BUFFALO, New York -- A man who saved more than 20 people during the deadly snowstorm that shrouded Erie County, New York, in December has been thanked for his actions with tickets to the Super Bowl gifted to him in part by the NFL's Buffalo Bills.
When Jay Withey, a mechanic in the town of Cheektowaga, found himself among the scores of people trapped in their cars during the storm, he broke into a school building and gathered nearly two dozen people there to shelter from the harsh conditions that would eventually leave nearly 40 people dead.
For his heroic efforts, he received two tickets to next month's Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, in a collaboration between the Buffalo Bills and the regional branch of the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Legendary former Bills running back Thurman Thomas personally delivered the surprise to Withey Friday.
"We love you. We know what you did on Christmas Eve was very heroic, and you're our hero," Thurman told Withey in a video released by the team.
The blizzard buried Buffalo in nearly 52 inches of snow in late December, leaving many people stuck on snow-filled roadways as emergency personnel were unable to push through extremely dangerous whiteout conditions.
Withey had gone out in the storm to rescue a friend but quickly became trapped himself. Over the course of the night, he was turned down by several households he begged to shelter him, eventually huddling in cars with two other people that asked him for help. But just as their gas supply was becoming dangerously low, Withey discovered there was a school nearby.
After smashing the school window and opening the front doors, Withey trekked back into the snow to find others who were stuck, bringing them back to the building for food and warmth.
"You get into to that kind of situation, you have to think about yourself, think about others," Withey told CNN's Fredricka Whitfield Sunday. "It's just a matter of survival and just doing the right thing and being respectful."
The next day, Christmas morning, Withey and the others were able to use snow blowers from the janitor's closet to free their cars from mounds of snow. Withey left a note behind apologizing for the break-in, which police found when they were eventually able to respond.
Police were able to find Withey and thank him. "He definitely saved some lives that day," Cheektowaga police chief Brian Gould said at the time.
"Buffalo is a city of good neighbors, great neighbors actually," Withey said Sunday, adding, "We're all just a big family. Everyone just sticks together and we're resilient. You can't put us down."
Buffalo's resilience has been on full display in the past year as it has endured a number of tragic blows, including the deadly blizzard, a racist mass shooting and the mid-game collapse of Bills player Damar Hamlin, who suffered an on-field cardiac arrest earlier this month.
Withey spoke to CNN as he tailgated before the Bills' game against the Miami Dolphins, which Buffalo won 34-31.