This is long. This has mainly content that is not about my impressions of the players. This is about a Bills fan in camp. I do not know more about how players look than Chan Gailey does. I do know more about being a Bills Fan in camp than he does. That is why I write about that instead (mostly). (I do have a pointer for him from time to time). Some people like these reports. Maybe most don’t. I don’t know. But here you go.
I am standing at St John Fisher and looking at an ominous sky. It’s not just overcast. There are dark billowing clouds threatening a storm. Maybe a big one. I live in Rochester. I have seen a lot of dark skies. What is odd is that this one is different. It is beautiful.
All of the colors are gray. But they are different shades of gray, on billowy clouds interwoven. There are dashes of streakier clouds intermixed as if an artist, a very very good artist, has composed the entire scene. I don’t think I have seen a sky like this before.
I wonder, does this sky mean something? That might seem like an odd thought but for me camp is mystical and magical and sometimes weird. Odd things happen to me here.
And I think back to where this year’s camp journey started for me. It was July 4, Cape Cod (Massachusetts) . Seashore playground of the enemy, and for a time playground of me, also. I was with family relations and their friends. Everyone there but me lived in one of the great metropolitan areas of the northeast coast.
I was asked where I went to school. I told them the name of the school in Rochester. Someone said “Oh yeah, that place is awful. It’s always gray, always raining, and when it isn’t it is snowing or unbearably hot. Plus it is in the middle of nowhere there is nothing to do. You must be glad to be out of that place. I was there for a while and I know I wouldn’t want to go back”
Someone quietly said “He still lives there”.
The man shrugged and changed the topic.
The people I was with are nice people. I like them. And some of them are family too. But I would love to destroy their football teams. I want my Bills to rout, destroy, demolish, shame and humiliate their teams. That seems like a nice idea to me. That would be fun!
Driving home from Cape Cod took me very near Gillette Stadium at Patriots Place. I side tracked my trip to get some pictures for you. I wanted to show you something.
I read that the Krafts had put in a strip mall at the stadium to make extra money. Well Patriots Place is not a “strip mall”. It’s a very big shopping, hotel, restaurant and theater complex. There is even a medical center.
I will include pictures as best I can depending on what the board will allow me to do. There are a few more Patriots Place photos in the next post below.
CBS television network even has a bar and restaurant there.
The pictures were taken on a lazy weekday afternoon and even then there were cars aplenty.
Here is Ralph Wilson stadium.
The New England Patriots have a tremendous advantage over the Buffalo Bills in ticket prices, parking prices, suite prices, and in making money off Patriots Place 365 days a year. Sure there is a salary cap (and it isn’t like anyone ever cheats in life on things like that) but even so in endorsement opportunities for players, money for coaches, staff, scouting, equipment, in short EVERYTHING else they can just crush us.
That became clearer to me when saw their place. Don’t get me wrong, I like our stadium. I just do. But I think we should be aware of these things. Where we stand as a community.
We cannot compete in gross dollars with the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area or any mega metro area. We just cant. Not any time soon at least. I think we can help by being stronger fans and that being a Ball Burglar helps us do that. I think that is true and it is one big reason why I do it. We can use our power. If you want to, we can do it.
Meanwhile, on my way to camp, I was feeling a little afraid. I was afraid because for me being a Bills Fan is partly about managing emotional pain. Being upset over a football team may be stupid, probably is stupid, but it isn’t at all funny. The hurt of a dashed season can be pretty bad, and it’s real to me.
So I want to go into a season if I can, pinning my hopes on improvement. Not being too excited.
But I am having a hard time. I’m having a hard time because even with all their disadvantages, the Buffalo Bills beat that rich, super team from the mega complex last year.
And because Mario Williams didn’t sign to play in a glittering football palace for wealthy fans in a coastal megalopolis who think my home is a lousy place to live. Mario Williams signed to play football for us in a bare bones stadium sitting in a gravel parking lot in Buffalo, New York.
And I am looking up at that sky, with the dark brooding clouds they like to laugh at. And I think, maybe the mighty awesome beautiful menacing storm that is brewing over St John Fisher, isn’t for us. Maybe it’s headed for them.
Greetings to Bills Fans in Western New York, across the nation, around the world, and in the ships at sea. It’s the BadLandsMeanie – Ball Burglar Report for Opening Day of Camp July 26, 2012!
So, I didn’t get a parking pass or ticket to the tent this year. That means no free hot dogs and I have to ride the school bus shuttle in to camp with the rest of the common rabble. I like parking on campus better because for one thing it’s about 30 minutes faster for me each way. Oh well.
