquilino, the pediatric psychologist, said the unit receives many celebrities and athletes, but Moorman has stood out.
“He comes in every Tuesday. He stays and visits and talks to the kids. He gets to know their names and their families. He checks up on kids. He goes to their homes,” she said. “He gives a personal touch that helps families get through this. He touches people’s hearts.”
There were tears as Moorman, wearing a Cowboys jersey, made his way through the unit. Family members talked about the role he played in their lives.
Lynn Pawlak of Orchard Park, for instance, told of how Moorman befriended her 17-year-old son, Andrew, who suffered from a rare form of terminal sarcoma.
Moorman met Andrew during one of his regular Tuesday rounds in the unit and they connected. He asked Andrew if the teenager had any wishes he would like granted, and Andrew mentioned he would love a Bills helmet.
In a matter of days, Moorman supplied one signed by the players.
When Andrew came home from the hospital, Moorman visited the house to check on him.
He and Amber delivered presents to the family at Christmas.
In 2011, as Andrew’s condition declined and he was no longer able to walk, Moorman granted him another wish. Andrew, who loved to swim, hoped to get into the water once more.
Moorman arranged to have the family picked up by limousine, greeted by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick at a local hotel with a pool, and treated to an overnight stay.
Andrew died three days later on Dec. 19 and Moorman made sure to attend the memorial service at the church. After her son’s death, he visited Pawlak at her home just to talk.
“We have that last happy memory because of Brian,” she said.
Moorman, who was born in Wichita, Kansas, and attended Pittsburg State University there, signed with the Bills as a free agent. He holds virtually every Buffalo Bills punting record.
He was a second-team choice on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s. He was a Pro Bowler in 2006 and 2007 and made first-team All-Pro in 2005 and 2006. He was a team captain for seven years.
Moorman said getting cut by the Bills was not a total surprise because he was in the last year of his contract. However, if he was not going to be a Bill anymore, he thought the decision would come at the end of the season.
“Anyone is going to be surprised to be cut, but I was mentally prepared because it was the last year of my contract,” he said. “It’s a challenge. But like so much in life, it’s about how you respond.”
No matter what, he said he still considers himself a part of the Buffalo community.
He and his wife intend to continue the work of the PUNT Foundation. That is the message he wants to deliver to those who have benefited from and supported the organization, and those who will need help in the future.
“I just want them to know that they have a friend,” he said. “I have the deepest respect for what they are going through.”
The foundation’s Internet address is www.brianmoorman.org.