How the Andy Dalton donations show 'Bills Mafia' about more than tailgating

Bills fans showing generosity to Dalton Foundation (1:17)

Del Reid, the co-founder of the Bills Mafia and "26 Shirts," admits that Buffalo fans tend to have a "bad rap" on social media, but believes that it's really "a city of givers" and isn't surprised fans are donating to the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation. (1:17)

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Think you know "Bills Mafia?" Think again.

To most, the term has become synonymous with the tailgating antics by pockets of Buffalo Bills fans. From jumping through folding tables to drinking games, the increasingly daring acts of Bills Mafia have become viral videos before almost every home game at New Era Field.

Yet at its roots, Bills Mafia is not about debauchery, but community. That group of fans has played a significant role in raising almost $300,000 for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton's charitable foundation this week. They received significant national attention for it, but such generosity is nothing new for Bills Mafia.

The moniker was sparked by a Twitter hashtag popularized in 2011, and fans using the hashtag eventually organized a non-profit called Buffalo FAMbase, Inc. The group's sale of T-shirts to aid local charities spawned Del Reid, the co-founder and president of Buffalo FAMbase, to start a separate company called 26 Shirts.

Based in Buffalo, 26 Shirts has sold a new T-shirt every two weeks for more than four years. The designs usually have a Bills or Buffalo Sabres theme, such as the "Clinched" T-shirt for sale this week to celebrate the Bills' playoff berth.

Up to $8 of each shirt's sale is donated to local causes, including Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the foundations of Bills center Eric Wood and former punter Brian Moorman. The company has raised almost $450,000 and has expanded its reach to Chicago and Pittsburgh.

"When we started Bills Mafia, the idea was to do something positive with it," Reid told ESPN this week. "Not make it out about us, and do something that would affect the community in a good way. So we started a nonprofit and kind of out of that idea grew this 26 Shirts business model, where we would sell T-shirts that would give back to the community in a real, tangible way."

When Dalton completed a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to crush the playoff hopes of the Baltimore Ravens and send Bills fans into the euphoria of the franchise's first playoff appearance since 1999, a grassroots effort began on Twitter to donate to Dalton's charity. Bills Mafia or Buffalo FAMbase was not directly behind the movement, but their presence on social media helped spread the word.

Dalton announced Friday evening his foundation had received $315,000 in donations since Sunday. Fans also flocked to an online donation page for Boyd's cause, the Western Pennsylvania Youth Athletic Association. More than $50,000 had been donated by Thursday evening.

"It just says something about Buffalo," Reid said. "Buffalo is the city of good neighbors, and we kind of have in some areas of social media, maybe a little bit of a bad rap in terms of the frustration and anxiety that's been shown on Twitter, especially over the past several years as we've come close to the playoffs and never made it, and couldn't get over the hump.

"But really, Buffalo is a city of givers. I'm not surprised that the Andy Dalton [charity] has actually experienced this economic boom for them. Bills fans, Buffalonians in general, they're givers. It's been awesome to see it, but it's not surprising. It's a little surprising, just the amount of money that's been raised, which is so amazing. It's cool to see, but it makes sense."

Former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley can relate. Talley, who played for the Bills from 1983 through 1994, revealed to The Buffalo News in 2014 that he suffered from depression, had contemplated suicide and lost his business.

Bills fans reacted by organizing an online donation that raised $153,479 for Talley and his family.

"I will eternally be grateful for that, because it was something that I didn't ask for," Talley told ESPN by phone this week. "It was something that shocked me, something that I didn't want. I tried to give it back, but I couldn't, and if I had, it would not have been the right thing to do because people gave it to me from their heart. That's the most endearing thing that anyone has ever done [to me].

"It made me feel proud that people saw that I did something that was worthwhile and when I was there, I did do something to give something back to somebody, to do something for them. Honestly, it made me cry. It made me feel embarrassed and ashamed of what had happened."

Talley watched the end of Sunday's Bengals-Ravens game from an establishment near his home in Florida and said Dalton's touchdown put a "smile-and-a-half" across his face. He also was not surprised about fans' efforts to pay back Dalton through his charity.

"That's just typical of the people in the city of Buffalo," he said. "They do everything from their heart. ... That's the way they do things. They've always done that. That's what endeared me to them, and them to me."

Bills fans have spent this week releasing 17 years of emotion -- and putting it toward a good cause.

"[The playoff drought had] been this monkey on not only the franchise's back, but fans' back for so long," Reid said. "Every year, it just [got] harder and harder to deal with it. You mention you're a Bills fan from somebody out of town, and they kind of make fun, they roll their eyes, they tease.

"It just feels so good to close that chapter of Bills chapter and move onto something new. Who knows what the future holds, but it doesn't hold the perpetual Sisyphus story, in terms of over and over again not making the playoffs."