On September 23, 2004, the phone rang in the Buffalo Bills’ training room. “Hey, it’s Dawn Neufeld,” I said when one of the guys answered the phone. “Can you go get Ryan and tell him it’s time?” I was in labor with our first child – a boy. We chose to induce a couple days before my due date to coincide with the upcoming bye weekend. The Bills were traveling to Oakland the following week and we didn’t want Ryan to miss out on any of the excitement.
A couple of hours later, our son William Ryan was born. He was perfect – ten fingers and ten toes, with a head full of jet black hair. I watched as Ryan cradled this little baby the size of a football in his hands. I saw hope in Ryan’s eyes – he had a son who would grow up and be just like him someday. Well, God had other plans…
We noticed developmental delays in Will when he was around 12 months old. We had him evaluated at 19 months and a bevy of therapies followed shortly thereafter. We knew Will had autism by the time he was three. We would eventually come to terms with Will’s diagnosis, but it was hard. On game day Sundays, I would sit in the stands wishing Will was with me wearing his pint-sized number 88 jersey. But taking Will to the games wasn’t an option – his sensitivity to crowds and sounds made it impossible. Ryan had hoped Will would play football someday. I just hoped Will would be able to see Ryan play.
Ryan’s NFL career ended in 2007 after his fifth season with the Bills. He ended up playing in the UFL and I am happy to report that the start-up league gave Will the opportunity to see his dad play professional football. Will and I flew to Orlando to watch a game and I wiped away tears as Will pointed to Ryan on the field and said, “Neufeld, 88.” It was a moment I will never forget.
Ryan ended up getting injured that season and after an injury-plagued training camp the following year, Ryan hung up his cleats for good. Now retired and suffering from the effects of a 10-year professional football career, Ryan’s got the most important job ever – Dad. He is the primary caregiver to Will and our 4-year-old daughter Bryn. For 10 years, Ryan was a hero to thousands of fans when he took to the field. Even though the cheering has stopped – he is still, and will always be, Will and Bryn’s hero. He’s my hero too.
Happy Father’s Day, Ryan!
By Dawn Belcher Neufeld
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Dawn Neufeld is the Wife of Tight End Ryan Neufeld a 7-year veteran with Dallas, Jacksonville, and Buffalo. College sweethearts Dawn and Ryan have been married for 10 years and are the parents of two children. Their first child Will has been diagnosed with the symptoms of autism, but is loving and responsive. Their daughter Bryn is two and is every bit a young woman, often prancing around in Mommies high heeled-shoes. Dawn met Ryan at UCLA, and then received her law degree at UC Davis. After passing the California State Bar Exam on the first try, Dawn placed her career on hold so that her husband could play pro football, where he was able to forge a career as a backup for a handful of seasons. After his Pro Football career, the family settled in Dallas where Dawn is practicing law part-time and Ryan is trying play one more year in the upstart UFL. Dawn and Ryan are encountering hardships that pro football families surprisingly endure more often than one would think. Despite living modestly, the costs of maintaining a home, toddler and child with special needs has taken a toll on their finances. Although their financial future is uncertain, Dawn is sure about one thing: that she married the right man. Biography from VH1.com