Return to the Bills an emotional full circle for Dean and Marlana Marlowe

    Dean and Marlana Marlowe’s journeys have had some fortunate timing. 

    In April 2016, Marlana moved to Charlotte on a Friday to start a new job the following Monday. She was moving so fast that she didn’t have time to visit apartments in advance.

    When she went to the office Saturday morning, then-Panthers safety Dean Marlowe came through to pick up a package. Thanks to that timing, they met, swapped numbers and made plans. Something about Dean made Marlana trust her gut. Fast forward a few years, they’re expecting their second child and starting their second stint in Buffalo.

    On Tuesday, the Bills acquired Marlowe from the Falcons for a seventh-round pick in 2023. It brings him back to Buffalo, a welcome move for the whole family.

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    “I just feel like sometimes you have to leave situations in order to grow a little bit more and to really find the things that mean something to you, that pull out your best qualities,” Marlana told The Buffalo News.

    Dean Marlowe played 26 games with the Bills over three seasons from 2018 to 2020. He signed as a free agent with the Detroit Lions in 2021, playing in 16 games and starting nine. Then, he began this season with Atlanta, playing in eight games and starting one.

    Marlowe poured into his craft at his other stops, but if the timing with his team worked out, he’d check in on his former squad. 

    “I was talking to Jordan (Phillips) about that out in practice today,” he said this week. “I was like, ‘Hey, if they played a 4:25 or 8:20 game, when our game was over, my butt was on the couch watching the Bills, like, ‘Look at my boys ball out.’ ”

    Phillips took a similar approach while he was with the Arizona Cardinals for two seasons before returning to the Bills as a free agent this offseason. Marlowe can’t say for sure how typical this is, for a player to watch an old team so closely.

    “I don’t know. But every team that I was on, I told them I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to the couch to go watch the Bills, man. I’m watching the game tonight,’ ” Marlowe said. “Once you become a Bill, you’re always a Bill. … And once you played here for a while, (the fans) embrace you as you embrace the city as well.”

    Marlowe is part of an ever-growing fraternity within a fraternity: players who left Buffalo for stints elsewhere, only to be able to come back again.

    “A year-and-a-half vacation – that’s how we look at it,” Marlowe said. “And I’m appreciative of the other places that I’ve been, I was able to grow and learn. And now coming back here, it’s just so awesome.”

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    When the trade was happening, Dean and Marlana were FaceTiming. She’s in California right now, so the two spend most of their Tuesdays catching up because NFL players have Tuesdays as their day off. Marlana was sitting on the floor, letting Dean know what words Sloane, their 18-month-old, is saying these days. Suddenly, Dean got quiet as something else came across his phone.

    “He’s like, ‘Hey, Arthur Smith is calling me,’ ” Marlana said of the Falcons’ coach. “And so we hung up the phone, and I just had this gut feeling that it was Buffalo.”

    Her gut was right.

    “He calls me back like five minutes later, and he’s shaking,” Marlana said. “And I’m like ‘What?!’ and he’s like, ‘They’re trading me to Buffalo.’ And I just started crying. And he was shaking, and he was walking to his closet. He’s like, ‘I gotta pack, I gotta go.’ ”

    His packing was interrupted quickly and frequently – Marlana said Dean was flooded with calls and texts from Bills players and coaches, eager to welcome him back. Meanwhile, she was getting overwhelmed with messages, too.

    It was all happening so fast, Marlana couldn’t process it all. She didn’t want anyone to think she was ignoring their messages, but with the flood of fans reaching out, she couldn’t answer everyone individually.

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    “Oh, man, yeah,” Marlowe said. “My wife, she’s like, ‘Hey, I want to post something real and authentic and vulnerable.’ ”

    She shared a selfie where she was clearly emotional to her Instagram story.

    “I’m ugly crying,” Marlana wrote in the caption. “I hope I don’t go into labor today, but I can’t even begin to express how grateful we are for all the love and support we’re receiving. My heart is exploding. All I can say is we’re so happy to be back with our true football family and (let’s go) Bills.”

    When Marlana recounts it all a few days later, she wells up again. She still doesn’t feel like she’s fully processed it, returning to a team and a place that embraced her husband as a player and her family as people.

    “It just hit me so hard … just to see how much love he received,” Marlana said. “We’ve been on several different teams, and nobody has ever made him feel wanted and welcome like Buffalo. And that means everything to me, obviously. But then again, everybody was so welcoming to our entire family, not just him. And so, it just really is like a special culture there.”

    It took a bit to feel that the first time. When Marlowe first went to the Bills, Marlana knew Buffalo only for the cold. Quickly, she found the warmth.

    “Now, I’m like, I left my heart,” she said, “And I get to go get my heart back.”

    There is a slight delay to the full reunion: Marlana will stay in California with her mom until she gives birth to the couple’s second child. She is due in about three weeks. Meanwhile, Dean was already in Buffalo the morning after the trade, preparing for Sunday’s game against the Jets.

    Buffalo Bills strong safety Dean Marlowe is tackled by Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jesse Davis after making an interception in the 2020 regular-season finale.

    His familiarity with the defense predates his arrival in Buffalo late in the 2017 season as a member of the practice squad; Marlowe’s time in Carolina overlapped with Sean McDermott. McDermott was Marlowe’s defensive coordinator, and the safety has been able to see the ways he evolved into the head coach he is today. Now, the two get a third chapter together.

    “For me to come back, and (for McDermott) and (Brandon) Beane to believe in me to come here and help us win games, it’s the best thing,” Marlowe said.

    The Bills believe it’s more than just a charming story: They’re confident Marlowe can help the secondary. Beane said the team was looking to add depth at safety even before Jordan Poyer injured his elbow against the Green Bay Packers.

    They dug deep on at least 10 safeties around the league, Beane said. Marlowe won out. The football side of things made sense. The emotional side was a no brainer. The timing was perfect. 

    “When you call a player and he’s excited to come back and I mean, that makes you feel good, right?” McDermott said Wednesday. “Just as a human being and for what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.”

    Players were thrilled, too. Cornerback Tre’Davious White, whose week was already significant with his return to the 53-man roster, wasn’t shy about his excitement for Marlowe to join him on the field.

    “He’s probably said, ‘Damn, my dog Dean’s back,’ maybe 25 times in a day and a half so far,” Marlowe said. “And he says ‘I’m gonna say it every day until the season’s over.’ ”

    His locker is in the same general area as before, though this new spot gives him some additional space.

    He again will wear the No. 31 he previously wore for the Bills after wearing No. 21 with the Falcons.

    And under the uniform, the transition was seamless.

    “Definitely, there’s a piece of my heart that bleeds red and blue,” Marlowe said.

    Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs speaks to reporters following Sunday’s win over the Green Bay Packers.

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