The Rockpile Review: I MUST be in the Front Row!

Editor’s Note: We’ve agreed to begin hosting the “Rockpile Review,” a weekly mainstay written by “Shaw66” at the Buffalo Bills Message Boards for years. It will continue to appear in its normal place at the BBMB, but will now reach a new audience through the Bills Mafia Blog as well.

Shaw66 has been a Bills fan since attending the the first game at the Rockpile in 1960. He’s new to the Bills Mafia, but he’s been a leader of the Ball Burglar’s gang since it was formed in 2004. (What is the Ball Burglar? Click here to find out.) He claims he can barely spell “Twitter,” but he can write.

Shaw66 brings a long-term perspective few in the #BillsMafia movement have, so view this as an opportunity to perhaps have your horizons expanded a little. While the tone may be slightly different than our other bloggers “on staff,” Shaw66 still brings an attitude that is consistent with what #BillsMafia is all about.

I MUST be in the Front Row!

MetLife Stadium...  where even the gates are sponsored
MetLife Stadium... where even the gates are sponsored

My buddy and I got our tickets for the Bills-Giants at the New Meadowlands a few days before the game. We arrived at the MetLife Stadium a little before eleven, and one thing was clear right away: we definitely were not at Ralph Wilson Stadium. For one thing, they didn’t just sell naming rights to the stadium; they sold naming rights to the GATES – the Pepsi Gate, the Verizon Gate, etc.

The tailgating is active, but pretty tame. More people in Giants game jerseys than in Bills jerseys in Orchard Park. People barely noticed me in my Bills sweatshirt. No heckling, nothing.

Anyway, we entered the stadium and started to climb. Picking up tickets the week of the game didn’t give us the pick of the house, so to speak. And we climbed. And we climbed some more. I suppose there were escalators somewhere, but we found ourselves in the stairwells.

When we got to our section, at the TOP of the stadium, we climbed some more, until we reached our destination – the fourth row from the top, in the corner of end zone. It was WAY up, and we were looking almost straight down – it’s steep.

The wind blows a lot at the Meadowlands, easily as much as in Orchard Park. Fortunately, it was 67 degrees and sunny.

Fred Jackson's TD run in the first half made the MetLife crowd real quiet real fast.
Fred Jackson's TD run in the first half made the MetLife crowd real quiet real fast.

So there we were, watching the game more or less from the Met Life blimp. The good news was that Freddy and Namaan ran right at us, to our corner of the end zone. Well, Freddy ran right at us until he figured out that his less-than-top-end speed wasn’t going to be enough and he veered left to stumble into the end zone. The stadium got real quiet real fast. (By the way, the Giants fans can make some noise.)

If Freddy had true top-end speed, he’d be a Hall of Fame running back. His escapability, his sense of timing on his cuts, his ability to keep plays alive while he looks for another yard or two or ten, are second to none. What a player.

Namaan came right us, too. Man, was that fun.

Of course, I had left my binoculars in my bag in the trunk, so Freddy and Namaan looked like white lightning bugs outrunning all these blue cockroaches scrambling around trying to catch up.

One other problem with sitting up there is that you’re right under the lights, which is okay. What isn’t okay is that the speakers for the sound system are also mounted on the large light ring that surrounds the top of the stadium. Some of the promotional announcements and some of the gimmicks to hype the crowd are absolutely deafening. We needed ear plugs.

So as the half of the ending, my buddy had had enough and we ran down stairs to the ground floor, rode the elevator up a floor to the corporate suites level, walked down the hall, went through a door and proceeded to watch most the second half in the broadcast booth with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.

@bb_shaw66 had the opportunity to watch most of the second half of Sunday's game with Phil Simms and Jim Nantz!
@bb_shaw66 had the opportunity to watch most of the second half of Sunday's game with Phil Simms and Jim Nantz!

Now, I have to stop here and say that I’ve left out a few things. My buddy happens to know Nantz quite well. When we arrived at 11, we first visited the production truck and learned a little bit about how they put the whole broadcast together. Then we went to the booth, a little after noon, and chatted with Jim and Phil for 15-20 minutes. We left maybe 12:45, and Jim said we ought to come back at half time and he’d see what he could do.

Nantz knew I was a Bills fan before I walked in, and I suppose my sweatshirt gave it away, anyway. He said he was sorry, but he figured it 30-20 New York. He said he didn’t see how the Bills defense could hold up without Merriman, Williams and Kelsay.

So, we watched the third quarter and up through the Bills tying touchdown in the fourth quarter from the booth, with headsets, listening to the director, listening to the broadcast, and looking down at the field from a perfect vantage point on the 50-yard line.

Nantz calls the game looking at the field for the live action, and as soon as the play is over he’s watching the monitor, so he sees the replays and can talk intelligently about them. When the replays come up, once in a while someone in the truck suggests they comment on one thing or another, but most of the time they already know what’s important.

For example, on Stevie’s TD, Simms KNEW Stevie had put this awesome move on the corner before the replay ever came up. How did he know? I don’t know, but the more I watched him, the more it seemed that he just sees EVERYTHING that goes on. (You might remember in the broadcast Nantz talked about something “we saw in practice on Friday.” Off the air, Simms commented about how “WE” had seen it – it was obvious then that Simms had seen it and explained it to Nantz. Simms and Nantz then joked about it on the air.)

