Apparently some people around here seem to prefer visiting Paris over a trip to Pittsford and Buffalo, New York this time of year. At least that’s the message I got after some Wyoming folks recently asked me if I’d be doing any traveling this summer.
When I told them about my plan to attend Buffalo’s training camp and spend a day in downtown Buffalo tweeting on my BillsMafia blog, the look on their faces made it clear that none of them had ever set foot in Western New York. That type of reaction generally brings a smile to my face when it occurs, and it frequently does when asked about where I grew up.
It’s easy to surmise that if a person has not physically spent time in Western New York during the summer, there seems to be little benefit in trying to explain the experience to them. Try to explain a quiet drive on a hot summer night cruising through the woodland suburban neighborhoods of Bushnell Basin along the Erie Canal. Most people unfamiliar with Western New York are not able to appreciate the joy of such an experience.
So that is why this year, my plan is to tweet and attempt to capture the essence of summer in Western New York. It’s my attempt to provide a ‘virtual’ experience for those who are horribly misinformed and clueless about the revitalization of the Great Lakes region of the country. It also might be of some interest to transplanted Western New Yorkers who live elsewhere and cannot get back to Western New York this summer.
This year, because the team is not practicing on Tuesday, July 29th, I also plan to explore all the exciting changes happening in downtown Buffalo along the harbor and adjacent neighborhoods. I want to see and experience the growing pride of a city that is finally being recognized as more than a “mistake on the lake.”
Like Cleveland, the city of Buffalo is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. The future of the region is a lot brighter than many believe at this time, and a big reason why I believe any future owner of the Buffalo Bills would be foolish to entertain moving the team out of the region. When Russ Brandon orchestrated moving the Bills training camp to St. John Fisher College from Fredonia years ago, he placed his emphatic stamp on the regionalization of the team.
This will be my third trek to the Pittsford area for training camp. The first time was during 2006, when a fresh-faced Fred Jackson showed up and immediately opened a lot of people’s eyes. Kyle Williams was a rookie that year, with an obvious chip on his shoulder for being drafted below his own expectation level.
That mistake by teams seems to have been a great motivator for Kyle over the years. I’m looking forward to seeing him out there now as the grizzled veteran, the heart and soul of the defensive line. Kyle, like Eric Wood, must both be sick of playing their hearts out on teams that were not mentally, nor physically talented enough to consistently win.
I’ve found over the years that if you really want to see how specific players are doing at training camp, you better be organized. Thanks to some sage advice from veteran training camp friends, I’ve been able to put together an effective strategy for watching specific drills and position groups. Since there is so much going at the same time, a person will miss most of what is happening because everything happens at once.
There is no script regarding what drills are going on given to fans, so one must be quick to observe what each position coach is doing simultaneously. The old phrase “head on a swivel” applies to the fan base as well as the players when it comes to making sure you don’t miss any important action at training camp.
If you are a training camp nerd like myself, there are a few suggestions I’ll pass along that might be useful if you plan to attend camp. Practices held at 8 AM are the least crowded, which makes it easier to truck back and forth across all the practice areas. There is also the added benefit of being held during a cooler part of the day, which is much easier for geriatric fans such as myself who aren’t used to high humidity.
While the night practices are fun and there is some action scripted to put on a good show for what is becoming an ever increasing numbers of fans, I’ve found myself less able to do a good job moving from place to place to catch specific position groups. If you are there to enjoy the festivities in the stands, it’s a blast to hang out there. Fans who go to training camp tend to be the most passionate part of the fan base.
Prepare to meet the coolest people ever, and I’m not referring to just the players or their family members. If you go to a Bills training camp, you will meet fans from all over the world. You will quickly find out why I stated in a previous post that there are no bandwagon Bills fans left. Furthermore, fans that go to training camp are some of the most knowledgeable football fans you might ever meet.
There are two Bills fans (you know who you are) that are single-handedly responsible for creating my obsession with the role and function of offensive linemen. I just look for the player with the blonde ‘fro’ now, and follow all the big men wherever they go. I trek along like a duck waddling, with all my notes, writing paraphernalia, smartphone and such.
Pretty sure others probably see me at camp as the weird old lady who shows up and loves those 8 AM practices. I’m usually the one pressing an ear up against the fence trying to listen to what the offensive line coach is barking out at the players.
I do it because that is what a BillsMafia fan does at training camp. We go and enjoy the chance to get a peek at what to expect (the unexpected), and mingle with the most knowledgeable and devoted part of the Buffalo Bills fan base. I can hardly wait to get there on Saturday, July 26th.
Who needs Paris?