The Buffalo Bills have been in training camp for a week and they now get ready to play their first preseason game. The practice last night was sold out and it got me a little homesick
For me, training camp is more than the start of football season. For those of us who call Buffalo home, it is a signal that the best time of year is about to descend upon our hometown. Western New York has a sweet spot in October and November, before winter barrels in, when the leaves are changing, the air is crisp and the sun still peeks through the clouds. After serving 26 years in the Army I have seen the world and trust me, most of it is not worth seeing. Whenever I’ve left upstate New York I have missed it. Buffalo is like nowhere else in the country (or the world for that matter). As the we put together the 2013 version of the Buffalo Bills at St John Fisher, I know those autumn days are just around the corner.
Training camp also brings home great memories as a kid growing up in Western New York and later as a father with my own son.
I remember those great Chuck Knox coached teams of ‘80-82. During the summer of ’82 my younger brother and I chased QB Joe Ferguson as he left Fredonia’s locker room and headed toward the cafeteria. When we caught up to him, we were out of breath, yet thrilled as he stopped to sign his picture we had carefully cut out of a Football Digest magazine. That same day Eugene Marve, then a rookie linebacker, signed our program and asked me where I was from and if I played football. It made my day that he stopped and asked me questions. The afternoon practice ended, and our scrappy Center Will Grant stopped, chatted with my dad out by his car, and signed everything we put in front of him. In those days the players were a little more accessible and willing to talk to the fans. The crowds were not as big, Fredonia was out of the way, and only the most dedicated fans made the trek west to watch practice. For those diehards like my dad and his two sons, the players willing to talk and sign anything and everything made the drive worth it.
In 1986 my brother and I were at Jim Kelly’s first training camp practice and came away amazed at what we had seen. We couldn’t believe how physically imposing he was as a Quarterback. We realized right then and there why Penn St wanted him as a linebacker. You could hear the ball whistling through the air and hit the receivers’ hands with a thump. I recall my then 14 year old brother telling me that it sent chills down his spine
As the Bills were getting ready for their breakout campaign of 1990 (that would lead to Super Bowl XXV), I found myself at training camp again with my brother and father. I still chuckle at the memory of Bruce Smith during a pass rushing drill running past then rookie 3rd Round pick Glenn Parker. Parker was not able to get a hand on Bruce let alone block him. As Bruce walked back he said just loud enough for everybody to hear “This ain’t the PAC-10 kid.” Cornelius Bennett burst out laughing and Glenn Parker just shook his head. That hot summer day Parker and I both realized that we were watching a Hall of Famer at work.
Years later I would bring my own son to training camp. As a three year old he broke his arm after falling off a slide at the playground. Despite the injury, we both were at training camp the following week. Doug Flutie was now a folk hero in Buffalo and when he came to the fence to sign autographs the crowd swarmed to his location. In the back of the pack, I put by son on my shoulder and whispered, “Ask him to sign your cast.” Chris yelled, “Please sign my arm.” Flutie looked up, smiled and stretched past everybody and grabbed my boy. My now teenage son still has that signed cast.
Training camp brings hope. It brings excitement and it builds memories. It also signals the start of the greatest season in the greatest city I still call home. GO BILLS.