Some guy boarding the bus had his face painted Bills colors and he got some remarks from some folks saying he was a true fan. The bus is designed for school children and I am not school child sized so it’s cramped. Plus it is sweltering hot. And did I mention I am not getting my free hot dog? None the less it was kind of fun to be riding to camp with other fans. Everyone seemed excited.
Starting about a mile out from the campus, the streets are lined with Bills banners on the lamp posts. So we saw all those while closing in on St John Fisher.
I had not reconnoitered the new layout partly because they have only just completed it. So I didn’t know where to go to get a good view. I figured I would get something to eat from one of the vendors on the way down to the field (because I am not getting my free hot dog) but I was surprised to see there aren’t many vendors. No samples of stuff inside the store they set up, and outside just a couple vendors selling fried dough and stuff that is just too unhealthy for even me to eat.
So that was different. Usually for the opening days they have tons of vendors and samples and stuff. It kind of sucked because I had planned on a Red Osier prime rib sandwich or one of the darn good items the vendors usually have because I was hungry.
Oh well. I starved for you, my fellow boardie readers!. So I was hungry and then I couldn’t really find a good place to be. I don’t like changes to camp, because I love camp, yet they are always changing it.
I went round back of the back grass field but I wasn’t happy there because it was too far away from everyone. Everywhere I could get was too far away to really see anything. And I am supposed to be getting a story here, this is my big opening day of camp report.
Meanwhile I have got nothing and no prospects of anything and I have already gone on and on about me not getting a free hot dog til I have milked that to death. Now you might not care if I end my report here and maybe you are wishing I would. But for me, if I write a crappy opening day report (crappier than normal) wyo might be disappointed. And then she might decide to hang around with someone less revolting to look at when she shows up for camp next week. So I got pressure!
Just then a small boy of about 6 climbed up a little on the fence next to me and said “Hey daddy, look! I am as tall as you!” So I looked down at him and hoped he would say something cuter than that. Something I could use. But he just stood there and in fact he was only about 6 inches higher and was nowhere near as tall as his dad. So I looked around for some cuter, smarter kid saying cute wistful football things but there wasn’t one.
Mind you, its opening day of camp, I was enjoying the atmosphere. Football is back! But I was annoyed at the new set up and the sort of boring drills I saw and that I was too far away to get anything out of them. At that moment the one remaining brain cell I had that was not preoccupied with being hungry or being annoyed with the new set up, informed me that I had come to see Mario Williams and that he was not out there!
The sign had said practice on the back grass field but Mario was not there. None of the defensive ends were.
I scanned the area and saw that there were players on the new grass area they had made where the tennis courts used to be. You have to walk all the way back to the back field, then all the way around it, to get to the new spot. I made the trip and it turned out that there were about 30 people there watching because it was not part of the “flow” of the place to get there.
There are no bleachers but standing along the fence back there, Mario Williams was practicing not 50 feet from me. This was fun. This was awesome! A guy next to me said to his friend “This is cool man! We get to stand right by Mario Williams”
And it got even better. There was a coach out there and I could hear snatches of what he was telling the guys. He was blocking Mario as if he was on O-lineman. And he said “He wants to seal the edge and drive you down the field” I don’t know who this coach is but I took an instant liking to him for some reason (It wasn’t the defensive line coach himself). I like his style. He holds my attention and theirs. He was always moving and he walked with a hitch in his step so I wonder if he was a player.
You want to know about Mario. Mario looks good. Mario doesn’t have a fire plug type of build. He’s a supremely well conditioned, tall, well built man. What is unusual about his build is his arms. Very muscular and very long.
He moves very quickly for a man his size.
The horn went off and that often means the players will leave the area but they stayed.
Back here are 53 Nigel Badham, 56 Merriman, 90 Kelsey, 94 Williams, 95 Williams, 98 Edwards, and 99 Dareus between 40 and 50 feet away learning their craft. And also the coaches and lucky, lucky me and 30 other lucky people.
This field is very close to the highway so the highway noise made it hard to hear most times. But still it’s the most I have been able to hear in camp. There is some kind of building going up that they have laid the foundations for which will come between the field and the highway so next year this field will be even better because the noise should be less.
So I went from being annoyed on the main field to loving life here. This kind of thing is right up my alley and I am having a wonderful time. The whistle blows. They did not leave. Instead here come 48 Eddins, 54 Moore, 71Young, 72 Heard, 73 Gilbert, and 91 Johnson. The coach says “Partner up. Partner up! We are going to work some hand combat!”
