BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's first phone call after games always went to his grandmother, Ruth Kirsten. And if the results on the field weren’t positive, she had no problem stating the truth.
“If it didn’t go well, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, you’ll get ’em next time.’ It was a couple curse words in there and, ‘Pick your head up and do better,’” Daboll said. “That’s kind of what she was."
Kirsten died Wednesday at age 86.
“Big hole in my heart,” Daboll said.
After the Bills’ 43-21 win over the Washington Football Team on Sunday, left tackle Dion Dawkins said the day’s winning performance was for Daboll. Quarterback Josh Allen followed and shared the news about Kirsten publicly.
“He had a pretty tough week,” Allen said. “To go out there and play the way we did and execute the way we did, and I know him and his family are hurting right now.”
Daboll, 46, was raised by his grandparents in West Seneca, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, and was able to live close to them again by taking the job with the Bills in 2018.
He described his grandmother, who was born and raised in Buffalo, as “loving, loyal, family-oriented. She’d tell it like it is, no question about that. Never wanted to sugarcoat things. Made me into the man that I am today along with my grandfather [Chris].” Ruth and Chris were married for 68 years.
The Bills’ performance, dedicated to their coordinator, was the offense’s best of the season.
Against a Washington defensive line that came into the season with plenty of hype, the offense had a complete and well-balanced performance. With 481 total yards, 29 first downs and zero turnovers and sacks, the unit took a step in the right direction -- led by a stellar day from Allen (32-of-43 passing, 358 yards, five total TDs).
Daboll and Allen have formed a close relationship after working together since the quarterback was drafted No. 7 overall in 2018. Those bonds extend throughout the roster, as seen by the support offered for Daboll during a difficult week.
Multiple players on the Bills roster have experienced loss in the past year, including Allen, whose grandmother died last year.
In honor of Allen's grandmother, Patricia, Bills fans donated money to Oishei Children's Hospital, mostly in increments of $17, representing Allen's jersey number. The donations to the now-Patricia Allen Fund have raised more than $1 million.
“It's just crazy how the roles are reversed,” Allen said. “Last year I got to come into the locker room, and I had a heartfelt hug with [Daboll]. And this year, he falls in my arms. He's a guy that I love dearly and to go out there and play the way we did for him, the guys understood that, and we wanted to go and execute and play well for him.”
Allen was 10-of-15 for 200 yards (66%) and two touchdowns on throws of 10 or more yards downfield, tied for his second-most completions on those throws in a game of his career. It was a far cry from completing 33% of such passes in each of the first two games.
Daboll said some of the outside comments about Allen’s play to start the season were “a little bit overblown” and he has confidence in Allen.
“You’re going to have to weather through some storms,” Daboll said. “You can go one of two ways when those things tend to happen, and I think if you have a positive attitude, and you support one another and there's some love and commitment to one another. Again, I always say players don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
And the support of his players Sunday went far beyond football, something Daboll wasn’t afraid to admit, just like his grandmother.
“Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat it, it was special to me,” Daboll said. “I lost a woman that was most important in my life. And those guys are just great people. Look, they want to win no matter what.
“ ... But again, relationships that you build with the people that you work with every day, I mean, that's real life. And that's important.”