Another example: Fitz threw the first interception and they broke for the commercial. When they were off the air, Nantz asked “did he under throw it?” Simms hadn’t seen a replay, held up two hands about two feet a part and then started spreading his hands farther apart and said “by five yards.”

Another time Nantz said Fitz’s motion looks a lot like Favre, something I’ve always seen in him. Simms said, “no, Favre was a lot quicker.” Similar motion, but Favre was really quick.

Another: Simms kept commenting that the Bills are all about Gailey. Simms clearly was impressed by what he was seeing out of the offense.

Nantz is a football junkie. During time outs, he sat munching an apple and checking out the progress of other games on his laptop and keeping Phil posted. “Young just came in for Vick. Intercepted on first pass.”

Nantz spends the week preparing a big chart with players names and numbers in position where they line up. It’s his cheat sheet. He adds little notes about players – things he might want to say during the broadcast. But he still needs help. On the TD pass Eli threw that was brought back to the one-yard line after review, Nantz was tapping his spotter on the thigh, signaling that he needed the name of the receiver. The spotter reached and pointed to the name on the chart, and the receiver’s name went out over the airwaves a second later.

When they’re off the air, they turn around and chat with the visitors or the staff, until someone in the truck gives them the countdown to go live again.

These guys are incredible pros. They seem to see everything, words flow out of their mouths like they have been studying a script, they are focused.

So after the Bills tied it in the fourth quarter, we went down to the truck and watched the rest of the game. Producer Lance Barrow and his team were hard at work, and they had no time to talk as they did before the game. Now it was all business. As the final five minutes were playing out, the director told one cameraman to stay on 9 in white on the sideline, another to stay on 9 in blue. You know those quick views you see of the kickers getting loose on the sideline, waiting to win it or tie it? Well, a camera has been following each of them until, just at the right time, they show that shot for 4-5 seconds, then they move on.

Ryan Fitzpatrick watching the Giants' final drive of the game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick watching the Giants' final drive of the game.

After Fitz’s second INT, the director told a cameraman to find Fitz on the bench. It was almost cruel, like the director knew there was a bleeding animal, dying on the sideline. Heartless. But great television 30 seconds later, as the Giants are driving for the winning score, to see Fitz alone on the bench.

One thing I think I heard in the truck was someone hoping the Giants would miss the field goal or the Bills would get one. They WANTED overtime! And you could tell why – they knew they had a good game, they knew they were putting on a good show, and they didn’t want it to end. How many of the rest of us feel that way at the end of the workday?

By the way, these guys are CBS’s top team, and it’s easy to see why. Top of their game doesn’t begin to describe how they work, and all we see and hear are these quality images and sharp commentary.

It was, as you can imagine, a great experience. Not that they’re ever going to read this, but just in case – you guys were outstanding! Thanks for the experience.

So, what about the game? Well, they always say you win as a team and lose as a team. Every guy on the team knows that he could have made some plays that would have made a difference. You rarely see a game where the real truth is that the whole game was about only one or two plays. That’s the story of the Bills and the Giants on October 16. Two interceptions.

Fitz was clear about it in the post-game interviews. What was interesting was Gailey’s interview. Jauron would have said it wasn’t on Fitz, the Bills didn’t make enough plays, they had opportunities, blah, blah, blah. That isn’t Gailey. Gailey said about three times in a five minute press conference that they have to complete those passes. They play the game to get those opportunities, and they have to take advantage of them.

Yes Fitz did a lot of good things in the game, all over the field. Doesn’t matter. He killed his team’s chances with two throws – he knows it, his teammates know it and his coaches know it. Fitz has to be better than than that. The third killer play was getting sacked on third in the second quarter, knocking the Bills out of field goal range. That was, in the second quarter, the field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.

If you need another goat, of course it’s Florence. It was interesting that Florence DIDN’T turn and make a play on the ball on two interference penalties, and Corey Webster did turn, made the interception and won the game. Florence has had a good season, and you know he wants that game back.

As people have said for weeks, you can’t expect to give up all those yards and keep winning. If you’re going to give up the yards, you need the takeaways, and there were none to be had. There was no pressure on Eli to force bad throws (Giants were really effective in blitz pickup), and the DBs weren’t close enough to the plays to force the turnover at the receiving end.

Nantz was right – no Merriman, no Williams, no Kelsay made a difference.

David Nelson’s blitz pickup on Namaan’s touchdown was simply outstanding. Turned a sack into a touchdown.

Bye week. Don’t forget the Ball Burglar – you want takeaways, you have to pay for them. A buck a ball is all it takes. Thanks.

GO BILLS!!!

The Rockpile Review is written to share the passion we have for the Buffalo Bills. That passion was born in the Rockpile; its parents were every-day people of western New York who translated their dedication to a full day’s hard work and simple pleasures into love for a pro football team.

If you like the Rockpile Review, say thanks by joining the Ball Burglar.

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