So now I know exactly what they are doing and I learn quite a bit. The object is one guy is trying to get and hand on your shoulder pads and your job is to slap his hands away. There is technique to this and you can see each team of partners doing the same basic moves. So I know one fellow is improvising when I see him slap his “partner” in the head. He slapped him hard too you could hear it was loud. As camp wears on you will hear of fights starting now and then and it is often because somebody has been slapping someone else in the head for a couple of weeks, or something like that.
Now they start doing something I believe is called the swim move or something like it. It’s a slap and you try and slip behind your guy.
There is a big cheer from up in the grandstand on the other field. It had to be a pass play. Maybe Fitz to Stevie. I don’t know. I am sure it was fun but I would rather be here.
Just now some guys, fans, come along. One of them in particular starts to holler and shout and bellow at Mario Williams. Waving this football he had saying he wants an autograph.
We are not talking teenager here this guy was maybe 40. And he wouldn’t shut up. He was so obnoxious, he almost has to be a message board member.
Now besides the asking for an autograph he was saying positive things. But he wanted attention he wanted them to look he was calling their names. Merriman, Mario, etc.
Now I mentioned how close we were and he was most certainly disrupting the practice. Or coming close. Plus I was enjoying hearing the coaches and I preferred to hear them instead of this guy.
But I figured this isn’t my business. It isn’t my job to deal with this. So I stood there a bit longer. Then I thought, what if the team loses preparation because of this? Then I might have to sit through a loss, and feel that feeling, because this guy doesn’t understand what camp is and what the culture is. That made it my business. At least to me.
So I asked him to keep it down. And he argued. He said mind my business and he said we cheer at games I’m just cheering. I said this isn’t a game, this is practice and they have to focus and he isn’t helping. One of his friends chimed in but I was insistent. So he said “Ok. Ok. I will stop” Then added “Jerk”.
But he did by and large close his yap. Mostly.
So another new and not so good thing this year is that people are coming who do not understand the difference between the games and the practices. These guys here were drunk, or seemed drunk, and rowdy. At a games there are 20,000 like them, maybe more, and it’s fine. Also there were 3 or 4 other guys I saw with faces painted. Someone else was decked out as “Superfan” with a whole outfit. He had a Mexican Wrestler style custom Bills full mask, red shorts over leggings, blue plastic boots, a big super hero silver belt, a cape, the works.
All of which is fine I guess but it isn’t camp style really, and whatever they wear, they need to be respectful of the learning process going on.
Anyway the guys now were doing a drill where you bat tackling dummies. Again, Mario Williams shows as being fast. Very big. Very fast. Hits hard. He looked the fastest and most powerful of the guys.
My luck continued. Here came the offensive line. This is like a private show here. I like Jasper. I looked for him. Lots of people like to laugh about the attention some give to Jasper. Lots of people like to laugh at a lot of things. Oh well, laugh it up.
I was standing behind these guys, the O-Line, and Jasper’s lower legs look like a snake that swallowed a goat. Theres a HUGE bulge that is his calf muscle. His legs are like tree trunks.
Most all of the O-line are a new type brought in by Joe D who are tall, very athletic, very fast, very powerful. I saw Leo Roth walking by and I stopped him and told him he is my favorite local sportswriter. He is, it’s true. He was nice he stopped to talk to me. He takes notes! I pointed it out to him and said I liked that he takes notes and it shows in his work. Anyway what he said he noticed was that the team looks big, sleek, powerful. This is the same thing I noticed and I said so. Especially the O-line.
Except Jasper he is still a bowling ball. A big one. So he doesn’t fit in with the program on that count. And I don’t know if he will be here come fall or not. But let me say this.
They were doing some pretty intense stuff, the O and D lines. Not total full contact and not in full pads, but lots of speed and arms grappling and struggling for position. It was fun to watch and for me especially seeing the olinemen being so athletic.
Joe D came in and with mostly nobodies, turned an O-line that had been a problem for ten years into a respectable one, quickly. He has had another year now and I am seeing new guys, rookies, in his mold, that draw my eye. Tall, fast, fit, agile.
So it was a lot of fun watching the fast agile linemen going against the fast agile d-linemen and the contests they had.
Then number 92, 300 pound six foot five Alex Carrington came barreling into Mike Jasper and bounced off. I laughed out loud with glee. People looked at me.
Maybe bounced off isn’t accurate. It’s more like he came to a dead stop. Like he ran into a tree. Jasper did not move one inch and his feet stayed planted like he was rooted to the spot and it was different than anything else anyone else was able to do out there.
So like I say he doesn’t fit the mold, and I don’t know if he will make it or not. But if you are laughing, then you are making a mistake.
