ORCHARD PARK — Sitting in the handicapped section above the tunnel at Highmark Stadium, three people wearing No. 80 Bills jerseys watched intently, but patiently for two quarters.
And then they erupted with joy when the right moment arrived.
One of those fans didn’t say anything, but waved a green and white pompom with glee as Jamison Crowder cut inside, caught a short pass over the middle and quickly turned up field for a 16-yard gain on third and 9.
It was a key play that extended a drive that resulted in a touchdown during Buffalo’s 41-7 win over the Titans on Sept. 19, but one that won’t be added to any highlight reels whenever Crowder’s career comes to close. But don’t tell that to his biggest fan.
The 20-year-old waving the pompom was Crowder’s brother, Jamaris, who is nine years younger. The brothers communicate daily, but they have never shared a back and forth conversation.
Jamaris was born with Down syndrome, and while he understands when someone speaks to him and can make noises in response, he is nonverbal. But they don’t need words to bond. Jamison always greets his brother with a hug and a kiss on the forehead and that always delights Jamaris.
Let’s not get it twisted, though. There is no pity shared. An eight-year veteran, Jamison has 415 career receptions for 4,667 yards and 28 touchdowns, signing a one-year, $2 million contract with the Bills in March.
But don’t try to get Jamison to agree his life is any better than his brother’s. It’s just different.
“I think I speak for all professional athletes — even though it may seem like we make a lot of money and have different perks, at the end of the day we’re all still humans,” Jamison said. “… When you make it to a level like this, you’re still dealing with adversity, challenges and stuff that can test your mental state. People are always going through things.”
With one brother a successful NFL player, it would be understandable to think Jamison would be center of the Crowder family. But Jamison and his entire family are always cognizant to make sure that’s not the case and that Jamaris gets the attention he deserves. They also try to visit as often as possible.
When Crowder played for Duke, his parents, Brenda and James, and Jamaris drove 170 miles from Monroe, North Carolina — a burgeoning suburb of Charlotte — to Durham for nearly every home game and many in-state away games. They also were frequent attendees when Jamison began his pro career in Washington in 2015.
Logistics became more challenging when Jamison went to the Jets in 2019 and to the Bills this season, but the Crowders still try to come as much as possible, even if Brenda bemoans the cold weather in the Northeast. That’s when technology kicks in.
“I’ll FaceTime (Jamaris) and say, ‘What’s up?’ and he’ll make a noise or something. He understands,” Jamison said. “It’s been challenging but we show nothing but love.”
They might be nearly 700 miles apart and Jamison is the older brother, but he is quick to point out the lessons that Jamaris has taught him. The biggest one has been patience. The brothers do many of the same things, they may just them differently and Jamison has grown to understand that Jamaris might need more time or a different strategy to complete a task than he would.
“It’s been a strong relationship, just understanding the challenges he’s faced with, the challenges me and my family have been faced with,” Jamison said. “As a whole, we just want to show that we love him. We never make him feel like he’s neglected. … We just want to always make him feel good.”
Jamison’s patience was tested this season, just as he was beginning to settle into his new role with the Bills. Brought in initially to help solidify the slot receiver position after Cole Beasley’s departure, Jamison saw spot playing time the first two weeks, but played nearly half of the team’s snaps against Miami in Week 3.
But early in a Week 4 game against the Ravens, Jamison suffered a broken ankle. Buffalo never ruled out a return this season, but coach Sean McDermott revealed Wednesday when it was announced his 21-day window to return from injured reserve opened that it was not a certainty that Jamison would return this season.
Injuries have led Jamison to play one full season since 2016 and it was frustrating to go through more rehabilitation. But while he was out of action, Jamison leaned into his family and the knowledge he’s accrued from them throughout his life.
“People are faced with different challenges far more worse than what I’m going through,” Jamison said. “It sucked and it still sucks not being able to play, but I’m still appreciative of the things that I did have and all the love and support I have. There’s somebody out there doing far more worse than I am.”
BILLS BITS: Cole Beasley was signed to the active roster Thursday, while offensive lineman Justin Murray was released. Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring) and Jordan Phillips (shoulder) did not participate in practice. Jordan Poyer (knee) was limited.