77 Cordy did a very, very good job tangling up someone’s arms in his. In effect he held the guy but he did it in such a way it wasn’t holding. He didn’t grasp him. He just maneuvered and had the guys arms in a way it’s hard for me to describe. But he had complete control of his man for a few seconds. Shaunta would probably know what this was, but I have not seen that before. It was good.
Urbik looks good. Pears looks good. 63 Asper, rookie, looks good. 71 Young looks good. What do I know? Maybe not much. But these guys are all big, strong, fast, athletic. I think they might become a fearsome line.
As for the defensive line, I would say this. I think with the guys you read about, and if by some happy event Sean Merriman is healthy, and we get lucky on just one more player, the defensive front could be completely out of control at times. Uncontrollable. With the guys we know are good, plus a healthy Merriman, plus one lucky surprise from a lesser known linebacker maybe, there could be too many people to compensate for.
The horn sounded and this time they all ran up to the main field. So I followed. This time back there, with these guys, so close, doing so much that was so interesting, was one of the best segments of camp I ever had. Man did I enjoy that.
It was 4:20 and they started in with 11 on 11 drills. Not full contact but not a walk through either, it was athletic. It’s unusual for that first day of camp. They were on shorts and stuff but the whole day was ratcheted up a couple of notches from past first days. You can tell they have worked together before and that they have retained people instead of always replacing them. They are ahead in the progress.
The 11 on 11 stuff doesn’t tell me much it’s too early. It’s just fun to watch. Then they did some special teams stuff. Then back to 11 on 11 and I got the chance to look at our shiny new #1 pick some. He was to my side of the field. My impression is, he is very fast (no surprise). He’s wily. He did something where he got underfoot of the receiver and I am not sure if it was legal but he took him right out of the play. And it wasn’t holding or interference. And it wasn’t an accident, though he tried to make it look that way. They might need to get some referees in here before camp is over to get a judgment on some of the techniques these guys are using out there.
The cushion Gilmore used today, was none. I don’t remember seeing anyone quite like that. He tries to stay glued to the receiver. I am not sure if he always does that but this series he did. I wonder if maybe it’s one of those things you do in college that you can’t do in the NFL. I will tell you if he can do that with NFL quality receivers consistently, he will be supremely difficult to play against.
Stevie Johnson caught a ball on Gilmore, but even so Gilmore was glued to Stevie’s back. Stevie just had position on him. Gilmore was pissed. I liked that he was pissed.
Fred Jackson was doing this thing (Fred looks AWESOME by the way) the running backs do where once they get free, they keep running to the end zone. I mean the play is over, it’s a drill, but they keep going to the end zone. They do it often. Maybe it’s a psychological thing, I don’t know. So Fred is doing that and from across the field here comes 23 Aaron Williams after him! He was moving smoking fast too. Somehow though Fred looked behind him and saw him coming, maybe the crowd cued him, and he turned up the gas enough to avoid being caught. But that was fun to watch. I got the idea it was good natured fun between the two of them.
So the horn went off and it turned out practice was ending. I walked up to the front so I could see they guys signing autographs if they came along to sign. I don’t usually get autographs myself I prefer to see the interactions and the atmosphere.
A lot of the guys came. I was proud of them. Fred came. I like Fred a lot. He seems to me to be a very good man and he has always been nice to me. Someone said to him “Fred please, get us to the playoffs this year” Fred said “I will do what I can”. I said “What you can do is a whole lot” (the guy is an amazing player). Fred laughed then very quickly stopped and kept signing. I got the impression he stopped himself so quickly because it wasn’t humble to chuckle to much about my joke. (Or maybe it wasn’t that funny).
I like this time of practice and I was very relaxed and very much appreciating that whole scene. The team is back. I see all the guys again. Stevie is out there with his shirt off and he is completely covered with tattoos. The media guys I know of are there. I am just very much in my element there. And I thought about how I felt out of place really because I couldn’t find a spot to my liking to observe. And then how lucky I was to wind up on the back field with the linemen and how close I was and how private it was and how much I enjoyed it. It was a lot like camp was in the beginning days at Fisher especially the morning practices. They were idyllic in setting and pure football in content. I loved that time in the back area today and I had started out the day thinking that kind of thing was gone for me because of all the hype and the new setting.
So I had the thought that sometimes God is very good to me.
And at that moment I turned and saw this huge arm with a tattoo that said “God’s Gift”
It’s #20 Johnny White. He has these Christian themed tattoos. But it was very oddly coincidental that I had that thought moments before I saw that. Especially given that I am much more likely to think God is picking on me, as a rule, than I am to think I just had a special treat.
So because I am at camp and camp is a mysterious mystical wonderland for me, I thought, what does it mean? I have no idea! But it was weird.
Fitz came over to sign. He is less muscled than last year. Remember they were working out on their own last year. I think he overdid it and this year they have dialed him back because too much muscle can be a hindrance for a QB. You need that dexterity and touch. By the way, for what it is worth, to me Fitz looked “on” with his throws and his spiral was tight.
Vince Young came and was signing. My reaction to seeing him was to feel a bit ashamed of myself. Because he was just a young man standing there. That’s all. And I haven’t had any particular negative thoughts about him either way. But I did get distorted in the hype and the images and the magnification around guys like him. I forgot he’s just a guy. A young man. I hope he does good and I am glad he’s getting a chance.
I counted at least 15 guys who signed and I think there were more. So it was a good day for the fans and I was pleased with the players. I didn’t see Nesbit. I decided I will try and get Nesbit’s autograph. I like Nesbit!
I saw loud guy, the rowdy attention seeking fan from the back. I looked away but it didn’t work. As I walked by him he said to me “Shhhhhh! Hey we got to let them concentrate brah!”. I said “You got that right” and kept walking along.
I had seen Dave Nelson signing and had an idea to say something to him about the Burglars. He helped us last year. I had wanted some pictures of him for us to use in the Burglars’ but I wasn’t able to mainly because I don’t know how. It’s not like I can go next door and knock on his door and that is the extent of my skill set for stuff like this.
So I was thinking it would be neat of we could get someone to talk to him soon, very soon, before the preseason. After the preseason starts things change. This is a big deal to me. But he was surrounded by fans and now wasn’t the time obviously.
Plus I suck at that sort of thing. And I feel shy of asking players stuff. And nobody has ever helped us like David Nelson. Nobody, ever. So I sure don’t want to screw that up.
I think one usual way is you get a sponsor for your charity who will pay for ads and for the players time, approach their agent, and they hammer out a deal. Obviously we can’t afford that we are just us fans and us burglars. So nobody but David Nelson ever helped us before.
I was thinking it would be great if we could get someone to talk to him soon. Someone who knows what they are doing. And he kept signing, and signing, because he is David Nelson, he kept at it. And the crowd grew smaller, and smaller. And smaller.
There were maybe six people left that he had not yet signed for. I was thinking it sure would be good if a burglar was here who knew what they were doing. Then I thought, but there isn’t. That leaves me. At least I know exactly what I want.
I went up to him and I handed him my Bills cap and while he was signing I asked him if he knew of the Ball Burglars. I was afraid he might say “who?” He didn’t say who. He said “Sure do”. He looked up at me. I said I was with the Ball Burglars. He asked my name. He shook my hand. I shook hands with David Nelson. I explain that we were hoping for some publicity pictures. He said sure he would hook me up with the publicity person they could provide some photos for us. He said he would be sure to tell her so all I had to do was ask for her by name. I said thanks a lot! But we aren’t exactly after stock publicity photos. He said what do you want? I said “We want a picture of you in the Heisman pose, holding a baby with burglar mask on, instead of a football. He said “Well I don’t know if THAT is going to happen.” I said I would send a photographer and a baby and all he would have to do is pose. David Nelson said, Ok.
He said ok!!
I asked how to contact him, He said he already had a burglar contact who had his email. I named Shaw and asked him if that is who he meant. He said yes.
I thanked him and floated away.
I had the thought about how some fans, who do not know these young men, get excited when someone puts a very hard hit on them. We forget they are people. In some cases very extraordinary people. And I was thinking May God and his Angels protect David Nelson.
I was so happy I don’t even remember most of the walk back up to the buses (except that is when I met Leo Roth). Then there was this enormous long line. I hate lines. I get bored. But this is camp and I was with Bills fans and the guy next to me and I had an interesting conversation about the team. I like that about camp strangers become friends. We are all in it together. So I wasn’t bored and plus the bus people were on the ball and had them coming along quickly so we didn’t wait that long.
So I had a glow and was in reverie on the ride back. I thought about how much I had just enjoyed today. Football is here again. I got to see Mario and all the players being coached and I enjoyed that so much. How much I love the team. And then it got even better because David Nelson is helping the Burglars even more. Days like this are a gift from God. Then I thought all I have to do is hire a good professional photographer and get a baby.
Wait. "Get a baby"?
Something I should have considered I suppose, is that I do not know any babies. I honestly didn’t even think of that.
Will I find a baby on time?
Stay tuned for more camp adventures folks!
And that’s the BLM-BallBurglar Camp report for opening day July 26 2012.